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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4. Are you willing to pay? If so, how much?

If you want free, get Hotmail or Gmail. (And don’t turn up your nose at Hotmail. If you haven’t looked lately, I recommend you try it again. It’s a first-class webmail solution that would have armies of fans if it came out of Mountain View or Cupertino.)

Google Apps is also available as a free offering. It’s limited to 10 user accounts, and each account has the same server storage as a free Gmail account—currently just over 7 GB.

The paid offerings are Google Apps for Business, Office 365, and Intermedia Hosted Exchange.

Prices start at roughly $50 a year, and you can get a lot of extra services along with your e-mail package. The most important, as far as I’m concerned, is the dedicated support that isn’t available with the free services (more about that later). Google offers a variety of add-ons for its Google Apps for Business customers. Microsoft includes SharePoint and Lync Online (messaging and collaboration) with Office 365. Those latter add-ons were the reason I chose Office 365 for my next book.

  • Google Apps: the free version allows up to 10 user accounts, with the same email storage limits as a free Gmail account. Google Apps for Business bumps storage to 25 GB and adds BlackBerry and Microsoft Outlook interoperability costs; it costs $5 per user account per month, or $50 if paid annually.
  • Office 365 Plans

     

  • Intermedia Hosted Exchange: $7.50 per mailbox per month for Business account (25 GB storage), or $10/month for Enterprise account with unlimited storage and a 50 MB SharePoint plan; additional SharePoint storage is available for a fee.

5. How good is the spam filtering?

This is the question most people forget to ask. In my case, there was an enormous difference. Gmail, Hotmail, and Office 365 were equally effective at separating the wheat from the chaff, with a low incidence of real messages swept into the Junk folder.

An Office 365 P plan doesn’t offer any fine-tuning over its spam filters. It's a simple toggle.

[Update; A reader points out that with Office 365 E plans, administrators have access to Forefront for Exchange.]

Intermedia offers much more fine-grained control. Every message that goes through its SpamStopper engine is assigned a numeric score. The higher the score, the more likely a particular message is likely to be spam. Using the sliders in the SpamStopper section of HostPilot allows you to set thresholds based on those scores, with messages above a certain score being moved to the Junk folder or summarily deleted.

One of my e-mail addresses has been in use since 1994. It gets mountains of spam every day—I estimate more than 90% of the messages sent to that address are spam. Unfortunately, I can’t retire the address, so I simply forward it to another account at a different domain. It is a real-world stress test for any spam filter.

With Office 365, I would typically get hundreds of messages from this address shunted into my Junk folder every day. Trying to pick the occasional legitimate message out was unpleasant work, and I know I missed a few important messages. By contrast, the Intermedia filters allowed me to filter spam using the numeric rating attached to each message after it was analyzed. I was able to quickly tweak those settings so that only a handful of actual spam messages sneak through every day. That makes the false positives much easier to spot and whitelist.

6. Do you need human support?

When it comes to support, you definitely get what you pay for.

With free Gmail, Hotmail, and Google Apps accounts, and with the $6-per-month Office 365 Plan P, you get only online support (typically via user-to-user forums). Google Apps for Business and the E-for-Enterprise Office 365 plans offer more robust support options.

But they can’t hold a candle to Intermedia’s support, which it legitimately touts as “industry leading.” I used their free migration service with a test account last fall to copy the contents of my Gmail account to corresponding folders in the new Exchange store. Since I moved my primary business and personal accounts to Intermedia, I’ve needed to call for support on several occasions. Hold times were brief, and the engineers I talked to were able to address my issues quickly and accurately.

They were especially good at helping me track down external causes for issues, including DNS configurations, that were affecting e-mail delivery. When I was briefly experiencing some routing issues on Comcast’s network, Intermedia’s engineers contacted Comcast to fix the issue. That was a refreshing change from the usual finger-pointing that goes on.

In my case, the combination of excellent spam filtering and great support were enough to tip the scales heavily in Intermedia’s favor. Ironically, Intermedia recently announced that it plans to resell Office 365 services. You can bet I'll be monitoring that development closely.

And that’s my list.

If you’ve gone through a similar decision process, it’s possible your calculations were different. Tell me about it in the Talkback section.

See related:

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

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Talkback

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@...