May 31, 2013, 3:09 PM — Workers who wish to connect their Windows machines to Google's calendar, contacts and email services have some good news and some bad news: Google's Sync now supports Office 2013. But it doesn't really work.
Those who live entirely within Google's ecosystem--such as ChromeOS, which taps into Gmail, Calendar, and other Google services--aren't affected. Neither are people who use Outlook.com running on top of Windows and a Windows tablet.
But for those businesses that have adopted Google Apps on Windows machines, the ability to sync one's Gmail, Google Calendar, and contacts with their respective Windows apps is a virtual necessity. The connector between the two ecosystems used to be Google Sync--which, unfortunately, Google shut down for individuals last November (although existing users are still being supported). But Google also said it would continue to support Sync for paying customers of Google Apps indefinitely, leaving Sync's syncing capabilities a key enabler for small businesses.
(As a sidenote, Google also said it would replace its proprietary Sync technology with open protocols: IMAP or POP protocols to access email, CalDAV to access calendars, and CardDAV to access contacts.)
The quandary of discontinued sync support has bitten users like Moor Insights analyst Patrick Moorhead, who said he has tried to escape the clutches of Microsoft Outlook for years, but needs the power of a dedicated application--even if his calendar is powered by a Web app running on Google's servers. "I've tried many times to get away from Outlook. I may be in the minority, but I cannot run a small business off of web mail and calendar," he wrote. "Some can do this just fine, but many of us need a real app, not a web app, as it's faster, has better offline capabilities than Google Calendar, and has many more robust features."
Recently, Google Sync began supporting Office 2013, according to an obscure post on Google's support site. Currently, however, only contacts and email will sync--not calendars, meaning that users who wish to schedule a non-recurring appointment will probably need to check the calendars in both Outlook as well as Google Calendar to ensure that their schedule in fact is free.
"We apologize for any inconvenience caused, we've identified an issue with Google Apps Sync with Microsoft Outlook 3.3.354.948 which can cause calendar events to not sync," a Google adviser posted. "Mail and contacts are not affected. Our engineers are aware of the issue and are currently investigating." Fortunately, according to sources close to Google, the situation is being actively examined and a fix is being developed.
There are workarounds, for the moment. On the desktop, users will need to uninstall Office 2013, the uninstall the latest version of Google Apps Sync, version 3.3. Users will then need to download the previous version 3.2 of Google Apps Sync and pair it with Office 2010 SP1--assuming they have a copy on hand. Users have also developed a second workaround for so-called MSI installations of Office 2010, which involves a registry hack. Google also advises using the Web interface for Outlook 2013 to view and modify calendar events.
Windows Phone users will also be to sync back and forth. In January, Microsoft reported that Google would extend support for Exchange ActiveSync through the end of July. Microsoft said then that it would use the time to build in support for CalDAV and CardDAV, to support contact and calendar syncing, respectively, for an indefinite period of time.
Moorhead also noted that support for IMAP, CalDAV, and CardDAV is built into the native applications onboard the Macintosh, although it doesn't support touch. "If you are a consumer or a small business owner like me who is wedded to Google Apps and need a good desktop experience, then you need to strongly consider going to the Mac," Moorhead said.
Microsoft also recommends that users who can't sync their calendars with the Windows 8 Calendar app simply move them to Outlook.com. But that process involves basically exporting the data to Outlook in one fell swoop, not truly syncing from one service to another.
If Google does fix its Sync solution soon, hurray - Office 2013 users who choose to sign on with Google Apps will be able to connect the two services. But there's still a fundamental problem: both Microsoft and Google aren't really facilitating cooperation between their respective services. Users don't really care who erected the walls that keep them imprisoned, just that they're there.