Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

Summary: There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all e-mail solution. After a long evaluation process, I’m happily using three different e-mail systems. Here's how and why I chose each one.

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When it comes to e-mail, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. I’ve learned that lesson emphatically over the last year as I’ve tested a variety of different e-mail solutions for myself and for various friends and clients.

The top-secret Technology Reviewers Handbook says that after all that evaluating I’m supposed to pick a winner. But there is no clear winner. Instead, I’m happily using three different e-mail systems:

  • My business e-mail i running on a hosted Exchange account at Intermedia. My wife’s business account is hosted on the same server. (I’ve written previously about my reasons for choosing Exchange 2010; I switched to Intermedia earlier this year because they offered Exchange 2010 when other hosted Exchange providers were still offering Exchange 2007.)
  • I have a single user account at Office 365 for several upcoming projects, where features other than e-mail were the deciding factor.
  • I’m playing Google Apps administrator for an out-of-state client who needed a free, easy e-mail solution that would work well with his new Android phone.

Why three different solutions? Because each client (including myself) had different needs. I sorted them out by asking a series of questions and thought it might be useful to share my decision tree here.

A note: If you live in the United States, your options should be the same as the ones I write about in this post. In other countries, some services might not be available, and others might be offered at different prices. In addition, I do not cover the many educational offerings available for students and others associated with an educational institution.

1. Do you want a store-and-forward server or one that syncs your messages in the cloud?

Most Internet service providers offer POP3 mailboxes. They’re usually a standard feature with cheap web-hosting plans, too. These accounts use store-and-forward servers that assume you’re downloading your messages to a local store and deleting them off the server immediately. The server isn't designed to keep an archive. Your master copy of any message is local.

By contrast, cloud-based mail products store your messages on a server so that you can access your e-mail—all of it, new and old—via a web browser. You can usually sync the server’s message store with a local PC or device, using Exchange ActiveSync or IMAP.

For this question, I think there's only one correct answer. If you work in a big corporation, a central server that stores every user's messages is a key part of a legally acceptable archiving policy. But a cloud-based server is also a good idea even if you’re a one-person organization. If you have more than one device (smartphone and PC, maybe a notebook, maybe a tablet), keeping everything in sync with a POP3 account is impossible. I still have a few POP3 accounts associated with some domains I own, but I forward all incoming messages from those accounts to a cloud-based account.

2. Do you need a custom domain?

I’m a firm believer in owning your own domain—especially for business mail. You might be perfectly happy to use a generic webmail address as your calling card to the rest of the world. (Just don't adopt an address from your ISP as your primary e-mail account. If you move or change service providers, that address will become useless.)

The free Google Apps offering allows you to assign your custom domain to Google Apps. Hotmail offers this feature, too, but the domain management tools in Windows Live Admin Center made me want to scream in frustration. For my out-of-state clients, it took a few hours to get their custom domain working with Google Apps, but after those initial hiccups were out of the way it’s been problem-free.

Naturally, all of the paid services—hosted Exchange, Office 365, and Google Apps—offer excellent integration with custom domains. For Office 365 and Intermedia, I had a choice of turning an entire domain over or just defining mail exchange (MX) records. If you know your way around DNS configuration, this is a straightforward task. If you don’t, be prepared to ask for help (or take a crash course in DNS management).

Here's the DNS manager for an Office 365 P plan. Note that you must set up the MX records with an external DNS service and can't edit them here:

And here's the custom DNS manager that Intermedia customers find in the HostPilot control panel:

3. Do you plan to use Microsoft Outlook?

If you live in Outlook, then your primary account should be on an Exchange 2010 server. Period. Full stop.

The combination of Outlook and Exchange offers great online and offline support. That’s true whether you’re using Microsoft’s Office 365 or a hosted Exchange option like Intermedia’s. Hotmail accounts work well after you install the Microsoft Outlook Hotmail Connector.

My experience with accessing Gmail and Google Apps accounts via Microsoft Outlook has been consistently bad—so bad that I won’t use the two products together. I won’t recommend that combination for anyone else, either. If you have a Gmail account and you want offline access, you can use the Offline settingsin Google's Chrome browser or try a third-party client program other than Outlook.

Page 2: How much would you pay? -->

 

Topics: Cloud, Apps, Browser, Collaboration, Google, Microsoft, Servers, Software

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156 comments
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  • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

    Camry or Ferrari anybody?
    mm71
    • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

      @mm71 <br><a href="http://storyofstuff.org/bottledwater/" target="_blank">Bottled water</a> or tap anybody?
      Return_of_the_jedi
      • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

        @Return_of_the_jedi
        I will correct it for you. Bottled water that was frozen for days beyond its expiry date or fresh tap water anybody?
        Ram U
      • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

        @Rama.NET
        Didn't realise water had an expiry date? :P
        xnederlandx
      • M-m-m . . . .

