I figure that since my blog is being hosted on Google, it's only fair that my first review should be about Google Apps. Sure, Google Apps in not exactly a secret discovery. It is among the most popular and commonly used email systems in the world today. Still, for anyone who has not yet given it a try, I heartily recommend it.
My History with Google
I started using Google in late 1998, shortly after it went live. I was amazed by the search results and never looked back. In early 2005, I signed up for my first gmail account while it was still in beta. I still use that account to this day. I have watched Google and its products grow and evolve almost from the beginning.
Over the last decade, Gmail has evolved into Google Apps, providing a host of free online services. Anyone can sign up for a free account, providing 15 GB of free online storage space, effective anti-spam filters, and easy to use email software, all online.
The easiest way to access your email is via the web browser. Just go to gmail.com and sign in. Gmail and all other apps are designed to work online without any special software installed. This is the way I use it almost always.
However, when I originally started with Gmail, I was still using a mail program to download mail mail offline. At that time, I used a (free) program called Pegasus Mail. Later I moved on to another free one called Mozilla Thunderbird. Many folks not as faithfully tied to freeware may have used MS Outlook. The great thing about Gmail is that it has always worked with all of these programs. Most free mail at the time Gmail first arrived did not support offline readers. If you use a mail read r with POP3 or IMAP to access your mail, Gmail will work seamlessly with whatever program you use.
If you have a phone or tablet, connecting to Gmail is not a problem. Virtually all mail programs use the POP3 or IMAP standard described above. Most are set up to allow a connnection simply by entering your name and password, although there are ways to set up manually if needed. Even better, download the free Gmail app, which is available for IOS or Android, or even for Windows phones and Blackberries. Just sign into your account from the App and you are all set.
In addition to Gmail, I am a big fan of Google Drive, which is included with your free Gmail account. It allows you to work on documents, spreadsheets and presentations all using free online software. You an upload files, or create new ones through your browsers. New documents you create in Google Docs do not count against your total 15 GB limit on data, so you essentially have unlimited space. You can also share documents with other users, or with the public
While you can use Google Drive entirely online, there is a Windows app (free download) that lets you sync your online drive documents to your computer. There are similar Drive Apps for your phone or tablet (also free). These are great if you need to save documents for offline viewing or editing. The downloads may also be needed if you want to edit documents originally created in MS Office format.
More Google Apps
There are also a host of other Google applications available as part of your account, including a great calendar, Picasa for online photo storage and display, Google Sites for creating your own websites and Blogspot, which hosts this blog. I may address the details of many of these other benefits in future posts. Suffice it to say that when you sign up for your Gmail account, you open open up a whole ecosystem of services available to you.
Use Google Chrome
Google Apps will work with just about any browser on the market, as long as it is up to date. But the recommended browser is Google Chrome. You will find there are a great many advanced features that you can only use in the Chrome Browser. If you don't already use Chrome (also a free product) you can download that too.
The main criticism of Gmail is that computers scan all your emails for content and use that to present advertising to you. Google assures use that no human beings read our mail, only a computer. There is a small line of advertising above your inbox, but it is very subtle and unobtrusive compared to many other sites.
Google uses your information across platforms. So if you mention in an email that you are looking to buy a new car, you will start seeing ads for cars on lots of websites you visit (since those sites use Google Ads). It can sometimes be a little unnerving,
I find the advertising acceptable as the condition of using this great free product. After all, Google has to make some money if we expect it to provide this service. Google is up front about what it does and I accept this "cost."
Google for Work
Lately, Google has been pushing people to upgrade to Google for Work. As you might guess from its name, it is primarily targeted at businesses. This is essentially the same as the free Gmail account, although you get twice the storage space and don't have an ad banner above your inbox. The other big benefit is that you can use your own name. So, for example, my gmail address would not have to be firstname.lastname@example.org (if that were even available). If I have my own domain registered, like mypersonalmail.com, I could get mail at email@example.com.
Google for work is not free. It costs $50 per year for each account. I mention it in this "free" site only because you can get it for free, assuming you already own a domain.
When you sign up for Google for Work Google tries to get you to choose the business account which is $5 a month or $50 a year per user. You do NOT need to sign up for the paid version. Provided your will have 10 or fewer people using this domain, just click the blue Get Started button. Enter your domain name. If you already have a registered domain, you can use it with Google at no additional cost. Otherwise, Google will help you register a domain through godaddy.com for $10/year. Ok, so it's not completely free unless you already have a domain registured. But $10 for 10 users is still better than $50 per user per year for the full Work account.
If you already have your own domain, you will need to change the MX records for your domain with whatever company you have it registered. You just point them to Google’s Servers. If you register your domain as part of the Gmail setup, this is all done for you.
As I said at the outset, I am a big fan of Google as a free provider of email and many other applications. Unlike many other companies, Google does not cripple its free services in an attempt to get you to upgrade to a pay account. It provides great interactivity with other programs and services. It give generous storage space. Finally, it works well with many other products and services. If you need free email, I heartily recommend Gmail.