Initial Google Apps Reaction

Published December 1, 2007 on adamfortuna

    If you have a email address that forwards to your Gmail account you may have noticed some rather annoying delays this past week. Although I'm not sure if it's a Google or a Dreamhost issue, the email source does point towards Google as the slow party in this race. The problem delayed some messages up to 12 hours — or more in a few cases. This seemed like a perfect time to check out Google Apps for my newly acquired fortuna.name domain. For those unfamiliar with Google Apps, it's basically a way of letting Google control the mail server for your domain. If you use Dreamhost, you have full control over your DNS settings, and making the changes for this is a snap. The Google Apps help actually has directions specifically for Dreamhost. Safe to say I'm not breaking into new territory here. Google explains the difference between Account and Apps easily enough:

    A Google Account provides access to services administered by Google; Google Apps provides access to services powered by Google but administered by an organization.

    Once a Google Apps account is setup, and your domain(s) are updated, you have administrator control on those domains. Through the Google Apps Administrator you manage what users exist within the system and all email accounts and services. This "services” side got me excited because I'm an avid user of many Google features. Unfortunately Google Apps excludes many many key features that make Google so cool. What it does include is a shared start page (similar to iGoogle, but shared for all users at your company/domain), Google Mail (the main feature), Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Talk and Google Webpage Editor. This set of applications seems to target businesses more than a basic account, and excludes potential "fun” services. Once these are setup you can take things a step further and change your CNAME records on your domain to point to Google applications. This makes it so that you can access something like <http://email.fortuna.name> for Gmail, or <http://calendar.fortuna.name> for a Google Calendar. All you have to do is login to Dreamhost administrator and add a CNAME with the Google info provided then enable that link within Google. You can change these to whatever you want on your side, but it looks like they do have to be different subdomains. I was excited by the idea that you could use a domain to mask the requests to Google, however that's not the case. Going to <http://email.fortuna.name> just forwards you to <http://mail.google.com/a/fortuna.name/> for instance. These are all just for convenience. If mail.google.com is blocked at your organization, this isn't a way around that. With the standard account that I signed up for, all of the applications that are included worked exactly the same as their counterparts. If you upgrade to a Premiere account, at a cost of $50 per user per year, you're bumped up 25 gigs of email space instead of the usual 5 as well as a load of other features not too useful to single users. For instance they provide an API for enabling Single Sign On, powered by SAML, which would be overkill to a user or family. They do guarantee 99.9% uptime with this plan however, and assist with email migration and any addition help not available to the standard accounts. As cool as Google Apps is, I don't see myself moving to it for my main account anytime soon. I use Google Reader often enough, as well as Picasa, Google Analytics, Google Groups, Google Finance, Notebook and Webmaster Tools — and probably more I can't think of. As long as you use any of these, you'll still need a regular old Google Account. One of the biggest barriers with Googles services is the very limited number of email addresses you can associate with a single account. Having been through the process of changing my email in a number of places, I was amazed at just how many sites allow you to have multiple email addresses. Google, unfortunately, lacks much support for this extremely useful feature. Take my case for example. I have the dyogenez [at] gmail [dot] email I've been using since I was able to coax an invite from someone. However anytime I give someone my email now it's at the fortuna.name domain. I can't add this email to my dyogenez account because a gmail email address is my google ID. If I'd instead registered a Google account with the fortuna.name domain I could add the dyogenez email address onto it. It's never good when the order you setup your account affects how you use it. Unfortunately the confusion doesn't end there. I wanted to create a separate google account with this fortuna.name account, that way when people send me Google Groups requests, or Calendar invites I'll see them — makes sense right? Not quite so straightforward unfortunately. You see, when I created that account on Google Apps the fortuna.name email address was created. I was able to register a Google Account with this same email address fine though, as that's just a login to use Googles services. Which services though? Just the ones that aren't available on your Google Apps at that same email. I logged into my Google Account and headed over to Calendar and saw this very odd error message (emphasis kept the same):

    Oops. A calendar already exists for xxfortuna.name Each calendar needs its own email address so friends can send you invitations. Go to your null calendar New invitations sent to xxfortuna.name will be added to this calendar. If you have an account at null, you can sign in at: <http://calendar.google.com/hosted/null>

    This is a bit odd, and seems to be a bug. I was a excited to check out my null calendar , but it just points to a page with a server error. I tried disabling the Calendar on my Google Apps page last night, but I'm still getting this error when access the Calendar from my Google Account. Google actually mentions this problem in their support page , however it suggests that the "null calendar” would really be a link to your Google Apps Calendar as one would expect. My goal of having a single Google account that's not an @gmail address seems to be coming to a crashing halt at this point. Until you're able to manage multiple email addresses the right way from a single Google Account, or control which Google Apps services you're going to use, I don't see this problem getting fixed. My verdict? If you're using a custom email address as your Google Login, and that email would be recreated in Google Apps — run away right now. It's not a world you want to enter into unless you're a fan of switching between services, or you only use those services that are part of Google Apps. As a mail manager though, it seems to be working out so far. My other Gmail account is pulling mail from it no problem, and hasn't had any hiccups I've seen so far. The Google Apps Gmail has ads of course, and so far I've always had a horizontal add at the top (like another line above "Archive”). The Google Apps help docs are informative, but unfortunately they often lead you to an answer you don't want to hear. I'd stay back at this point if your goal is a single unified email manageable through various Google services.