In the wake of Google’s decision to “Scroogle” Windows 8 and Windows Phone users by removing support for standard Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) from free versions of Gmail and Google Calendar starting in early 2013, Microsoft is offering up its own Outlook.com and Office 365 accounts as alternatives. Both offerings have advantages: Outlook.com is free and easy to use, while Office 365 is powerful and enterprise-ready, and will soon come in versions that offer Office 2013 applications. But Microsoft still needs to address this issue with a real solution.
To recap: In a post bizarrely titled “Winter cleaning,” Google revealed that it would no longer support Microsoft’s industry standard EAS push/sync technology for free users of Gmail and Google Calendar. (Oddly, EAS will still work for those who configured this capability on mobile devices already, and Google will continue supporting EAS on paid Google Apps accounts and for government and education customers.)
Since Microsoft connects to Gmail-based email and contacts and Google Calendar using EAS in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, and Google has said that it will never support these platforms with native Gmail and Google Calendar apps as it does on Android and iPhone, this move was clearly done to harm Microsoft. (And its own users, of course. Let’s not forget those guys.) I wrote about this recently in Google Throws Down the Gauntlet, Kills EAS Support, noting that Google just declared war on Microsoft. Because it did.
Microsoft was caught by surprise by this unexpected announcement and since there’s not much time to implement a fix—Google is cutting off EAS access on January 30, 2013, and most of Microsoft is missing in action for much of December—it’s response—responses now—has been interesting. (And I have a hard time seeing Microsoft implementing the CardDAV or CalDAV protocols that Google is supporting for contacts and calendar sync, respectively.)
Three days after the Google announcement, Microsoft’s Dharmesh M. Mehta offered up switching to Outlook.com as an alternative in Really want to do some winter cleaning? Switch to Outlook.com for the best email experience across all your devices. I wrote about how one might accomplish this over the summer in a series of Outlook.com tips, but the gist involves forwarding your Gmail email to Outlook.com (which I do, and recommend) and linking contacts from Gmail to your new Outlook.com account via the People web interface. There’s no advice in there for Google Calendar, but as I found when I did my own transition from Gmail to Hotmail a while back, that’s because there’s no good way to do that. So I just kept linking to my old Google Calendar on Windows Phone until the schedule “ran out”; I put new calendar items only in Hotmail.
Outlook.com makes a lot of sense because it’s free and uses a modern sync protocol (EAS) that actually works across the board, and not just for email, and it can be set up with a custom domain if you want, just like Gmail. I’ve been using it since the summer full-time, just the web interface (and on the phone of course), and it’s fantastic.
But then there’s Office 365.
This week, Tony Tai announced that Microsoft would be extending the trial offer for Office 365 from 30 days to 90 days in A Great Time for Small Businesses to Try Office 365 on the Why Microsoft blog. This extension is partially a response to a related Google decision to kill off free Office Apps accounts going forward, which occurred a week or so before the EAS/Winter cleaning silliness. (Previously, Google offered a free version of Google Apps, while Office 365 has always been paid only.)
Of course, Microsoft being Microsoft, the 90 day offer—which represents a savings of about $18 per user, or up to $90 overall—is tied to small businesses purchasing Microsoft Office. “Small businesses that purchase and activate a copy of Microsoft Office Home & Business 2010 or Microsoft Office Professional 2010 will receive a 90-day free trial of Office 365 Small Business Premium for up to five users,” Tai wrote. “Office 365 Small Business Premium combines the power of Office 365 small business services with Office software for your users’ PCs or Macs.”
Office 365 is about to get a lot more interesting, thanks to a coming rev to the cloud services and of course the Office 2013 suites which will be bundled with most subscriptions. But then Office 365 has always been better than Google Apps. The only advantage the latter had, now gone, was that free version.
I keep coming back to the notion that Microsoft still needs to do something for those users of Windows 8 and Windows Phone who also use Google services. After all, these people are paying Microsoft, but they’re not paying Google. Think about it.
Going forward, new Gmail users will be able to sync email to both systems using the legacy IMAP protocol, but they will not be able to sync contacts or calendar. They can move to a Microsoft system—Outlook.com or Office 365—but while both are desirable, and I’ve personally done so, that’s a bit of a stretch for many people. Short of just supporting CardDAV and CalDAV, which again, I don’t see happening, let alone in some short period of time, I don’t see what else can be done.
But this is a moment for Microsoft to shine. A moment for Microsoft to prove that, even if Google is willing to Scroogle its own users for no good reason, it can do the right thing and not leave them hanging. I’d love to see an announcement, and then an effort, aimed at making that so.