The Inbox War: For Google, Microsoft, the battlegrounds are comfort zones and costs

The Inbox War: For Google, Microsoft, the battlegrounds are comfort zones and costs

Summary: As Google and Microsoft battle each other for big wins over e-mail hosting contracts, the companies are being schooled about what customers really want.

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Barring any last minute changes, a Microsoft vendor is poised to win the e-mail hosting contract for the state of California. And Google, which has cried foul over the state's wording for bids for the contract, is left standing on the sidelines as a big client slips away.

It's certainly a blow to Google, which has been pushing its cloud-based Google Apps as an alternative to more traditional systems, such as those offered by Microsoft. Sure, Google has made a name for itself as a player and scored a few big wins, such as the city of Los Angeles. Despite some speed bumps in the implementation process for Los Angeles, that deal actually sent a message to others that Google is capable of handling big prime-time contracts.

But is prime time ready for Google and its cloud offering?

California could have been a big win for Google but it was pretty clear about what the state wanted in an e-mail system - and it sounded a lot like what Microsoft is offering. That's not to imply that the state crafted its Invitation For Bid (IFB) to give Microsoft an edge. Instead, it did what government agencies do: It crafted a list of requirements based on what it's had in the past.

Also: Will cloud computing economics add up for Microsoft?

For the end-user, the look and feel of the inbox - from the way messages are sorted to the placement of shortcut tools - is what defines e-mail, not whether the servers are in a chilly room in the basement or in a Google data center somewhere in middle America. For many of them, the Outlook inbox is where they learned to manage email.

For the IT folks, e-mail is more complex than that. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes configuration that goes in to helping get - and keep - employees connected. And, of course, the execs want to know how it all will affect the bottom line.

In some ways, Google is the victim of its own innovation. In Gmail, for example, Google thinks that users shouldn't sort their messages but instead should search for particular messages by using keywords. Likewise, it prefers to display messages as threaded conversations, but that can be confusing for some users.

But, as Google is fast learning, you can't always give people what you think they want or need. Sometimes you have to give them what they're asking for.

At an analyst's meeting where the company was talking up its Azure hosting service, a Microsoft exec took a few jabs at Google as he pointed to a few customers as "Google Winbacks," those who had left Google to come back to Microsoft.

That's actually a bit of an overstatement as at least one of those companies highlighted - Phaeton Automotive Group - wasn't quite the Google Winback that fits into Microsoft's example.

Phaeton, a group of auto dealerships in Toronto, Canada, had not been a Microsoft customer before it had gone Google. And while it's true that Phaeton had a number of issues with the Google platform, including directory access across multiple domains and setting up IMAP mailboxes, Microsoft offered a lot of what Phaeton had been looking for - something a bit more traditional that also met the needs of the whole company. With Microsoft, employees are back on a familiar desktop client, the IT folks have their on-premise mail servers, and the execs scored some financial savings in the form of concessions to Phaeton for the contract.

In that sense, the battle plans for Microsoft and Google can't be compared on an apples-to-apples basis. Microsoft is coughing up concessions to lure the companies back and, in some cases, selling those companies on a traditional on-premise model instead of a cloud model - even though there are cloud options.

At the end of the day, Google is offering something different - a new way to manage email and a new way to pay for it. Google's challenge: Some companies just want email the old way. Microsoft is offering companies a way to stick with what they know, a familiar model that can bridge to the cloud if needed, wrapped in a pricing structure that says loud and clear that there's a competitor on the playing field.

Google may find its product to be superior - and maybe it is. And certainly, the cost savings are nothing to ignore. But, as was the case with the no-bid defeat for the state of California contract, until Google can give the customer what it's asking for - instead of what Google thinks the customer wants - Microsoft could continue to win some big battles in this war.

Topics: Collaboration, Google, Microsoft

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  • An oversimplification

    Google's biggest challenge is it is not differentiating enough and its limitations in integrating with other systems, not that it is too different. Search and labels is not particularly innovative. A lack of a groups API and a non-existent SLA for app engine merely highlight the fact that core functionality is still missing from the Google offering.
    Steven@...
    • RE: The Inbox War: For Google, Microsoft, the battlegrounds are comfort zones and costs

      @Steven@...

      It is too different for some people though. I work in a small office. Our 50+ year old receptionist has serious issues with gmail. She has just over 100 drafts that were autosaved over the years that simply have 1 word. She knows how to make the exclamation point and question mark, but thought caps lock would enter in the pound (#) symbol.

      I think she's the kind of person who needs the desktop client to be most productive. She has trouble understanding how keyword searching works, and why misspelled words won't come up in her results (and she does misspell things quite often).

      She also keeps trying to use tabs and spaces to format her emails, like it's a typewriter or something.
      midenginedrift
      • RE: The Inbox War: For Google, Microsoft, the battlegrounds are comfort zones and costs

        @midenginedrift Just to be clear: her problems aren't related to the fact that she's "50+" (a little sensitive here, can you tell how old I am?), but your point is taken: less sophisticated users do best with the most familiar option.
        ccoy@...
      • 50 years old???

        @midenginedrift
        You need to train your receptionist, that has nothing to do with age! Ask Ken Thompson or Dennis Richie...
        Eleutherios
      • RE: The Inbox War: For Google, Microsoft, the battlegrounds are comfort zones and costs

        @midenginedrift and why doesn't the software give her what she is used to ?
        99guspuppet
      • RE: The Inbox War: For Google, Microsoft, the battlegrounds are comfort zones and costs

        @midenginedrift

        I've never tried this, but I have read many times that Gmail can be accessed via typical desktop email clients. For those users who do not want to adjust to the Gmail web browser interface, why not set them up with a desktop email client? Then they would be happy and the others would be happy, too.

