Last week the Buzz Out Load podcast informed me about one of Google’s latest beta programs called Google Apps for Your Domain. Google is extending some of their online applications to business and educational organizations. The beta program allows you to use Google’s Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk and Google Page Creator with your domain. Being a current user of Google’s Gmail and Calendar applications I thought I would sign-up my Thinkworx domain to give it a try, here is what I found.
The sign-up process was very simple and within minutes I was using Gmail to manage my Thinkworx email. Gmail has one of the best user interfaces for webmail that I have used, it definitely beats Squirrelmail or Horde Mail that my current web host provides. In addition to the great web mail interface you can also access your email through POP3. The most difficult step in the setup process is getting your Mail Exchange (MX) address changed. My web host Control Panel interface didn’t have an advanced option to change this parameter so I had to contact them to make the change. Immediately they made a change to my Control Panel interface giving me an extended list of options, including the ability to change the MX parameter.
The Google Calendar makes sharing calendars a breeze, which could be a big benefit to many organizations, however not needed in my case. I also understand you can configure a handheld device to synchronize with the calendar which is a great feature for a web hosted calendar. I still have to configure my PocketPC to do so. I was hoping that the added calendaring options to Microsoft Office 2007 (beta) would permit me to open the Google Calendar directly within Outlook 2007, but unfortunately this isn’t currently available. Outlook 2007 does permit you to publish your calendar to a Windows Live website, giving you a web based calendar similar to Google’s. I thought that by making this calendar publicly available I would at least be able to open the calendar within my Google Calendar so that I could keep the 2 synchronized, but this also failed. So as far as I can see there isn’t currently a means of keeping your Outlook and Google calendars synchronized. At least I was able to export my Outlook calendar data to a CSV file and then import it to Google. A great option for migrating to Google,but not a sustainable solution for those continuing to use their calendar within Outlook.
The Google Apps for Your Domain is great initiative by Google and I predict it will greatly extend the use of these applications within small businesses and education. I expect that we will see the product offerings within this program to expand to eventually include a full Office suite.