Fear nothing... Watch this video on how to win arguments about the Internet, by Jeff Jarvis:
It was like a dream: I've decided that running an email server was not part of my business, and it was time to move this function out of my infrastructure into a hosted solution.
I won't get into the fine calculations behind this decision (involving my time managing servers, cost of backups, server hardware, hard disk space, etc, etc.) since you can probably find a lot of experts (real ones and self-proclaimed ones) around to explain why it makes sense.
I thought of Google Apps Premiere because it comes from a company that shows innovation in the way it thinks about software - plus a lot of people recommended it. And I thought of Microsoft because it provides a natural path if you are coming from Exchange servers and want to keep the functionality.
Money talks, and because of costs I decided back then to go with Google Apps Premiere, which is licensed at US$50/seat per year (note there's a free version as well). Microsoft was a bit more expensive but since then they have announced a price drop for all online services, including those delivered in New Zealand.
Moving my mail service worked ok. But I found a series of problems with Google Apps Premiere synchronization to mobile devices.
After that blog post I was contacted by a Google Sync product manager who asked if it was ok to monitor my mailbox to try and find the root causes of these problems.
After a couple of weeks where nothing was solved I just decided it was time to move on.
You see, when I posted about those problems with Google Apps Premiere synchronization to mobile devices I immediately received emails from some companies offering to host my email services.
Big thanks to the following companies/services and I hope you check them out: Telecom New Zealand with their Telecom BusinessHub, Rackspace with their Rackspace Email Hosting, Microsoft with their Microsoft Online Services. There is also a fourth local company that is working on a hosted email solution but not yet released so I will have to hold it for a while (I will update this post when they go live).
After the failed attempt of using the Google Apps I have moved my email Microsoft Online Services. There are a couple of features that I found interesting. First, when you sign up for the service you can nominate a Partner. This will be your services contact if you ever need anything - the advantage is that you can select someone local to you (or very close). For a service demo/description watch this video.
Another interesting feature is the way accounts are structured. On Google Apps you need an admin account for each domain but you don't have a single account for all services if you have more than one domain (not as in Internet domain but as in business structure).
On Microsoft Online Services you use a Live ID account to "own" the service (and pay for it) through the Microsoft Online Services Customer Portal, but delegate domain management to any other account within the domain(s) through the Administration Portal. One Live ID can manage multiple subscriptions, and each domain will have its own manager.
For full disclosure, those companies offered one or another service if I migrated to their offering - migration, support, etc. Microsoft offered to extend my old trial subscription so I could continue using the service and migrate my domains to their service.
What are you doing? Is you company still hosting its own email servers? Are there a plan in place to migrate this kind of function to outside the company? What services have you decided to use? Put in the comments (just no astroturfing spam - if you work for the company be clear about it).
Summary from Acta round five.
Telecom has not sent out detailed information on this yet - it seems there are some "exclusive" cover by some of the mainstream media outlets involved, but we can all put our minds to think what is this?
Light rays? Optical fiber? Stars?
Obviously we can only imagine - and it seems the idea is that this brand will give each person a different view of the company.
Head over to our ongoing discussion to find some answers. Or add your ideas.
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.
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.
This is the second time Telecom people gather to mix with external guests and discuss all things Telecom with no barriers - all under a FrieNDA of course (I think FrieNDA worked ok last year since this year no one from Telecom legal showed up)...
The whole weekend was organised by Neil, and expertly managed by Nat and Jenine. Thank you all of you for your great work.
I know unconferences can be a bit of a culture shock to some people used to structured work, but a couple of evenings playing Werewolf until 3am can break the ice. This is a cartoon one of the guests put on for us:
Also it's important for you to know that external guests were not sponsored to attend the event. Everyone paid their own way up to Warkworth and some (like myself) who did not camp paid their own accommodation as well. Just saying, before someone working for any other company goes around saying I am taking bribes from Telecom. There. Said it.
Here is the message I received today:
Orcon is looking for eight kiwis to help Iggy Pop recreate one of his tracks. More details coming soon.
Xero was founded in Wellington and from its start the (Rod Drury and Hamish Edwards) planned to make it big – after a few months in the market they launched its IPO in the NZX, and took the company public. Most recently the company received a large keystone investment from MYOB founder Craig Winkler
The service makes it easy for small business owners (like myself) to do the accounting – managing invoicing, expenses claims, bank reconciliation, generating GST and other reports automatically. Even if you have an accountant Xero is still a great way to provide the office with all the information needed for them to complete their work.
In my view one though of the few things that needed a bit of an adjustment was their pricing model – it simply worked on an “one size fits all” table, which is not true for all businesses. For example while my own business can go with about twenty invoices a month, I have heard reports of some business generating more than 800 invoices a week via their API – and we both paid the same!
It seems Xero once again heard their users and launched an updated pricing table, with plans appropriately called Small, Medium and Large. Very good move, which is clearly going to benefit small businesses and contractors. Details of the packages have been blogged by Rod Drury.
I’ve agreed with Xero to host a discussion in our Xero Conversations forum at Geekzone. Please join us here to discuss this move and any other topic related to their service (alternativelly you can post questions as a comment here and answers will be posted in the forum).