Behind The Driver

A Few Google Aps Observations

08 Feb 2013

I just transitioned my current employer to Google Apps a few weeks ago. As I labor to try and make everything fit together I have had time to reflect on the current state of GMail and how we got here.

I transitioned my previous company to Google Apps in 2009. It was the best thing ever. Their primary workflow was to receive a massive quantity of email, find other previous email in the threads, and respond in a timely manner. This is quite possibly one of the best possible use cases of GMail.

One of the reasons GMail is such an effective tool is that Google basically re-implemented email from scratch. Rather than displaying individual email it displays threads. Rather than folders and files every email exists as an object in the cloud. Rather than searching email in a folder you just search every email with an appropriately specific query.

This can create a few interesting scenarios:

Email clients become a big problem. If you are not going to use the GMail web interface or an email client designed pretty much from scratch to work with GMail, the features are just not going to line up quite right. Rather than labels most email clients expect to see folders. Rather than archiving and labeling messages they expect to move or delete email. With the rise of the iPhone and later iPad this became critical. The iPhone only allowed certain protocols for email, calendar and contact syncing. The solution was to receive email over IMAP and to sync calendar and contacts over Exchange ActiveSync. Somewhat recently these problems have been solved by CalDAV, CardDAV, and a native GMail app in the App Store.

Exchange and Outlook is a big problem. It is a massively complex system. If Google ever plans to reach complete feature parity with Exchange and Outlook they have a long job ahead. I suspect that they probably do not want to reach feature parity as the UI required to support that kind of feature set would be very messy and deep. Regardless, users who have been on Exchange and Outlook for any significant period of time expect some very obscure features to just work.

This is about all I have to say on the topic for now. I may come back in a future post and detail a few differences between Exchange and Outlook and Google Apps.