What is Google Thinking?

Gmail, that flagship product almost every single one of us uses with either an @gmail.com account or a vanity domain backed by Gmail, is going through what I can only call a series of revolutionary changes that will be bad for many of us.

The number of service changes, realignments, and deprecated features that have occurred this year may spell the end of Gmail as we know it. Why is this bad? Well, in addition to being arguably one of the best free email services available, for many it is also one of the most effective options at protecting users from spam. As they disable services, move options to their for-pay business products, and generally change up the service, they may be driving many of us to other services, whose spam protection may not be as good.

While Gmail has been free for me to use for the decade or more that I have had it, so part of me feels I really shouldn’t complain, I can’t help but feel disappointed that so many things are changing, and continue to change. Let’s review the announcements that have come out in the past year or so.

Google ends Blackberry Support 2011-11-09 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/09/google-blackberry-gmail_n_1083843.html Google ended support for the app that allowed Blackberry users to get their Gmail on their phones without having to use a mobile web browser.

Google ends iGoogle 2012-07-05 http://support.google.com/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2664197 While many felt iGoogle was too much like old-school personal portals, it was the browser home page for me and thousands of others, providing a one pane of glass view into new email, RSS feeds, calendar and more.

Google moves Postini to Google Apps 2012-08-15 http://techcrunch.com/2012/08/15/the-end-of-postini-email-security-tool-now-more-tightly-fit-with-google-apps/ Moving Postini from a standalone product to a GA integrated service might drive new business, or it might cause a backlash.

Google ends support for IE8 2012-09-14 http://googleappsupdates.blogspot.com/2012/09/supporting-modern-browsers-internet.html IE8 is still a mainstream supported browser, but Google doesn’t consider it so, and will warn users of this browser to upgrade. While N-1 support is somewhat standard, killing support for a browser used by as many as 1 in every 4 users seems a bit extreme when the vendor still fully supports it. Now killing support for IE6? I’m all for that!

Google ends ActiveSync Support 2012-12-15 http://www.tmonews.com/2012/12/google-announces-the-end-of-exchange-activesync-support-leaves-windows-phone-users-out-in-the-cold/ The article points squarely at Windows Phone users, but iPhones also use EAS, and being able to sync your mail, calendar, and contacts from Gmail just like you would from Exchange was a huge plus. Now, not so much.

In short, I see a trend where non-‘Droid devices are being deemphasized (or dropped,) non-Chrome browsers that are still fully supported are being dropped, and two major services mobile uses depend upon are either being dropped or radically changed.

Why should you care? If you’re not a user of Gmail and the related services, you probably shouldn’t. It’s not something that is likely to impact you at all. However, if you do have a Gmail account, or you use Gmail for Domains for your personal domain, these announcements not only mean an end to how you may be accustomed to doing things currently, they may also foreshadow even more changes on the horizon.

Since its acquisition of Postini back in 2007, the anti-spam services provided to Gmail users have set the bar by which all others services are measured. Gmail itself, with its free service, large mailboxes, and wide variety of ways to access it defined how free mail services should be. Now it feels like the free ride is over, and we’re going to either have to start paying for things, or find alternatives. I don’t like that, especially since the ads I get served based on my emails are providing significant revenues to Google. I may not write them a check each month, but they are definitely making some money off of me.

Let me be clear about that last statement. Yes, Google is a for-profit business, and has every right to charge whatever price the market will bear for whatever services it offers. It also has every right to change or discontinue any service at any time, and to stop providing to customers at no charge anything they want to.

My problem with the former is that Google is an advertising company. They make revenue on ads served up as a result of searches, or in their Gmail web interface. They appear to be discontinuing those services that take can use Gmail without seeing ads. So while I use https:/mail.google.com far more than I use my phone, I still depend upon getting my mail to my phone.

My problem with the later may also simply be my problem, but I have grown accustomed to, and dependent upon, things that are going away. While Google never promised that these services would be around forever, I have to start looking at my Gmail account and wondering if that is the next thing that will go away.

Gmail users with Blackberries, iPhones, or Windows Phones who liked getting their Gmail, Google Calendar, and contacts all synched to their phone now must make a choice. Do they switch to a Droid, or do they switch to a different email provider.

Users who enjoyed the protections of Postini for their self-hosted email will now find themselves being nudged towards Google’s Apps. Will they buy into that, or will they look elsewhere? Time will tell. I’m sure Google is counting on users moving the way Mountain View wants. I bet the likes of Microsoft and others are counting on some users moving another way.

Do you use Gmail? Are you negatively impacted by some of these services going away? If so, what are you considering as an alternative?

Written by Casper Manes

I currently work as a Senior Messaging Consultant for one of the premier consulting firms in the world, I cut my teeth on Exchange 5.0, and have worked with every version of Microsoft’s awesome email package since then, as well as MHS, Sendmail, and MailEnable systems. I've written dozens of articles on behalf of my past employers, their partners, and others, and I finally decided to embrace blogging and social media, so please follow me on Twitter @caspermanes if you enjoy my posts.

6 Comments

  1. Davinci · December 18, 2012

    It’s pretty obvious that this is a result of capitalism. Google has been very generous to almost everyone, advocating open-source mobile development and such. But that was during the time when its very serious threat was Apple. Now Microsoft is strengthening its bearings and ready to take the mobile market. Blackberry is also pretty stable in a lot of countries. If the company continues to be giving, then it’s just like living your estate to your worst enemy. But yeah this is going to be very bad for most users, but this is the price we have to pay from competition.

  2. Lisa S. · December 18, 2012

    I myself use Firefox or Chrome for all my browsing and have an Android device, so I am not affected by these changes. Still, I don’t think the move is fair. It is clearly aimed at hurting their competition in browser wars and in the OS mobile wars and this is why I don’t think it’s nice to do it. Google is becoming so much like the other corporations that we all dislike because of their practices and this is what makes me really sad.

  3. Margaux · December 23, 2012

    As they say, change is one of the most constant things in this world, and there are very few of them. Perhaps it’s something we should have expected a few years ago, especially when they started to compete with the mighty Apple. They can’t go on giving things away for free. As you’ve mentioned too, Gmail, which is one of the best mail platforms out there, has been available without any cost to us for many, many years. It’s high time they capitalize on a successful application. But yes, I am just as sad as you, especially when it cut off its support for Blackberry.

  4. Targetz · December 27, 2012

    I dont think Google needs any profit from Gmail, my guess it’s just a free service they provide and it will stay a free service. They won’t benefit from it if they cut all of their ties with other services. Everything is so integrated they can’t just stop it, they will lose a lot of ”fans”/users

  5. Roxanne · December 31, 2012

    I think switching to Android isn’t a bad idea, except that there are stories coming out that it’s not as safe as it poses itself to be. About a year ago, it published around 50 apps that are actually malware. Now many claim that the same thing is happening. I guess it has something to do with the fact it’s an open-source, and anyone who knows how to create apps can get into the system, even spammers and other cybercriminals. If Google is trying to “compel” others to shift to Android, then it should learn to look into this matter.

  6. Adrian Lee · January 2, 2013

    Yup, Margaux, you’re right. Change will always be constant. But we also cannot prevent anyone from feeling sad about this, especially those who are non-Android users since many are actually depending on such Google-centric tools. After all, they’re not only great, but they’re also for free. I just don’t think they’re going have these apps available for free. Besides, there will always be apps that can be used in lieu of the ones that have been discontinued, though whether they’re free or not that remains to be seen. If it’s any consolation, Android is under a lot of scrutiny these days due to IT threats.

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