Google drops Exchange ActiveSync support for free email accounts

Google drops Exchange ActiveSync support for free email accounts

Summary: Google's decision to restrict support for enterprise-class syncing is the latest move in a bid to move customers to its paid products and to push free Gmail users to its mobile apps.


Google's campaign to draw a sharp line between its free email offerings and what it delivers for paying customers is nearly complete.

Last week, Google announced it was killing off its free Google Apps offering for new customers. Today it dropped the other shoe, announcing, in a bizarrely named "Winter cleaning" blog post, that as of January 2013 it will no longer support Google Sync connections for new devices using a Gmail or free Google Apps account.

See also: Gmail loses Google Sync: How Windows 8, RT, Office are affected

Why "Winter cleaning"? Who knows? Google isn't dropping support for Google Sync for its paying customers, only removing the option for free Gmail customers.

The announcement is even more confusing because both Google and Apple have misused brand names associated with the various products. So here's a cheat sheet:

Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) is an XML-based protocol, developed by Microsoft, that allows synchronization of email messages, calendar items, contacts, and other data between servers and mobile devices.

Microsoft Exchange is an email server program developed by Microsoft. It will celebrate its 20th birthday in 2013.

EAS is supported on Google mail platforms because enterprises demanded it.

Back in February 2009, Google licensed EAS from Microsoft but branded it as Google Sync:

Google Sync uses Microsoft® Exchange ActiveSync® to let your users synchronize their Google Apps mail, contacts, and calendars to their mobile devices. They can also set up alerts (sound or vibration) for incoming messages and upcoming meetings.

EAS is a data exchange protocol. Google's implementation of EAS is not Microsoft code, and Google's implementation is completely separate from Exchange, the mail server program that Microsoft sells to corporations (and now to small businesses as well, via Office 365).

Google's support for Exchange ActiveSync has always been half-hearted. Even today, three years after its introduction, Google's official support page says, "Google Sync is still in beta. Read Known Issues with iOS before enabling Google Sync with iOS devices."

Confusingly, if you set up a Gmail account on an iPhone today, you're most likely to use the Microsoft Exchange option, even though that server program isn't involved in any way. Apple took the shortcut of reusing that setup screen rather than duplicating it under the  Google Sync name.

So what does this mean for Google customers?

  • If you are a Gmail user, you can continue to use existing devices set up with Google Sync/Exchange ActiveSync. But as of January 30, 2013, you will no longer be able to set up a new mobile device this way. You will instead have to use a Google app or configure your account to use IMAP and synchronize accounts separately.
  • If you have a free Google Apps account (grandfathered in following last week's announcement), you will also lose Google Sync support. A Google spokesperson confirmed via e-mail that users of free Google Apps accounts will not be able to set up new Google Sync connections after January 30, 2013.
  • Paying Google Apps for Business, Education, and Government customers can continue to set up new devices with Google Sync after this cutoff date.

For iPhone users, as Larry Dignan has noted, this is a clear pitch to spur use of the Gmail iOS app. For Android users, it's a non-issue. For users of other platforms, including Windows Phone 8, it's a headache.

Microsoft has been aggressively targeting Gmail customers for months and has stepped up its campaign recently.

So today's response from Redmond shouldn't be surprising. Microsoft exec Chris Jones wasted no time posting this tweet:

Winter cleaning? Time to switch to from Gmail, so your calendar/contacts keep syncing.

Game on.

Update: Several people have asked me about the licensing agreement between Google and Microsoft over Exchange ActiveSync. Neither company has disclosed specifics, but these general terms appear in a wiki hosted at

In December 2008 Microsoft shifted it's [sic] licensing of Exchange ActiveSync from that of a protocol license, to licensing the patents of Exchange ActiveSync and providing full protocol documentation …


Because EAS is licensed as a series of patents (and not given as computer code to other companies), different clients and servers implement a subset of the entire features of the protocol and the implementations are written by each company that has obtained a license.

So, Google wrote Google Sync after obtaining a license to use the underlying technology. If you're surprised that this latest scuffle comes down to patent licensing, you haven't been paying attention.


Topics: Google Apps, Microsoft

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  • Android Non-Issue

    This is not a non-issue for Android users. I don't like the Google Gmail app because of the way it handles attachments. I turn off email sync and setup my Gmail account as an Exchange connection because I find it handles the attachments better.
  • M$ must pay Google

    to continue to support AES. The free lunch is over!
    LlNUX Geek
    • Per usual...

      You have this backwards, and you are an idiot about these matters.
      • just tell him that

        "its another clear example of Google stealing somebody else's property (ActiveSync) and calling it 'Google Sync - our newest software innovation!"
        William Farrel
        • Who wants to steal junk

          What Google does is a good thing.

