Hosted GMail Arrives

11 Feb ’06

Google has quietly started offering a hosted Gmail service and its launch is the shot heard ’round the world, at least for some who pine for the demise of MS Outlook, which many see as suffering for the new competition – particularly in the small business / organization market. Others no doubt crave more competition in this market (I certainly do).

My qualifications in the Outlook irritation department should not be doubted, and I’ve tried unsuccessfully many times to escape its clutches, but I’m dubious that hosted GMail will pose a meaningful challenge to Outlook, at least not for a while and not above the layer of very basic users (and so I respectfully disagree, at least until I find some artful way to change my mind if I’m wrong, with Mathew Ingram).

First, as a PIM, Outlook is a powerful tool (no, the other ‘tool’). It’s shocking that nothing else still really does the trick, given how little Microsoft has put into Outlook’s development since it first clawed its way to the top of that heap. And of course Outlook is a system hog, and many report that it’s about as stable as a drunken sailor. But it’s still the best Windows PIM out there, and business users need the rich integration of calendar, contacts, email, tasks and notes that a good PIM provides. And of course, gmail is no PIM. Kedrosky notes the calendar issue in a follow-up to his original post on hosted gmail, speculating that Google will now begin a calendar project – and I sure hope that’s true – but for now, serious users need it and Outlook has it.

Second, Outlook on Exchange integrates and shares resources – folders, calendars, contacts, etc. – across the organization. To my mind this is critical and I can’t see how Google will deliver on this functionality – certainly not for a while. (And facilitating access to the same inbox across platforms is admittedly cool, but I get that already with IMAP.)

Third, Outlook, both local and exchange, integrates and shares resources with handhelds – Treos, Blackberries, PDAs, etc. Google can’t deliver that – at least not for a while. (But to piggyback on Kedrosky’s prediction I predict a Google sync project to tie PDAs to the Google PIM that is presumably on the way – hmmm, and what about mobile email integration at the server level?)

Fourth, the tie-in between email and the rest of the PIM is also important because the PIM can’t be delivered solely as a web service. Not yet, anyway. Net connections go down. Access to gmail goes down (rarely, but it happens). And access to calendar, contacts, and tasks is too mission-critical to leave to the web. Will this see Google offering a client app to act as a resource for saving a local copy of critical data? (Hmmm … that sounds like another prediction – oh wait, isn’t Google Desktop Search halfway there already?).

Those are the high points for now. But to wrap it up, here’s another prediction: when Google really starts tying these bits together – and I believe they will – and Gmail becomes a more viable alternative, it will break the last bonds holding many to Windows and the exodus to Macs will accelerate. For my part, the tyranny of Outlook is the only functionality holding me to Windows – the Mac world being frustratingly short on good PIMs – and as soon as a viable alternative shows up, my order for a MacBook Pro will be in the (g)mail.

Update: Robert Scoble is not happy about the attention Google is getting, and thinks some bloggers are not being forthright about the motivation for writing about the story. For my part, I’m feeling a little whip-sawed by suggestions one day that bloggers are beginning to think Google is evil, and suggestions the next that bloggers think Google is Love. In the main, I think bloggers just think what they think.

Nicholas Carr responds to Scoble with the obvious answer:

As I’m one of the bloggers in that Memeorandum entry, let me say that, first, I earn less than 50 cents a day from AdSense ads, which I assume is a tad less than Scoble is paid by Microsoft; the only reason I have an AdSense account, in fact, is to keep tabs on what Google is doing. Second, and more important, to say that putting AdSense ads on your blog makes you a Google employee is bizarre and ludicrous. How does it make you a Google employee? What relationship does covering a Google announcement have on AdSense revenues? How is running AdSense ads akin to being a paid advisor or being treated to a free trip? Please explain.

Hmmm … I wasn’t far off when I said that I thought the bloggers he accused were likely making only $10 a month off their Google ads. I think Scoble is going to take some heat on this.

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