Putting my money where my mouth is…

I’ve always thought that there is a place and a time to use the cloud, and to be honest, Automatica has been using Google Apps for the past two years to host email and calendars. Overall the experience hasn’t been too bad, but it’s not been as smooth as it could have been. More on this later.

This weekend, Kai has migrated all the email and calendars to Kerio Connect hosted on a Mac mini Server. Using the services from DynDNS as a secondary MX and to get around my ISP’s block on incoming port 25 traffic, everything has gone very smoothly in the transition.

Some things that Google Apps does that can be annoying are:

No control over your anti-virus and anti-spam filtering. I’ve been working on an Android app with Louis from Steelbytes and we are unable to email each other an Android APK file, either alone or zipped. I don’t get an error message saying the email has been blocked, Louis doesn’t get a bounce or an error message either, it just vanishes into the aether. The workaround is that it has to be sent in a compressed format that Google doesn’t understand, such as 7zip. Annoying. I’ve also seen this issue with trying to email people quotes and invoices as PDF.

Very little in the way of support from Google. Even with a paid subscription, the technical support from Google is a bit lacking. When I was on the free Google Apps, I had an email outage that lasted for two days. There was nothing I could do about it – I couldn’t call, email or contact anyone who could do anything about it. Emails sent to me just bounced. Thanks Google.

Contacts sync. Another thing I had quite a few problems with early on was contacts sync. Syncing contacts to Google and then back again messed up all sorts of things. At this stage, your contacts in Google Apps had a name. Not a first name and a last name, but a name. The round-trip from Address Book to Google and back again wasn’t pretty. I gather that the contacts now do have a first name and a last name field, but I was too scared to try and use it again after the first disaster.

Google’s own implementation of IMAP. Let’s face it, if you’re using Google Apps, you really need to be doing everything in your browser – this is the way Google want you to use it and is obviously the way they’ve designed the service to work properly. I want to use a proper mail client – call me old fashioned, but it works better for me this way. What’s with this All Mail folder that is a second copy of every email I’ve sent or received – it sure takes up a lot of space on my disk. What’s this starred folder? What’s with the root folder of the IMAP hierarchy being [Gmail]? What’s up with not having proper folders for email? Labels work really well if you’re managing them in the browser, but not very well in a regular mail client.

How do you, for instance, find mail that exists in the All Mail folder, but you’re removed from every other folder (in other words, you’ve deleted it from your desktop mail client)? I had a client who ran out of space in their mailbox and everything was in the All Mail folder. They had a few GB of mail in their regular folders, but had pretty well tidied it all up, yet they couldn’t just go into All Mail and indiscriminately delete everything to free up space.

Mobile Device support. Configure your email in Google Apps as an Exchange ActiveSync account on your phone. OK, now how do you configure which folders and calendars sync? You need to go to an obscure web page on your phone, log in and select them. Easy if you know what this particular page is, rather difficult if you’re looking at options in your mail client or in your gmail webmail interface. Once you’ve got it configured, how do you do a server-side search for items that aren’t on your phone? Oh, you can’t.

Cost. The cloud should be cheap enough to not have to worry about it. It’s not. $50 per user per year may sound nice and cheap, but it adds up over time and if you stop paying, you can’t access your email any more. Nice.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything that’s wrong with Google Apps. None of these issues are real show-stoppers on their own, but over time they grew to be annoying enough that here at Automatica we are now following our own advice and running our own collaboration server to get around them.

This article was posted by Kai Howells. If you liked this content and have any technical work in the Melbourne area, say hello via my contact form or give me a call on 0419 361 653 - I cover most of the greater Melbourne area and my rates are competitive.

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