        Is that tap water in Tahiti?
        keywtours
    • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

      @mm71 lots of us HAVE to use BOTH, one for work, one for personal. There are nice tools to make them work together. like InboxEx, www.inboxex.com
      ywang221
      • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

        @ywang221
        I agree.... I use exchange for business purpose and the gmail and others for personal use and subscription on updates.
        eschwartzk
    • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

      @mm71

      Exchange = Yugo (or Camry)
      Google or anyone else = Ferarri
      itguy10
      • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

        @itguy10 If, you mean a Ferarri body kit for a Fiero, then you may be right. After all, gmail has limited offline support, you are required to use a 3rd party app -- such as outlook -- to do encryption like pgp, you are still required to host exchange servers if you need to support BES (At twice the density of a native Exchange environment), calendaring and contact integration is fairly weak, etc.
        Your Non Advocate
      • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

        @facebook<br>Why in the world would you choose to support proprietary systems that cost even more to run like BES? Open Systems, true open standards and hetrogenious compatibility across multiple platforms is the only smart choice in this day and age. Anything else is going back to the same thinking that kept so many companies on mainframes when they could have done it better and cheaper long before they dropped their mainframes. You can save more money and more support costs by switching even if you had to replace every single phone in an enterprise. BES is the worst possible option for Enterprises these days and there is nothing on Blackberry anymore that isn't available via another smartphone.
        tim.w.jung
      • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

        @itguy10 I don't care for Exchange either, but you are smoking something funny if you think it's anything less than the cream of the crop.
        John Hanks
      • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

        @tim.w.jung@

        Just like this article, organizations have particular business needs that can only be met by particular solutions. Although it is easy to dismiss BES as a propietary solution, it meets our business needs.
        Your Non Advocate
    • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

      @mm71
      i will say Lada (gmail) or Ferrari (Exchange)
      SylvainT
    • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

      @mm71

      Ferrari is always the bests choice :)

      Rian - <a href="http://zebraprintbedding.biz/"> Zebra Print Bedding </a>
      rian_greg007
  • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

    This is an easy one ! Go with gmail. It works with all browsers and OSes.
    loidab
    • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

      @loidab
      considering that google administrators have been caught snooping email accounts, ill stick with an exchange server that i can control access to.
      tiderulz
      • Yet you trust exchange with your data

        @tiderulz

        @tiderulz
        Yeah cos that makes so much sense, Google could get richer even without trying so why would they steal anything without reason or a warranted request (except marketing data, which all major providers now collect). They are seemingly the only massive company that has tried to avoid stiffling innovation

        It makes almost as much sense as using a vpn between outlook a gui based html parsing client and an exchange server which has an exploitable gui and even a web browser. Whack Blackberry enterprise server on top with it's needless pdf parsing holes and other parsing holes and dubious security anyway and you may as well put up a sign saying please steal all my ideas and contacts and work which my VPN gives me confidence to put into my crap server.

        80% of companies report IPR theft. I wonder how many use exchange.

        Most free large email services for performance reasons disable TLS between servers and all that work (most) with the nokia phone clients must store passwords in decryptable form as they do not support plain text over TLS but only cram-md5. Yes ironically plain text is more secure.

        Trust me, exchange should be burnt while people dance around the flames. If your not an amateur you can do anything exchange can with a unix ERP in many different ways. Heck you could get a unix mail client like claws mail to order flowers whenever someone says something nice and send viruses to spammers.
        kevlar700
      • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

        @tiderulz : so you can snoop???
        deaf_e_kate
      • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

        @tiderulz
        Might want to get a private point-to-point link then that only you control to all your customers. Providers are already opening every packet and inspecting the contents to do traffic shaping. It is already possible and been proven that the telcos and the government are already at key points in the Internet snooping all traffic. If your really that paranoid then do complete email encryption so even if they look at the email they won't have a clue what it says.
        tim.w.jung
      • RE: Gmail or Exchange? Six questions to help you make the right choice

        @kevlar700
        You forgot to mention that all BES emails go through RIM servers no matter the fact that your running a BES server. So RIM can already and probably does read all blackberry email. This is a know fact and every time connectivity to their servers dies it becomes clear that BES sends all traffic through RIM.

        So in reality BES is worse from a security standpoint. At least with standards based email it connects directly to the corporate email server and can do that encrypted, so it is far more secure. The more middle men you can take out of your infrastructure, the more secure and more reliable it will be.
        tim.w.jung