Microsoft vs Google: clash of the titans

boxing_gloveA question that comes up fairly regularly in the small business world is how to handle email. Most companies start out with a simple POP account, or maybe even a free address from Google, Yahoo, or MSN. It’s an easy way to get started, but at some point you need more – integration with smart phones, shared calendars, links with company software, better security, and more.

Many companies are opting for Google Apps over Microsoft Exchange. It can be a good option in the right circumstances, and in fact we used Google Apps ourselves for over a year. The web portal is easy to use, the search is lightening fast, and I still miss the unique way Google organizes conversations. Google’s built-in spam filtering is excellent, and because they operate “in the cloud,” they manage the servers so you don’t have to. The downside is that if you have trouble, you are dependent on them for support. If you use a free account, good luck – it may take a while.

Microsoft Exchange is still the powerhouse in the email game, and the level of sophistication is hard to beat. It will take more technical skill to maintain your own in-house Exchange server, but if you take that on, you have far more options available to you. You can set security nearly any way you like, you can track down deliverability issues (generally difficult or impossible with a hosted solution), and most software packages that require email and calendar integration work with Exchange by default. Use a spam filtering service to keep your inbox clean, and with most services that layers in the redundancy you’d have with a hosted solution, to prevent lost email if your server or internet connection goes down.

Our Own Email: What We’ve Done

Like many companies, we started with a basic POP account. As we grew, we used some Exchange features but moved to Google Apps as our primary solution. As we continued to grow, it lacked critical features we needed, including security, integration, and ability to easily manage email settings across the company. We moved back to Exchange, and it was absolutely the right solution for us. We are operating far more efficiently, and our software is completely integrated so we can schedule and communicate with our clients seamlessly from our ticketing system.

My favorite (and unexpected) benefit of our return to Exchange? The integration with my iPhone is superb, night and day from what it was with Google Apps. I no longer have to sync my phone because it pulls directly from our server. That means that if someone in the office adds an appointment to my calendar, it’s automatically there next time I check my phone. Email and contacts too.

iPhone 2.0 – it’s all about the apps

iPhone appsEveryone’s talking – and blogging – about the latest iPhone. As one of the original owners, there on iDay 2007, how can I resist?

You may be surprised to hear I’m not buying a new phone. GPS would be nice, but the geo-tracking already built in is enough to get me un-lost when needed. The faster Internet? Well, I admit that’s tempting, and ultimately I may upgrade. But a plastic case? Really?

Actually, the best part of iPhone 2.0 isn’t the new phone, it’s the software. Fortunately all iPhone owners get it, not just the newbies. There are plenty of new features, from subtle to amazing, but the single most revolutionary change is open developer access. Programmers are now writing iPhone applications as fast as they can type.

Download new iPhone apps directly to your phone via the iTunes store. Many are free, others cost. Look for a rapidly expanding selection as more and more programmers get involved in iPhone development.

The most useful app I’ve found is the new iPhone version of Jott, a free reminder service I wrote about a while back. It records a voice message but transcribes it to a written note. Perfect for jotting down your to-do list in the car or between meetings.

Many apps tie into social networking, so you can tweet to Twitter throughout the day, locate Facebook friends who are close using GPS, or instantly geo-tag and post new photos to Flickr.

But my very favorite so far is midomi. Have you ever heard a great song and wanted to know the artist? Hold up your iPhone to the radio so midomi can listen. In seconds, you’ll have your answer. Can’t remember a favorite song but you can hum the tune? Sing directly into your phone. Seriously. I’m so fascinated I’ve been singing to my dogs for the past 20 minutes to see if I could stump it. So far it’s gotten every single one right. I’ll be unbeatable next time we play “name that tune” on trivia night!

One last thing…for all you Apple-bashing Microsoft devotees, you can sync with Exchange. Wirelessly. With push technology that rivals the BlackBerry. The iPhone is now officially a player in the business cellular market.

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