If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been doing quite a bit with Google Apps recently. One of them is a non-profit that I’m associated with. The friend I’m working with on that (who works at the NPO) asked me today for some “talking points for selling all these services.”
I shot him a quick reply, closing it with a statement about needing to write a blog post about the value proposition of using Google Apps. That question has been rolling through my brain all day long, and it’s time to put thought to keyboard.
Context warning: this is related to this specific org, where they may/will migrate email from a hosted Exchange solution. They are also using Basecamp for project management and collaboration tasks. I will try to make it as generic as possible so as to make it more widely relevant to the broader public.
When looking at replacing Exchange with Gmail, I always come back to one argument … lock-in. With Exchange you are locked into Outlook for a desktop client, and IE for the web version. Any other desktop client — including Entourage — is a second class citizen, IMHO. Same goes for your growing market share of non-IE browsers. Outlook Web Access on anything but IE is pure trash. And if you want good mobile access to your email you are limited to Active Sync devices, or paying for a Blackberry solution.
With Gmail you get an excellent webmail client, whatever your browser of choice. If you want to stay on a desktop client, take your pick, because Google supports them all. Google has also developed an array of mobile access methods, ranging from applications you install on your Java-enabled phone, to push messaging to iPhones.
Comparing Exchange’s calendar to Google’s calendar is pretty even. They both allow you to request appointments with other people. They both allow you to check other people’s availability so you can know when to schedule that appointment. They both allow you to share your calendar with other people in your organization, with view or editing rights. Google separates itself from Exchange on two fronts.
First, back on the mobile train. Again, Exchange limits you to Active Sync or BES. Google allows you to wirelessly sync your phone’s calendar for most types of phone. The list includes Android, Blackberry, iPhone, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, and Windows Mobile.
Second, with Exchange you are limited to sharing your calendar within your organization. With Google you can share your calendar with anyone who has a Google Account. For example, I have a work GCal, my wife has a personal GCal, and we have a shared family GCal. I can go to one place and see all of my calendar stuff. To achieve that with Exchange involves a whole lot of synchronizing stuff using various web services — free and pay-for.
Some people will like this, some won’t. Some people will use it, some won’t. I instant message with my colleagues all day long. My wife is always a short message away from me, and me from her. This one has been in the personal user space for a long time, but is just now being used as a corporate communication tool. I think if more organizations endorsed IM as a valid tool for their employees to use, it would grow in use rapidly. Microsoft doesn’t have a chat client for Exchange, so there is no real comparison here.
Comparing Google to Basecamp, Docs goes squarely up against Writeboards. They both provide similar functionality, in shared editing of documents. Docs moves ahead because it allows for real-time shared editing, where Writeboards do not allow this.
Beyond word processing, Docs brings you online collaboration on spreadsheets and presentations. It gets my geekiness all excited when I’m sharing a spreadsheet with a handful of other people, watching real-time as the edits are happening. For me, the shared spreadsheets makes Google Apps 110% worth it. With Basecamp, you are relegated to uploading new versions of files, for people to then download locally.
I will say this, if you are a Microsoft Office “power user” — deep into macros, and obscure Excel functions — then you will not view Docs as your total solution, which it isn’t. Don’t discount Docs though, because Google continues to add functionality, and spreadsheet functions, to Docs. It will only get more powerful over time.
To be perfectly fair, this comparison is a stretch, since Sites is a wiki solution that can be shaped in a project management fashion, and Basecamp is a true project management solution. On with the comparisons, though. Beyond Writeboards, Basecamp gives you messages, to-dos, milestones, chat, time, and files. Their format. Their logic. Their rules. Basecamp just works, and it works very well.
Sites, because it is a wiki, is not limited to project management like Basecamp. Sites can be molded to what you need it to be. Sites can be public, with public edit rights, and they can be private — locked down to a handful of collaborators. You can create lists, where you determine the data fields to track. You can create message logs. You can link in external web pages. You can link in other Google Apps items, such as docs, spreadsheets, calendars, and more.
I know there is more that I can say about this. I’ll try to sum it up in a nice package for you all. Google Apps gives you all of the same functionality as you get in Microsoft Exchange, and more. Google Apps gives you all of the same functionality as you get in Basecamp, and more. Google will do this for you for free, with the Standard Edition of Google Apps. If the standard edition just isn’t enough for your company, for $50 a year per user you can get the Premier Edition, which gives you more functionality. And if you work for a school or non-profit, you can sign-up for the Education Edition for free, which is comparable to the Premier Edition.
One last thing. While all of these Google services are 100% web-based, many of these services (not all), have the ability to go offline with Google Gears. If you’re about to get on a plane, you can sync your email, calendar, or documents locally, and sync back up when you have connectivity again. I’m a non-traveling desk jockey, so that rates lower on my useful-to-me scale.
Update 3/26/2009 8:00 PDT – @hientran points out that I have omitted Google Video and Video Chat in Google Talk. I will do a follow-up on those two services specifically, hopefully tonight.