Hosted GMail Review

Months ago I submitted my email address requesting an invitation to the hosted GMail beta. Hoping to move the email for my domain and the few users I have over to google mail’s hosting. Around the same time, I forwarded my work and personal email to my GMail account and it has been the nexus of all my communication for some time.

Previously, I have had my email hosted at Dreamhost and the people I was hosting the email for were using Squirrelmail, I wasn’t particularly happy with this solution however it was simple and never required me to worry about administering anything. I have also had a Jabber server set up there for quite a while but it was a nuisance to add users and setting up the client is a bit troublesome.

So when I received my invitation for the hosted GMail, I jumped at the chance. Not only would this take the email storage requirements away from my server it would also allow the user accounts to be tied automatically into Jabber accounts, and have a web based IM client all ready to go.

I quickly flew over to Dreamhost, followed the instructions (which may I add were tailored to Dreamhost) to change my MX record to Google and enabled some users. This all went very smoothly, although I would have appreciated the ability to send email to old email accounts with the system generated password. Customizing the logon page is there, though it doesn’t seem very flexible, only being able to edit the logo, the colour of the boxes and the support information.

Using the actual mail client is pretty much identical to the normal GMail, I’m not sure the version is exactly the same though, as the back button breaks it, taking me out to the “Loading…” page. The other problem I’m having is my computer always taking me back to my old GMail inbox, I have to navigate to or I can’t view my mailbox. These 2 bugs are extremely annoying but I’m sure in due time they will be fixed. I would hope that in the future I will be able to give it my own domain name for the web interface to use.

Setting up the individual users is simple enough with being able to submit a comma delimited file or to add them one by one. However it isn’t possible to import mailboxes. I would like to be able to upload an existing users mbox file or specify my existing GMail account and have my email imported. I was actually quite surprised when I didn’t see this capability and I really think it is necessary if Google wants to have businesses move onto the system.

It is clear that this will be a great application for Google to take some small business market share by providing them with hosted Gmail and calendar accounts, making the company desktops searchable with google desktop and completely removing the need for a Small Business Server. My company has been looking for a solution to supply to our customers and when and if Google takes this out of Beta and starts an affiliate program, I think it will really take off.

Having the built-in Jabber server may well give Jabber and instant messaging in businesses the kick-start it needs. Currently it is a real hassle to setup a IM server, maintain it and link it in to an existing IM network. This does it all for free and with a little bit more love given to the administration section, this could be a real killer app.

Some other features I believe will really help Google work there way into the business sector are shared mailboxes and public folders. These include allowing administrators to be able to view mailboxes of users if they need to. The other major requirement I forsee being implemented is Email retention policies, companies are requiring copies of email to be kept more and more and certainly may have issues with Google not properly deleting email when they think it has been deleted.

GMail’s Keyboard Shortcuts

One of the basic tenents of a good user-interface is learnability or discoverabilty (I’m sure that’s a made-up word.) Everything should be laid out in an easy to learn way. The problem with the keyboard shortcuts in Gmail is exactly this. Every time I want to try and use the keyboard to do something, I have to go to Help and search for keyboard shortcuts. I realize that this will save me effort in the long run, but it’s not so good to help the novice user.

Google Reader, Mail and Talk

Recently I changed my email and RSS subscriptions from Thunderbird to GMail and Google Reader. I’ve been really happy with how most of this works, except for the default from address which isn’t a show-stopper but it is annoying. So I’m pretty happy with the inclusion of Gtalk in GMail. I tested it a bit this afternoon and now all I need is some of my friends to use XMPP.

The other cool feature of Google Reader is it’s built-in podcast player. Basically if there is an enclosure on a post, it will present you with a player bar and you can listen to the mp3 right there in the webpage. This was a really welcome surprise when James recorded a couple of guitar tunes.

Gmail Improvement

The one thing that gets on my nerves the most about gmail is that it doesn’t remember which email address of yours was participating in the conversation. I have my work and personal address attached to gmail and my work is the default one, but if I reply to someone that sent me an email on my personal address, I want my reply to go out via my personal address.

This is just one of those tiny little usability tweaks that would make your life so much easier.