So, in our web-based world, I decided about a month ago to experiment with a fully web-based alternative for all of my Outlook type stuff (email, contacts, calendaring, tasks).
Here is the history…
About a year ago, I switched all of RMI’s users away from exchange running on our internal server, to the totally free and external Google Apps for Non-Profits. This gave me/us so much relief from so many email problems!!! It was also free! I can’t tell you how nice it has been. To be fair, Google Apps has had some minor snags, but using exchange was a constant headache for me. Also to be fair, if I was more knowledgeable in servers, user management, DNS, IP management, spam protection, etc etc etc, maybe our own internal hosted exchange would still be an option.
So, for about a year, most of our users, including myself, have been using Outlook on our laptops, and setting up email accounts via IMAP and POP. There are certainly good arguments and bennies for using Outlook (or some other desktop based PIM for that matter) but, I wanted to try getting away from Outlook entirely. I was finding that Outlook was constantly freezing, so slow, taking up massive computer resources, etc. Maybe someday we will get away entirely from Microsoft Office? Maybe to save precious donated funds we will move to the totally free and very capable OpenOffice.org? Hmmm…
I have not opened Outlook in a month! I am loving it! There remain some lagging desires to return to my beloved Outlook, and I don’t know what will happen in the long term, but for now and for the foreseeable future, I will be avoiding Outlook. I have been using Google Apps (very similar to gmail, but only for our domain). It hasn’t all been rosy, there are some limitations, but to be honest, it is no contest at this point. I have set up my Google Apps mail page to include tasks, contacts, calendar, tags, google chat.
My goal is to provide as trouble free as possible service to our people wherever they are with slow or fast internet connections. Interestingly, we have one missionary in Haiti, that has also found great success only using the web-based Google interface.
The obvious questions are…
What about when the internet is down? Google Gears is Google’s answer to this. I have had some headaches, but Google offers offline access, so you can still work on your Google stuff if you don’t have a connection.
What are the limitations? You are dependent on Google being “up”. Well, there have been unique situations, but the reality is they are “up” 99%+ of the time.
What about Spam? Not really an issue. Some sneak through, but Google does a great job.
What about providing tech support to our missionaries? Well, because it is Google, there are many online helps and forums for users to find a solution to their own problems.
What am I still frustrated with? Google is constantly upgrading their tools, but there are some issues.
- True contact sharing among users isn’t available. This is a no brainer. To be honest, Google Contacts needs some work. There are some inherent limitations that are annoying.
- Google Gears offline access sometimes “hiccups”. I am trying to get a handle on it.
- Google tagging vs. folders. Google’s tagging is probably superior, but it takes some getting used to.
- Tasks. I am a huge tasks list user. I would be lost without it. Google Tasks is very new, so it lacks some bells and whistles, but I am finding it quite capable. But, it needs some more work.
- No “Push” email for mobile devices. I can get around this, but I really want “push”.
- With all due respect… It is not easy to teach other Old Dogs New Tricks…
- POP Accounts in Google mail are slow to download. You can tell it to go check, but they only check according to some internal algorithm that analyzes how often that POP account typically gets mail.
What do I like about it?
- All of my information (tasks, contacts, email, calendar) is available to me via any computer and any internet connection in the world.
- Threaded discussions. Email’s that are related to one another (fwd and replies) are all threaded together. They stay together. Hard to explain if you haven’t seen it, but nice.
- Sharing. Google is all about sharing. Sharing on Google calendar is awesome. Internally and Externally. There are many many 3rd parties that integrate with Google.
- Users. Online user management is so easy for me, the domain manager. I can add/delete users, add aliases, and many other things very easy.
- No 3rd party syncing tools necessary.
- Push over-the-air syncing with mobile devices. No email yet (argh), but for contacts and calendar, if I add/change/delete a contact or calendar event on my phone, the contact/calendar event is instantly updated in Google. Very cool indeed.
- IMAP email available if necessary.
- Domain Management. I have set up the system for all of our users to use the following urls… By adjusting the CNAME records with our web host, I have set up start.rminet.org, calendar.rminet.org, docs.rminet.org, mail.rminet.org. See a pattern? For a meticulously particular person like me, this is nice.
- Docs. Again, there are some limitations, but utilizing and sharing Google Docs within our domain/users is great for sharing and collaborating. More than once a missionary and I have in real time been editing documents at the same time. I also especially love the ability to create web based forms to embed anywhere online to collect data. I have integrated these forms in the RMI website.
- POP accounts in Google Mail. I have created an easy system for Google Apps email to also manage and filter my other POP email accounts. Works really well (except for delayed checking as stated above).
- Tasks. I can easily create a task from an email.
- Labs. Constantly Google is offering new functionality. Love it!
- No Outlook. Again, Outlook was a memory hog. I don’t have the headache anymore.
It is not perfect, but for now, for me, a web-based system with Google Apps is clearly the way to go. I will let you know if I change my mind.