Google Apps Sync for Outlook meets complaints

Nine months after Google daringly launched a sync tool to link its hosted Apps collaboration and communication suite with arch-rival Microsoft's Outlook PC software, results have been mixed.

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While Google sings the tool's praises, upgrading and patching it regularly, some Apps administrators have given up on it due to bugs and missing features their users need. Google maintains the product has accomplished its goal: to offer a viable option for organisations to continue using Outlook as a user front end after they switch communication servers from Microsoft Exchange to Google Apps.

"We're very happy with the adoption of Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook. We think it has absolutely achieved its mission," said Chris Vander Mey, a Google senior product manager. "Since Google added this plug in, demand for Google Apps has been increasing steadily," Jim McNelis, CEO of reseller and integrator Dito, which has implemented Apps for about 200 clients, said via email.

However, the story has played out differently for those unhappy IT managers for whom the Outlook plug in, introduced with much fanfare in June 2009, has fallen short and caused their end users to complain loudly. Jake Harris, IT manager at Aisle7, regrets that he campaigned heavily in favor of his company switching from Exchange to Google Apps. He blames the Outlook sync tool. "If we weren't using Outlook, I think we'd be very happy customers, but the Outlook Sync [tool] is simply a debacle, and will probably result in us moving to a hosted Exchange solution," Harris said via email.

Aisle7, a provider of online and offline marketing services for retailers' wellness products, has had chronic problems with Outlook since moving its 41 users from an on-premise Exchange server to Google Apps last summer. The problems have been caused by Google-acknowledged bugs, the inconvenience of missing Outlook features when used with Gmail and random technical hiccups.

"I'm tired of the headaches, and I'm quite excited about going back to something that's tried and true," said Harris, who is leaning toward replacing Apps with Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite, which includes hosted Exchange, SharePoint and other Microsoft collaboration software.

There are other Apps administrators who are their wits' end regarding the Apps sync tool for Outlook, as evidenced by several threads in the official Apps Help discussion forum, such as this one labeled "Is Google Apps Sync Enterprise Ready?"

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.

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