Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Confessions of an Email Bigot

Like most people, I have some quirks.  For example, I hate writing with cheap pens.  I easily spend $20 per month on pens when I could buy cheaper for $10, and I try out almost every new pen design that I find in Office Depot.  (My current favorite, I'm sure you're curious to know, is the Pentel EnerGel B77-A).

I have a similar bias against cheap cheese, but that's a story for another blog.

What I discovered last month though is that I have been a snob when it comes to Email systems, and my bias was based not in fact or experience but from blind loyalty.   What's worse is that as an IT Consultant my clients, who presume my advice is based on cold hard facts, were on the receiving end of my biased recommendations too.

So I'm here to set the record straight, and confess that I, Chip Reaves, have been an Email Bigot.

Here's what happened - in the beginning there was POP mail, and it was good. Well, it was sufficient, easy, simple, adequate.  Then there came the free webmail services, like Yahoo mail, Hotmail, and GMail.  At first they were proprietary and so I could never recommend them to my business clients, and by the time they had added POP compatibility I had discovered something wonderfully better - Microsoft Exchange!

With Microsoft Exchange, my (email) life changed - I could send a message from my home computer and it would still show up in the Sent Mail folder on my work computer (and later that extended to my smartphone and my tablet too).

It not only kept my mail up to date, but it managed my Contacts and my Calendar too, and made sure those were the same on all my devices.  As we moved into the era of the iPhone and Android phones this became really helpful, as any new device I picked up would automatically have all my contacts and my appointments once I connected it to my Microsoft Exchange.

In short, it did everything I could ask for email-wise, and threw in Calendars and Contacts too.  At first it was expensive to maintain, but then with the advent of Hosted Exchange services my large maintenance bills dropped to small hosting bills.

Serious business clients use Hosted Exchange, and low-budget clients would make do with POP, and all was right with the world.

Until last month. 

See, I was totally happy with Exchange, especially with Microsoft Outlook, and I was so happy I couldn't imagine there was anything better.  What more could I ask for?

Then, last month, we filmed an "Introduction to GMail" course for Bigger-Brains.

I wasn't totally unfamiliar with GMail of course - in fact my MSP is an Authorized Google Reseller, something we did in order to take care of a few specific clients who specifically requested GMail and/or Google Apps for Business.  But I thought of Google Apps, and particularly GMail, as a sort of "poor man's Exchange" - less expensive with fewer features and weird ways of handling what should be straightforward email tasks (labels instead of folders? come on.).

In short - I was wrong.  I was biased, I was discriminating, I was, apparently, an Email Bigot.

What I learned in the Bigger-Brains course is that GMail has evolved considerably since I took a look at it.  Yes, it does some things differently, maybe very differently than I'm used to, but there's a method to the madness and once you understand WHY those things are different it turns out to be surprisingly efficient and very easy to get used to.

I thought Exchange was great because it integrated Email, Contacts, and Calendars.  GMail integrates Email, Contacts, Calendars, Chat, phone calls, video calls, file storage, attachment management, and online document editing.  

Now, to be fair, Microsoft Exchange (or, more specifically, Microsoft Office 365) has added or is adding those same features.  And I'm also a big fan of Office 365, and I'll continue to use that with many businesses.  But I've found the Google implementation, at least right now, works better.

Case in point, when we shot the Bigger-Brains course on Office 2013, we wanted to show off integration with Skydrive, Skydrive Pro, and Sharepoint, but for some reason Skydrive Pro was not working on my Office 365 account.  30 minutes on the phone with Microsoft Support and we still couldn't figure out why it wasn't working.  (We did figure it out the next day, in time for the shoot, though without Microsoft's help).

So here's my recommendation to all my fellow IT Consultants out there:  take a new look at GMail and Google Apps, if you haven't already.  It probably won't completely replace Microsoft Exchange or Office 365 in your arsenal of tech-solutions, but it's definitely a worthy option for many SMB clients.

(I'd suggest checking out the GMail course on, but that would sound like a sales pitch.)

I think techies are prone to bias - it's kind of a natural defense since we have roughly 7 million new products thrown at us each week, we have to get good at the ones we think are best and focus our time and attention on those.  But if we don't stop to check out the marketplace every once in a while, we risk missing out on solutions that will benefit our clients, and in the long run we risk becoming irrelevant.  We risk becoming a technology bigot, and nobody wants that.

Agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments, or