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

As part of a "winter cleaning," Google plans to drop support for its most powerful sync feature for customers of its free email services. What effect will this decision have on customers using the latest versions of Windows and Office?
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Gosh, it seems like only a few months ago that Google and Microsoft were happily working together on Windows 8. Back in September, I published instructions on how to connect your free Gmail account and Google Calendar and Contacts to Windows 8's built-in communications suite, the Mail/People/Contacts/Messaging apps. You end up with live tiles like these on your Start screen, with notifications of new messages and upcoming appointments appearing as they arrive:


But as of January 30, 2013, you will no longer be able to do that. That's the bottom line for Windows 8 and RT users from Google's announcement yesterday that it is dropping support for Google Sync for customers who use its free Gmail and Google Apps services. Google Sync is Google's implementation of the Exchange ActiveSync protocol, which it licensed from Microsoft in 2009. As of early next year, it will be an option for paid Google Apps customers only.

See also: Google drops Exchange ActiveSync support for free email accounts

So how does that affect Windows 8 and Windows RT?

When you set up a Google Mail account using the Mail app in Windows 8 or RT, one of two things happens.

If you set up the new account using the default options and leave the Contacts and Calendar check boxes blank, the Mail app connects to Gmail using IMAP. If necessary, it toggles the "Enable IMAP" setting on Gmail's back end, as I confirmed when I did some testing this morning.


If you select the Contacts or Calendar checkbox, however, the Mail account is set to use the EAS protocol.


The biggest advantage of EAS is that it synchronizes all types of changes using push notifications. So email arrives immediately, instead of waiting for a scheduled retrieval pass, and calendar updates you make on your desktop appear on your phone or tablet right away.

After January 30, 2013, those checkboxes will no longer allow you to set up a new mobile device with an Exchange ActiveSync connection unless you have a paid Google Apps account. Presumably, the Mail app team at Microsoft can rewrite its apps so they will use CardDAV and CalDAV to synchronize contacts and Google Calendar items. Whether (and if so, when) they do so is anybody's guess. The Mail app needs a lot of work to add and improve its core features; piling a "Rewrite Google account support" task onto the list isn't helpful.

Office 2013, which has been released to manufacturing and is due to be released to the public in early 2013, is currently unable to use EAS with Gmail. If you try, this is the error message you get:


As a result, IMAP is the default option for Gmail accounts you add to Outlook, and there's no apparent way to get contacts or calendars in sync, even if you have a paid Google Apps account. It's unclear if Google has any plans to update Google Sync for its paying customers so it works with Office 2013. I've asked both companies for comment on this issue.

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on plans for the Windows 8 Mail app. In separate correspondence, another Microsoft spokesperson pointed to Outlook's support for IMAP and noted that Google needs to update its EAS support to version 14.0 to be compatible with Outlook 2013. 

On Apple's iOS platforms, you'll have the option of using official apps from Google. But the company has said it has no intention of writing native apps for Windows 8.

Google is hoping, of course, that Windows 8 users will be sufficiently loyal that they will install the Chrome browser and use it for Gmail and other web services. Recent releases of Chrome include the ability to set Chrome as the default browser and use it as a Windows 8 Metro-style app. (On Windows RT devices, the only option is to use Internet Explorer to access the full range of services.)

Third-party Windows 8 apps could also appear, if developers are willing to do it for free. (I'm not convinced that users who choose not to pay Google for a web service will be willing to pay for an app.)

It's a calculated and risky strategy on Google's part, which appears to be aggressively trying to increase revenue for its Google Apps service as Microsoft aggressively moves to a software-as-a-service model with Office 365. The new Office plans include Exchange Online and SkyDrive accounts that match Google feature for feature but also include access to the full suite of desktop apps for Office 2013. (See What you gain and lose with Office 2013 subscriptions for details.)

In particular, for two or more users the paid Office 365 Home Premium subscription ($100 a year for up to five devices and an unlimited number of users) might represent a better deal than multiple paid Google Apps accounts at $50 per year. And the difference between the "real" Office and the more limited Google Apps might be enough to get customers to switch.

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