In one of my previous columns, I had extolled the virtues of Gmail, Google’s version of free email for the masses. (https://bit.ly/9KkgBH) As Google is proceeding with it’s domination of the Internet as we know it, I figured I’d give them another opportunity to dominate my life by kicking the tires on another product, Google Apps. Google Apps (https://www.google.com/apps) is a great solution for small businesses that can bring enterprise class email, calendar sharing, document collaboration, and more. For my businesses’ uses, I opted for the cheapest version available, the Standard Edition; for businesses with less than 50 users, the Standard Edition is free. The Premier Edition offers a whole lot more for fifty dollars a year per user, but for this column, I’ll just focus on what the Standard Edition brings to the table.
For business email, Google Apps provides you with Gmail as the backbone for your domain. Instead of the ubiquitous email@example.com addresses Gmail typically provides, you can have firstname.lastname@example.org be a functional email address with Gmail serving as the email servers. This gives you all the functionality that Gmail provides, which is quite a bit. Of course, having a domain for your business is an essential part of this equation, but Google even offers you the ability to register a domain during the process of creating your Google Apps account. If you want to know more about what Gmail can do for you, check out my previous article.
Beyond email, Google Apps offers a calendar app that is quite functional. Google Calendar allows your employees to create and manage appointments, share project calendars, and it integrates with your email through Gmail. Not only that, but you can use a variety of applications that will integrate with Google Calendar, like Outlook, iCal, and more. For Outlook, they even provide a handy utility that can be installed to synchronize your calendars. You can also have your calendar easily integrate with your smart phone, so adding appointments can be accomplished on the run. The best comparison for the Google Apps email and calendar solutions would be Microsoft Exchange, the enterprise solution that requires hosting on a server along with the IT staff to help manage it. For free, you can’t beat that.
What’s even better are the additional tools provided like Google Docs, an online document collaboration system. You can share online documents, presentations, and spreadsheets easily with your company, and it supports a variety of formats. Google Sites allows you to create secure and dynamic webpages for use by your company, like a corporate intranet, without the need to know HTML or coding. These collaborative tools can best be compared to Microsoft Sharepoint, another solution that requires a server and the staff dedicated to maintain the server and solutions.
Overall, I am greatly pleased with how Google Apps has performed for the businesses I’ve migrated to their solutions. Gmail can’t be beat for an online email system with plenty of space and ease of use, not to mention the many features provided. Google Calendar integrates well with so many platforms that it easily can become a big asset for your small business productivity. The other tools offered might not be something your business currently uses, but once you get a taste of how collaboration can help your productivity, you’ll be hooked. Google is also planning on rolling out some new tools in the next couple of months for their Google Apps users, so stay tuned.