Outlook and Google and Office 365

Executive Brief

Businesses that use Outlook are better served with Microsoft Office 365 as their hosted email provider, rather than Google Apps. The cost is not dramatically different – annual per-user cost of Office 365 starts at $60, Google Apps at $50 – but Office 365’s full support for all Outlook functions can dramatically decrease complexity in your email environment.

Why It’s So

Many businesses are considering the switch to Google Apps for Business for company email … and why not? At $50 per user annually (base plan), Google Apps is a feature-rich and very affordable email platform. Not only does it provide mail, calendar & contacts, but also a web-based apps to handle documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Mobile support is also robust, for both iPhone and Android phones & tablets. However, if you are using Microsoft Outlook, you will quickly find that Outlook + Google Mail may not quite be a marriage made in heaven.

Being unable to sync your calendar and contacts to your phone is, to put it mildly, a pain.

With a non-Exchange mail server, Outlook uses a method called IMAP to download messages. The snag is that IMAP only supports the sync of email messages; everything else in Outlook – namely your contacts & calendars – is not synched to Google!

This limitation isn’t specific just to Google Apps....
When Outlook is used to connect to a non-Exchange mail server (e.g., Godaddy, Yahoo, AOL, etc), it’s normal for only mail sync to function. While it is possible to sync other features (calendar, contacts) between Outlook and Google, it requires the use of “middle-ware” to do so. In our experience, it’s not uncommon for this method to work for a while, before some error or fault causes the sync to no longer function … and then it’s time to call tech support!

That said, Google Apps for Work does include access to Apps Sync to sync calendar, contacts & tasks with Outlook. The issue with this approach is that Apps Sync is an Outlook add-in, rather than a function that is native to Outlook. The reliability of Google’s App Sync is dependent upon Google maintaining and updating the tool as Outlook is updated. For instance, Google was slow to update the add-in when Outlook 2013 was first released!

On the other hand, when Outlook is used with an Exchange-based mail server (e.g., Office 365) not only mail but also contacts, calendars, tasks and notes are all automatically synchronized between Outlook, your cloud account & your mobile devices – it really is, as dear old Mr. Popeil so succinctly put it, just “set it, and forget it.”

Now, this becomes a non-issue if you’re not using Outlook. Many folks like the Gmail interface and don’t have a problem with abandoning Outlook. Yet the Gmail web interface is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, so for many organizations Outlook support remains an important factor. For those who do prefer a web interface to email, it’s worth noting that Office 365 does have a pretty fantastic web mail client now, known as Outlook Web Access.

Given the small price premium of Office 365 to Google Apps, yet the significantly better Office support … if your staff uses Outlook for email, Office 365 deserves your serious consideration.

When Outlook is used with an Exchange-based mail server like Office 365, it really is as simple as “set it, and forget it.”


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