Google Apps with Windows and Office: Can it play nice?

28 Aug

I started working with Google Apps Standard Edition (the free version) in 2010. So, a (relatively) early adopter, as these things go. I implemented it for my own domains, and also for the community-based non-profit organisations I volunteered with. For organisations without infrastructure or budget it was, quite simply, manna from heaven. I became a total Google “fanboy”, and no Windows desktop I worked on was ever complete without a complete suite of Google software and icons for Google Web services.

And then, the romance died. Instead of becoming the IT infrastructure provider to the entire globe (as I had predicted), Google began killing off products and services wholesale, despite the cries of agony of millions (literally) of users. The number of seats for Google Apps free was cut several times until, at the stroke of a pen (well, OK, the click of an Enter key) it ceased to exist for new users.

Sadder but wiser, I continued to offer Google Apps for Business (the paid version) to clients, but some of the issues I’ve encountered with my last few implementations have had me wondering. I’m not going to quote Chapter and Verse while sharing my experience, but I can assure you that all the issues are known and well documented elsewhere. Without further ado, these are my gripes:

Google offers the Google Apps Migration for Microsoft Outlook tool for importing Outlook data into Google Apps. It’s OK, but because everything happens over the network, it’s way too slow for our low bandwidth South African conditions, particularly if the .PST file is more than a Gig or two in size. To aggravate matters, it doesn’t allow one to limit the scope of the import by date (judging from the documentation, being able to specify date parameters was possible in the past). It also doesn’t seem as if one can stop and restart an import without duplicating items, e.g. if the job can’t run unattended overnight.

Mail Fetcher allows one to consolidate a number of legacy mailboxes into a single Gmail account, using POP3 to “fetch” unread mails from a handful of mailboxes and present them in a single Inbox. What’s the problem? It can take up to an HOUR to fetch new messages from your legacy accounts. Completely useless if the messages are time-critical (or you’re sitting and waiting for a response). Mail Fetcher is a standard Gmail feature rather than being specific to Google Apps, but surely they could have come up with something better for the paying customers?

I have observed instances of Google Drive creating multiple copies of files entrusted to it. The scenario is generally as follows. Documents or images are copied or moved from another folder to the Google Drive folder. Local Google Drive begins syncing with Google Drive on the Web, getting up to (say) 999 files. We need to shutdown and restart the machine for some reason. When Google Drive resumes syncing, instead of resuming from File1000, it starts again from File1, creating a File1(1), File1(2), etc. I wouldn’t have believed it either, if I hadn’t sat and watched it happen with my own eyes…

Speaking about Google Drive, this one stunned me totally. After migrating their precious documents to the Google Drive folder, users began complaining that none of these documents appeared in search results, even when they knew the exact document or phrase to be there. Turns out that, when the Google Drive folder is created, it does not inherit the permissions from the parent folder (usually C:\Users\Username\). This doesn’t allow the files to be indexed for search purposes, leading panic-stricken users to believe that their files have been lost. The issue is, once again, well documented on Google’s product forums (and easy to fix), but why has the issue still not been addressed by Google? Surely this is something that a competent Windows developer could sort out in a day?

The last issue is more of a whinge than a bug as such, i.e. Google designed it to work this way. The whinge? With every other service I work with (e.g. Dropbox, Onedrive, etc.), if I share a Word document with a colleague or collaborator, they can open and edit it in Word (assuming they have Word installed), save the changes and allow me to edit further. So why can’t I do this with Google Drive? Why do I have to convert the document to the Google Docs format before this is possible?

What’s the takeout from all this? Is Google Apps beyond the pale? Not at all, or at least not quite. As a free product it was, quite simply, a godsend. As a $50 per user per annum product, though, it comes across as a mismatched assortment of immature, half-baked and/or incomplete products rather than a single, unified suite. Its saving grace is that it’s cheaper than Office 365 (any version), so use it where cost is the overriding factor, or where Office is not already part of the toolset that everyone relies on.

If you’re looking at a site where Office is the foundation for everyone’s daily productivity and workflow, however, you’d be better advised implementing Office 365 (particularly come the 4th quarter of 2014, when the new SME products and pricing kick in).

I’ve been trying to build “hybrid” environments, with Google Apps under the bonnet, but Office on the dashboard or desktop. Maybe it’s time for me to start picking the one single best product for each client’s unique needs. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.