If you didn't know already, Google are trying to muscle in on the lucrative enterprise e-mail business. Microsoft has the lion's share of this market with their Exchange Server platform, yet to the majority of enterprise users, Exchange Server is invisible - it's the client that makes the experience a pain or pleasure. Across the world, Microsoft Outlook is the client of choice.
This week Google announced support for Microsoft Outlook as a client interface for Gmail/Google-Apps but how will this help Google to catch-up with Microsoft?
Gmail is one of the better webmail clients, it works well in a browser, integrates with other Google applications, message views work (Gmail already has a good threaded conversation view doesn't it? Outlook 2010 is catching up here) and the feeling of a huge mailbox, delivered with some archiving, works well. It's popular with universities and students I hear. The trouble with the Gmail client is that this only really works well for an individual. What's lacking are features to meet the needs of more than an individual – organisations and enterprises, the target of the ongoing Google development efforts.
Last week Google unveiled Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook. This is a synchronisation technology that supports Outlook as a client Gmail and/or Google Apps. It's touted as a change that gives enterprises the option to oust Microsoft Exchange Servers for Google Apps while keeping the all-important end-user experience in place. Sounds good? Maybe...
I don't believe that this takes the game to Microsoft at all. In reality this is little more that Google catching-up with other non-Microsoft mail vendors with a corporate alternative to Exchange Server – MailSite, Open-Xchange, Zimbra have all had MAPI connectors and sync capabilities emulating Outlook for several years now.
There is a problem here that any vendor is going to really struggle to overcome - Outlook is built to work with Exchange Server. The list of features that only work with Exchange (and active Directory) as the backend is long – Outlook Anywhere (IMAP4 is your alternative), Auto-discovery (Manual client or script-based setups are needed), and Google Gears isn't anything like cached-Exchange.
There is a published list of Google Apps Sync has a list of differences. It's a list of things that don't work and I counted 46 items; Public Folders, delegation of mailbox permission, delegate access to your calendar, non-mail items are not synchronised, Global Address List only shows the user name and their email address and none of the contact or organisation attributes, attachments in calendar items etc. etc.
Google have a brand advantage and they are winning the publicity battle at the moment, but there's a long way to go and much hard work ahead of them if they're to achieve real success in the Enterprise. Don't forget that Exchange 2010 will be here later this year with Office 2010 along soon after. The new 2010 Outlook Web Access is already blowing people away. Outlook 2010 FTW!