Let me start off by saying I’ve been a user of Google Apps for many years. Google really paved the way by providing free hosted email with custom domains to the masses. Along the way they’ve provided many new features, but they’ve also failed to listen to their users and implement highly requested changes.
If you’re unfamiliar with Google Apps (formerly Google Apps for Your Domain, or GAFYD), it’s a service provided by Google that lets you use a custom domain for most of their services. For example, instead of Gmail and many of the other services provided from Google, you can register a domain name that you own with Google Apps. You then can use the Gmail interface to access your email with your custom email address. Google’s initial approach was great, allow the IT crowd to test and get hooked on Google Apps. After that, many of these users would recommend the service to their companies for paid premium accounts. Because of this, the number of companies or schools using Google Apps skyrocketed.
The downfall began when users started noticing many of the limitations and lack of features of the “Google way” of doing things. These include:
- The ability to turn off conversation view (this was later fixed, although it took several YEARS for them to implement it)
- Poor email integration using the Microsoft Exchange protocol (deleting an email from your inbox archives the file instead of moving it to the trash)
- Treating Google Apps accounts like the red headed stepchild. You can only use you Google Apps account for certain services, this requires keeping a separate Gmail account around. (Google+, Profiles, etc…)
- Support – I can’t emphasize this enough. Yes the service is free, but some level of support would be appreciated. Google provides a “forum” where users can post questions, but if you check them, there’s thousands of posts with no response.
Next came the number of accounts that could be created with the free services. When I first started, you could have up to 200 accounts on the free version. Then the limit went down to 100, then 50, and now it’s a measly 10. The accounts that I had previously created haven’t changed, but any new domains will be limited to 10. Google is basically cutting off the thing that made it popular in the first place, the average IT guy with his own domains.
When I began looking for another free solution to take the place of Google Apps, I found that it was a very limited market. I could of course use the built-in webmail from my webhost, but that only provides email and I would lose a lot of other functionality. So like any modern tech-savvy user, I started searching the web for comparisons or replacement products. And bam, there it was. Windows Live Admin Center. I had no idea that Microsoft had a competing product with comparable functionality to Google Apps. Like Google, they also offer paid accounts for businesses and free accounts for schools.
Check back soon for Part 2, where I compare the features and functionality between Google Apps and Windows Live Admin Center.