        As I said, I've never tried that. Is there something about having some users in an organization access their Gmail via a desktop email client and having others in the organization access their Gmail via the web browser interface that causes troubles?
        KeithDick
      • IMAP answers the problem of allowing a local client.

        @midenginedrift, I have used Gmail and many hard clients for some time. My preference is Thunderbird, but either way you could even use Outlook instead of having to use Gmail web browser for e-mail.

        Sounds like a training issue not a limit of the technology. Heck event he labels show up as folders and essentially operate the same way.
        ZTiger
      • RE: The Inbox War: For Google, Microsoft, the battlegrounds are comfort zones and costs

        @midenginedrift
        Age isn't the problem with your receptionist. I'm 55, and have no trouble knowing what to use in typing ... whether in English, Spanish, French, German or Chinese. She just needs to be taught.

        As for Gmail being accessed via desktop email apps, I do that frequently. It's exceedingly simple to do.
        Liam SWz
      • RE: The Inbox War: For Google, Microsoft, the battlegrounds are comfort zones and costs

        @midenginedrift

        Actually, Google provides excellent Outlook integration... Just look at how the AG for New Mexico chose Google Apps... http://whitepapers.zdnet.com/abstract.aspx?docid=1165995

        It's actually pretty funny that this ZDNet article comes out about this, but doesn't reference Google's success with other states like New Mexico.

        We're getting ready to do a pilot program, and one of the things Google says they can do is use Outlook just we do now with Exchange.
        Technical John
      • RE: The Inbox War: For Google, Microsoft, the battlegrounds are comfort zones and costs

        @midenginedrift Retraining is a cost, and an interuption in productivity. If you can avoid the need for retraining, it goes straight to the bottom line. Some staff may have limited IT skills, but may be very skilled in other areas of the business. It is wasteful to demoralise them or reduce their effectiveness unless there is a clear business benefit. Changing email suppliers is rarely worth it.
        A.Sinic
      • RE: The Inbox War: For Google, Microsoft, the battlegrounds are comfort zones and costs

        @midenginedrift
        Maybe that was just an example, if she thought that Caps Lock would get her the #, her problem isn't google, it's basic computer skills. I just tried it, and Caps Lock + '3' key does not = '#' in Outlook.

        I understand what others said about training and productivity, but this woman is 50, not 80. Computers have been common in the workplace for more than 20 years and have been ubiquitous for [b]at least[/b] 15. What you're describing is someone who's only brush with word processing was on a smith corona.

        Regardless, I'm tired of companies saying they can't train. If we're hiring people who can't learn an email package or a word processing package, then something is wrong. It may not be easy for that person, but in theory, the company will use Google or Outlook (whichever they choose) for at least 5 or 10 years.

        Finally, as someone else pointed out, you can point an Outlook client at gmail services.
        For the record, I do not use gmail, and have no intention to, but that's just because I don't trust those information gatherers to do no harm.
        notsofast
  • Is Google giving what they think the customer wants

    or or Google giving the customer what Google says they should want?

    Ther is a difference.
    :|
    Tim Cook
    • This is how the big 3 automakers got creamed..

      back in the 80's and 90's. They told the consumers what they think the consumers wanted instead of actually listening first and then deliver a product based on that. Now Government motors went bankrupt and Chrysler is no longer an American owned car company. GM and Ford are starting to sell decent cars now comparable to the foreign makers and the only reason they are able to do so is by bringing in cars designed in Europe and rebranding the name.

      Back to original topic: As a consumer, I want my office software when ever and where ever I go, on the internet or not. Where my email is stored does not matter to me as long as I can retrieve it like the way I am doing it now, connected to a server and I know where that server is located. Like you, do NOT want to hear that my email is lost somewhere in the cloud.
      lenohere
      • RE: The Inbox War: For Google, Microsoft, the battlegrounds are comfort zones and costs

        @lenohere good memory/and comparison. The when ever where ever is a big deal...
        ItsTheBottomLine
    • And it matters

      To quote from the article:
      [i]But, as Google is fast learning, you can?t always give people what you think they want or need. Sometimes you have to give them what they?re asking for.[/i]

      This sage advice applies to ALL industry leaders, including Microsoft. The sooner they learn it, the better things will be.
      klumper
  • Why anyone would want MS Email is shocking

    It's slow, unreliable, tied to 1 vendor for server, OS, and apps, and just a regular piece of junk.
    itguy08
    • RE: The Inbox War: For Google, Microsoft, the battlegrounds are comfort zones and costs

      @itguy08 Replace "MS Email" with "Google Mail" and your statement makes sense too.
      Steven@...
    • Piece of junk

      @itguy08

      Pretty much sums up Google software too. If not more so.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • There are . . . .

        @NStalnecker

        Some things that MS gets right, and when they do, they shine in those areas. Email is one of them.

        Live/Hotmail leaves much to be desired, but there is a reason that Outlook is King of the hill, and it isn't integration. It works, and it works well. It is easy to understand. And it stores Emails much like the file system, with Sub-folders, etc.

        As much as I like and use Gmail (It's my main public email account), I wish they would add Sub-Categories. I don't think in threads, I think in terms of documents, and I'd like to file them like I would in a filing cabinet. Outlook can do that, Gmail can't.
        JLHenry
      • RE: The Inbox War: For Google, Microsoft, the battlegrounds are comfort zones and costs

        @NStalnecker That would be your opinion and you know how opinions are.
        blueskip