          This only indicates MS monopoly is ending and MS cannot force people to dance to their tunes anymore.

          There are other open ways to achieve this. Best way to break MS monopoly is to stop supporting their proprietary offerings.
          Van Der
          • well in this case it is not Microsoft that decided for Google

            it is Google. And Google products always stay at beta level that makes us to think that Google may drop carDAV in future.
            Ram U
          • It's incipid

            Clearly a way to make people simply pick up and go to another service that may supply these features for free. I've considered it on occasion but until today never really gave it much thought. But for having been offered free and then it's taken away as free, I have just as much right to stop using the service and search. I'd support another company that is a little more generous since I'd be viewing their incessant ads instead. I will investigate my option this weekend and prob. make a permanent switch when I get a new device.
          • Google Apps & Sync

            This is not retroactive and Does Not include current Android or Apps users. Thinking of going to Windows Phone ... ? ... Think again :
            Google Apps are $5/month or $50/year.
            MSoft 365 is $6/month with no annual discount.
            I made the move to Google Apps over a year ago and use them on my desktop & Android Devices. Free web hosting (just like MSoft but Full domain name unlike MSoft which tacks on an extended 'on'. Since Gmail Sync is a Paid fork for EAS it just makes good business to have folks Pay to Google LESS than what All Competitors are offering. Google is growing up and it's Past Time for them to charge for what the competition Charges as well.
          • Actually, it's...

            $4/month for Microsoft's Office365 if all you are interested in is Exchange-based e-mail, calendar, and contacts. So, it is actually just a little bit less than Google Apps.

          • You are mistaken

            This has nothing to do with the so-called MS monopoly. It is all about the projections of mutiple marketing houses that Windows Phone whatever is a credible threat to their own mobile offerings two or three years down the road. Make it difficult for people to sync your popular free mail offering, now that email is important again, and you might just get some easily duped sales people into steering customers your way. You are so worried about Microsoft, you can't see or hear Google stomping up on your six. If you think they aren't just as hungry for your $, you haven't been paying attention.
          • Big Difference

            Google is using open source and open standards, unlike Microsoft's history of proprietary standards and embrace-extend-extinguish. Google can't lock you in anywhere you don't want to be.

            The benefit here is that the mainstream Microsoft users might finally wake up to the dangers of adopting proprietary protocols and standards. There's no "fear of Google" here when one realizes one is using open standards and has nothing to worry about.
          • No one "stole" anything

            EAS is an efficient way to synchronize mail, contacts and calendar items. Google licensed the protocol (and the underlying patents) to allow its clients to talk to the GMail servers. There's no implication of any Microsoft monopoly here (nor does this apply to any Microsoft products (except peripherally)).

            By licensing EAS, GMail servers looked like Exchange servers to clients like phones. It simplifies setting things up.

            What Google has done is create more of a distinction between their free services (which no longer support this) and their pay services (that do). Soon, if you pay Google money, you get easy access to your data. If you don't pay them money, it gets more complicated.
        • Bogus Synonyms

          I've decided to not sweat it when folks use piracy instead of infringement. I am, though, going to call you on calling "licensing" stealing. Google licensed the protocol from Microsoft. If Microsoft cared about the name Google used for the protocol, then Google paid more for the permission to rename. It seems pretty clear to me from Mr. Bott's pull quote that Google gives credit to Microsoft.

          A service that costs Google money is now going to be available only to paying customers. Drink a toast to good days now past and find someone else who gives a free ride, or stop using the service, or pay if it's of value to you.
  • What B.S.

    "Winter cleaning" They joke about yanking the rug from out under you. Good for Microsoft to call them out on it.
    • Microsoft minders out in force.

      Sorry guys. Jump off the leaky MS boat. Microsoft cannot afford you anymore.
      Van Der
  • Fallout from the Maps war?

    I wonder if this means Google will be unveiling a calendar app for iOS.
  • Android's biggest enemy is Google itself

    So, now Google in it's brilliance is going to drive tens of thousands of Corporate Android users to some other service because they can no longer activate new Android phones on their Exchange server for company email?
    This sounds difficult to believe to me since Google keeps trying to position themselves as a solutions provider versus the old image of being a search provider.
    • Um, wrong.

      Google is not preventing devices from using EAS. It's simply not offering EAS for Google's own free services. Android users will still be able to use EAS with their corporate MS Exchange servers.
    • Probably won't affect business users

      "Paying Google Apps for Business, Education, and Government customers can continue to set up new devices with Google Sync after this cutoff date."

      I imagine they use the paid for version
      William Farrel
    • No such thing as corporate Android

      Corporate Android users? Has that term ever been used? LOL, corporate customers avoid Android like the plague, and for good reason.