Google Apps, take 2

At the start of this month, I made the decision to switch my personal mail hosting over to Google Apps, to try and dodge the unending torrent of spam and mail bounces I’ve been receiving. It also provides a useful test run for the possible outsourcing of some of the Sourcesense business infrastructure (you know the story about the cobbler’s kids).

So, how did it go? I’m only really going to cover the email side of things here, since that was the most pressing thing I looked to Google Apps to fix.

Gmail StatsFirst, the good news. I have an almost junk-free inbox, with maybe 5-10 bad messages a day getting through Google’s defences compared to the several hundred a day I was dealing with before. A glimpse at the Google Apps site shows they’ve blocked some 16,000 19,000 rogue emails in the last twenty or so days. As far as I can tell, no false positives on the personal email.

I like the fact that through Google I now have a permanent off-site archive of all incoming mail. I configured Google to allow me to retrieve email via POP and to archive any emails I’ve downloaded. This is useful for those times I don’t have my laptop with me. It’s also extremely useful to be able to use webmail, especially as I’m increasingly on-site with customers where I don’t have a network connection for the laptop.

Before I was so burnt-out just from the task of filtering and deleting hundreds of junk mails that I rarely bothered to deal with the real emails. Because Google now takes care of that, a nice side effect is that I’m able to get close to the “inbox zero” methodology.

Another thing I really like is the ability to have a personalised start page for my domain, with widgets I’ve selected myself and my own custom logo etc. Sure, it’s just a portal and portlets, but it’s nice nevertheless. Being able to log in and see my emails, calendar, weather forecast, and news is neat. Being to change and drag and drop and point and click is even better. Simple. Usable.

Now the bad stuff.

I’m not entirely convinced by the lack of folders in Gmail. Labels are fine if you only use the web client, but not much use if you use a desktop client as well. At the moment, my mail is being downloaded, and stored in IMAP folders on another server, making Google just a glorified spam filter. This is a bit silly, as I’d like to remove the extra server from the equation. I guess I could just switch off the extra server, import my mail archive into Google and then use local mail folders and trust to backups. But I’ve always felt some measure of security knowing that if the laptop and backups fail, I can still point any other machine at my mailserver and access 3gb of mail history all neatly filed into folders.

(For more on this, and how maybe mail folders are outdated, see Daring Fireball.)

There seems to be some bugs in the personalised start page implementation. In Firefox and Safari on the Mac, I find it prompts me to log in, and then loads just the calendar widget. I have to return to the start address manually in order to see all the other widgets correctly loaded.

You have to be really careful what username you use when you first set up your domain. My username is by default ‘savs’, but Google then tries to use that as the default email address all the time. I can add an alias, but then I have to select it every time I send an email. I could just create a new user for my domain and log in using that, but then I’d have to pay Google the fee for an extra user. I suspect if this annoys me enough I’ll end up deleting the domain and starting again from scratch.

Because Google only supports POP, any messages I’ve read in the web client are showing up as unread when they hit my desktop client, so I see them twice.

The integration between various Google services is not good enough. My original Google mail address and my original Google Talk account can’t be integrated with this domain. And for each new domain I migrate, I end up with a new Google admin account.

To summarise ….

In all, the benefits of not having to manage my own mailserver probably outweigh the niggling annoyances of the Google Apps solution. I assume Google will improve the service over time, and I’ve long since stopped worrying about having my data “in the cloud”. I’ve since moved another domain over to Google, and I have my inboxes back under control. I’d still like to consolidate, but for now it’s good enough.

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