Home Breaking Free of Outlook

Breaking Free of Outlook

I recently moved to a new office and found that I couldn’t send mail via Microsoft Outlook. I’ve had this same problem in different locations. I’ve been told that it depends on the ISP settings and it is easy to fix by contacting the ISP. That seemed like a pain, so this week I just started using Gmail as my default. I’ve not looked back. This is anecdotal and maybe I am a market of one, but it is a big deal for me. I have “lived in Outlook” for years. It was the one part of Office that I thought I would never replace. I suspect I am not alone.

I use multiple email addresses. I need to send and receive mail from company domains. That took me about 10 minutes to set up in Gmail. Once I had done this, I noticed two big benefits:

1. 99% of Spam was gone – poof. I had foolishly once put my email address on a web site in clear form where it could be collected by spammers and one of my accounts, managed on an Exchange server, was overrun with spam. Once I went to Gmail, no problem. I am sure I am missing a few valid mails that got incorrectly seen as spam, but that will eventually correct itself as people contact me some other way. When I am contacting somebody new by email I always now assume that overzealous spam filters stop my mail getting received, so I ask a contact who knows that person to forward my mail. That is a small price to pay for getting rid of spam and using contacts that way is obviously good for business as well.

2. Searching was much easier. There is debate about whether Outlook or Gmail has better search. Personally I find Gmail search way better than Outlook but that can be subjective and habit is a major factor in productivity. What I know for sure is that having both Gmail and Outlook makes search a real pain – you have to search in both mail systems if you don’t know which one you had used. That is significant. When time comes to make a decision, which one do you axe? I had that personal tipping point and switching to Gmail was a no-brainer. It just looks like a better long term way to go.

The reason Gmail looks like a better long term way to go is quite simply mobility. I can use Gmail from anywhere. I can change PC without even thinking about conversion. I don’t need to worry about not having access to my laptop. If my laptop is stolen/lost/destroyed and I have not been totally diligent on back-ups, no worries on that score.

I have some worries about a) losing connectivity and b) occasional performance/reliability issues on Gmail (which could get worse as they get more users). I hope that Gears will enable temporary offline use to mitigate those issues, but I have not tried that yet.

So Gmail as a client is a done deal. What about Gmail as the server? I don’t usually think about that level of IT. I am involved with a new start-up that needs to make that decision. We can run Exchange internally. Or we can use a hosted/managed version of Exchange. I am sure the future is with hosted/managed. Who can possibly view email management as core, who wants that internal overhead? So I was interested to see this thread on Slashdot. The news is that:

“LA hosting company DreamHost, which hosts more than 700,000 web sites, is encouraging its customers to use Google’s Gmail for their e-mail, rather than the DreamHost mail servers. DreamHost is continuing to support all its existing e-mail offerings, but said in a blog post that email is “just not something people are looking for from us, and it’s something the big free email providers like Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google can do better.” DreamHost addresses a question about Google that has vexed many web hosting companies: is Google a useful partner, or a competitor that intends to make “traditional” web hosting companies obsolete? In this case, partnering with Google offers DreamHost a way to offload many of its trouble tickets, reducing the support overhead. Is Google starting to make web hosts less necessary?”

When you realise that you can easily use Gmail with your domain, the issue of appearing unprofessional in a corporate context by using an @gmail.com address goes away. For a start-up looking for a no hassle way to do email, this seems like a no-brainer.

Microsoft is clearly well aware of the threat to Exchange, which is why they launched their own Hosted Exchange offering in July 2008. This will put Microsoft in head to head competition with their hitherto partners who offered third part Hosted Exchange offerings. This game is now clearly all about economies of scale on those giant server farms, so we are likely to see email server hosting consolidate down to a handful of companies in the next few years. This is the normal and expected lifecycle for a commodity market such as email serving.

In this battle, the email client does matter, if only psychologically. If you feel wedded to Outlook you will probably go Exchange for your server. Gmail looks like it is moving purposefully from personal mail into small business. Hosted Exchange is also going after small business. Large enterprises switching off Exchange is still years way. The battle ground is around small business. The clear winner – small businesses that can profit from some real competition by the big guys.

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