Google Apps sync for Outlook gets mixed reviews

Google says it's happy with the product, but it has fallen short for some Apps administrators

By Juan Carlos Perez, IDG News Service |  On-demand Software, Google Apps, Microsoft Outlook

Google states that most organizations using the Outlook sync tool are very satisfied. However, IDG News Service, over the course of several weeks and even after enlisting the help of Google's public relations department, couldn't find one Apps administrator whose employer isn't a Google Apps reseller or integrator willing to speak favorably about the Outlook sync tool.

Google declined to give the size of the tool's installed base. Burton Group analyst Bill Pray suspects its adoption isn't very broad. Instead the tool is used tactically by IT departments to temporarily appease Outlook diehards and prevent them from torpedoing their company's move to Apps, before shepherding them over to the Gmail interface, he said.

As cloud computing gains adepts in enterprises, leading to adoption of hosted suites like Apps, more and more CIOs are rethinking having "fat client" applications like Outlook on PCs, Pray said.

"As an enterprise, I wouldn't strategically bet on the sync tool and Outlook as a client with the Gmail backend because you introduce a lot of challenges in your environment. It's better to go with the Gmail webmail client," he said.

While that's the ideal scenario, end users in enterprises remain very emotionally attached to Outlook. In a study published in December, Osterman Research found that only 16% of mid-size and large organizations would probably or definitely consider switching to a new messaging back end if they had to switch desktop client software. However, 52% would probably or definitely consider switching if they could keep the existing desktop client, in most cases Outlook, Osterman Research found.

"I believe that Google is smart to focus on letting users keep Outlook as their front-end for Google Apps. This minimizes training costs, end user disruptions and the like, since users tend to be sensitive to changes in their e-mail experience," Michael Osterman, Osterman Research's president, said via e-mail.

Burton's Pray has seen Outlook sync tools come and go over the years from a variety of vendors, usually with less than stellar results, so enterprises need to adjust their expectations.

"I have yet to see an Outlook connector that works well and is successful," he said. "The main reason is that you can never truly put in the time and effort to build the connector to be robust enough to support the exact user experience you get with Outlook and Exchange."

"You should pilot this in your organization with your users, especially power users, to get a feel for how well it's going to work, and understand there will be gaps in functionality," Pray added.

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