Google added a handful of new features to its Google Apps web-based platform, including the ability to migrate old email gathering "metaphorical dust" to Gmail accounts.
Shortly after Google Apps launched in February, Google said more than 100,000 customers had signed up for the service. Since then, Google has been adding new business customers at a rate of 1,000 per day, according to Rishi Chandra, product manager for Google Apps.
And that momentum appears likely to continue with the addition of a new e-mail migration feature that will make it easier for organizations to make the move to Google Apps Premier and Education Editions.
Google has developed a self-service wizard that lets administrators securely transfer into their Google Apps account e-mail from any e-mail server that supports IMAP. The two most-used corporate e-mail servers -- Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes -- support IMAP interfaces.
The advantage of this feature is that organizations can very easily make stored e-mail searchable and accessible from Google Apps' browser interface.
Now businesses and schools can spend less time worrying about “maintaining infrastructure” and focus more on the things that matter most to them -- like health care or educating students, said Google engineer Vikaram Gupta in a blog post.
Other platforms already supported are the open-source Courier Mail Server, Cyrus and Dovecot e-mail servers.
The mail merge capability signals the first time Google is directly giving users tools in order to migrate away from established corporate e-mail systems.
And this may help Microsoft spend more time worrying about retaining its Exchange customers.
Google Apps, which includes Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar, and Google Start Page, received several other improvements Monday.
This is in keeping with Google's strategy of incremental product improvements, said Chandra, who noted that Google Apps had seen some 30 new features and updates in the four months since it was introduced.
“At the end of the day, Google Apps is about innovation,” said Chandra. You do not have to wait for a major release to get these features. It happens in real time. ... It is taking the speed and innovation of the consumer world and applying it to the business world.
Google Apps Premier Edition currently includes Gmail with 10GB of storage, Google Docs & Spreadsheets, integrated instant messaging and search tools, Google Talk for instant messaging and VoIP services, support for Gmail on BlackBerry mobile devices, Google Calendar, a set of APIs and partner technologies to integrate with existing enterprise applications, and 24/7 phone support. The suite is priced at $50 per user.
With the new mail merger capabilities Gmail will put messages into conversation threads and display the original sender, recipient and message date. The tool also will convert existing mail folders into labels. Once transferred, the messages are searchable via Gmail's search feature.
Google also is aiming to establish parity between the offline and online capabilities of its productivity suite: Earlier this month it unveiled a set of APIs as part of a browser extension called Google Gears that will let Web-based applications work in a disconnected mode.
Among the updates to Google Apps:
- Shared Address Book: Google Apps now features an option that allows administrators to enable address book sharing, which makes the user's contacts accessible to others in that domain.
- Google Docs & Spreadsheets Charts: Users can create charts while spread-sheeting.
- Increased Gmail Attachment Size: Old news, but cool nonetheless. GMail handles attachments up to 20 MB up from 10 Mbytes.
- Multi-User Chats: Users of the service can invite multiple contacts to converse via the Google Talk gadget on their Google Apps home pages.
Such relentless change has the potential to leave users lost, but Chandra insists Google's focus on the user experience means that new features are easy to understand and does not require new training.
One of the first organizations to test this out, Central Piedmont Community College, replaced its old email system for 30,000 users in just 3 weeks. And that process came down to 3 million emails flying from their server over to ours in just 24 hours -- more than 2,000 emails per minute, all without missing a beat.
And Google Docs & Spreadsheets is about to get a new look to make document management and search more efficient. “We planning to shortly release a refresh of the UI [user interface] for Docs & Spreadsheets,” said Chandra.
“In the consumer world, most users do not have a huge number of documents, but in the business world you really do have tons and tons of documents. So we wanted to provide a UI that allows you to much easier document management,” he added.
Two weeks ago, Google offered other help for corporate users, saying emerging offline capabilities for Google Apps had been a “key missing piece” of its platform, especially for large companies running Exchange and Notes.
But company officials also said their motivation was to build enterprise services and not attack Microsoft and IBM/Lotus.