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Google Apps Premiere and desktop/mobile problems

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 11-Oct-2009 13:28

I was running my own Microsoft Exchange server and decided that it's not my business running email infrastrucutre. Also migrating to new Microsoft Exchange versions required extra server, extra work, maintaning another Windows Server virtual machine was just using memory on the host server, so you get the picture.
The contenders were Microsoft Online or Google Apps Premiere. At the end price won, and as I found out and got confirmed at the New Zealand Clound Computing Summit, cheap is not always best...
Microsoft Online is not bad in cost per user (under NZ$20/user a month) but requires a minimum of five licenses. So this is about NZ$100 a month. Compare this to Google Apps Premiere at US$50/year per seat and you see how easy it is to be lured into the Google service.
I wanted to keep using Microsoft Outlook. I know a lot of people think it's not the greatest email program but it's a great PIM. Google Apps Premiere allows you to use the Google Apps Sync for Outlook (only for Google Apps Premiere accounts) to replicate the behaviour you expect from an Microsoft Exchange server and Outlook combo - synchronisation of email, folders, calendar, contacts.
It works ok. You can even create folders and those are synchronised to the Google Mail server as labels. When you move an email from the Inbox to a folder it's in fact archiving the email and assigning a label to it.
This is one tip: when in this environment you can replicate the server rules functionality but remember to create your rules with the option "Skip Inbox" and "Assign Label" on Google Mail. his way you won't end up with emails showing up in the Inbox list if you ever have to access Google Mail from a web interface.
I live on email. And I consider it very important I get my emails wherever I am. Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync is a great protocol and favoured by businesses. That's why it works on Windows Mobile, S60, iPhone and there are third parties that provide applications to synchronise your device with Microsoft Exchange servers - like RoadSync.
So of course I was excited to see Google Sync for mobile finally supporting email synchronisation, in addition to contacts and calendar. Make sure you uncheck Tasks synchronisation. Google Sync for mobile doesn't support task synchronisation.
Settings for Google Sync for mobile on Windows Mobile Here is another tip: to configure Google Sync for Mobile set your device to synchronise to a Microsoft Exchange server, enter m.google.com as server address, check the box to use SSL connections, enter your full email address as used in Google Apps Premiere and password. Leave domain empty and it will just work.
Or so I thought. Make sure you have patience. Lots of it. I couldn't find an end to the errors and problems Google Sync for Mobile introduces.
Most of the times synchronisation will start and end with no results at all. What I mean is that you can see in the web interface about 90 new emails. The device will start synchronisation, connect to the servers, request updated folders and end with no emails being actually downloaded to your device. Or sometimes it downloads twenty emails, and if you synchronise manually again you can get the other 70 emails, or get another 30, and so on. Keep synchronising to get all your emails folks!
Or you might configure the software to download emails from the last month to your mobile device and you will find you are lucky if you get the last week. Or the last day. Or whatever Google servers think they want to send to your device.
No this is not a problem with Windows Mobile. It happened with Nokia MfE and RoadSync as well.
Let's now try something more daring. Try deleting some email from Microsoft Outlook. See how it deletes from the web interface instantly, thanks to the Google Apps Sync for Outlook. Then see how these deleted emails that you don't want to ever see again remain on your device. Sometimes you delete ten emails, and only one or two are removed from your device, the rest remaining there, in limbo. Sometimes they are all deleted. Who knows?
Or have you been surprised when you tried to synchronise your Windows Mobile device to only get Contacts and Calendar and no email, with an error code saying "Server cannot be accessed"? Well try again - but this time make sure you don't have folders nested within folders. Things that look natural in Outlook and Microsoft Exchange are "tweaked" within Google Mail - and their synchronisation software is still not up to the task.
For example create a folder called "Customers" and then create subfolders called "Customer A", "Customer B", "Customer C". Then create another folder called "Projects" and continue with "Project A", "Project B", etc.
Google Mail actually create labels like "Customers" then "Customers/Customer A", "Customers/Customer B", "Customers/Customer C", "Projects", "Projects/Project A", "Projects/Project B", etc.
When the client requests the folder list from the Google Servers it seems Google is not replying with the folder list but label list. So when you have an email that should be on "Customer A" folder your mobile device doesn't have it. So the mobile sync software crashes. Hard. No email for you!
Attachments seem to be another problem. It seems Google Sync for Mobile doesn't send information about attached files when synchronising emails to Windows Mobile ActiveSync. The result is that you don't get to see any attachment until you go to work on a desktop.
I also found a problem that only affected Nokia MfE. It seems Google Sync is not sending the correct timezone for all day events to the device and when this happens Nokia MfE assigns the wrong timezone to all day events. I found out the device is not using your local timezone but instead whatever comes without a timezone just gets assigned to "Finland". In this case I have to say bad on Google for not sending the timezone information, and bad on Nokia for assuming that using "Finland" would be a great decision. What about using the device's timezone settings Nokia?
Many people will say "it works for me". But have you actually got to a point where you have multiple end points (Windows Mobile ActiveSync, Nokia MfE, Roadsync, Apple iPhone) that otherwise work when using Microsoft Exchange and just don't work when you change the plumbing (Google Apps)? Are you a purist that think web access is the only way to use it? Are you using multiple folders, synchronising between a desktop client, cloud and mobile device?
And try getting Google Support to actually reply to your emails. Even though you are a paying customer, I didn't get any reply earlier than 48 hours. Unacceptable from a business point of view.
I am sorry, but with Microsoft Exchange it just works. Google still has a long way to go to make this a worthwhile service. In the meantime I am looking to escape from it and get into a hosted Microsoft Exchange service.

UPDATE: Migrated to Microsoft Online at the end.


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Mauricio Freitas
Wellington
New Zealand


I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

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