Apps for Build Extensions for 400 Million Users


Microsoft has announced several developer opportunities to extend Office 365, specifically around Outlook encompassing mail, contacts and calendar. All those initiatives focus around the business side of Microsoft’s email, contacts and calendaring, until now.

On October 30, Microsoft announced a similar initiative to have developers build apps to extend the consumer side of their email, contacts and calendaring called Apps for This initiative will let developers build extensions that target a potential user base of 400 million.

In a sign of Microsoft “merging” the back-end technologies across business and consumer product lines, they also said that even though this functionality will be available only in Spring 2015, developers can start now by building apps against Outlook Web App. In other words, apps built for Outlook Web App today will work seamlessly with too. This is good news for developers, obviously, because now developers building productivity apps don’t have to worry about enterprise vs consumer our Outlook vs Hotmail/

The APIs for Office 365 are already available, and these apps will use HTML and JavaScript so as consumers, the Apps for will work in any modern browser without the need for plugins. Some documentation for building such apps can be obtained at this MSDN site.

Per Microsoft:

Whenever a customer reads or composes an email or calendar event, your app could be there, helping them get the job done. If you have a great idea for how our customers should interact with their email or calendar, now is the time to make it happen. Not only are these apps simple to build–they use open web technologies such as HTML and Javascript–but you can start building them today.  To learn how to get started, check out Mail apps for Outlook on MSDN and the Office Dev Center.

It should be noted, Google has already built APIs to enable developers build apps against Google Apps which include GMail, Google Contacts and Google Calendar. These APIs also allow access to several other entities in Google Apps.

An example of an Outlook map running Bing Maps contextually:

How to Continue Using Google Apps for Free and Add New Domains

In an unexpected move, Google has stopped offering its Google Apps for Business for free as the Web giant is says that it is now ‘focusing on the quality of the business user’s experience.’ Although the move was unexpected, it wasn’t really shocking news for businesses at least as they are used to paying for services, and generally don’t go for free services.  Well, making Google Apps completely a premium service now makes sense.

For new users, individuals, small businesses, and entrepreneurs, Google Apps was certainly the first and default service for configuring email and other services, but they will lose the advantage of using the services for free now. However, existing users still have an opportunity to use Google Apps for free for new domains.

Google Apps for Free

This feature has been there for quite some time and continues to exist even after Google has made the Google Apps services completely premium. To create or add a new domain to your existing Google Apps account, follow the steps mentioned below:

Step 1: Sign in to your Google Apps account and navigate to the “Domain settings” option.
Step 2: Now, click on “Domain names” tab, and then “Add a domain or a domain alias” button.
Step 3: A pop-up box should open up. Select the “Add another domain” option and enter the new domain in the box provided. Click on the “Continue and verify domain ownership,” verify the domain (via META tag or file upload) and you are all set to use the new domain.

Google Apps for Free

The only thing that you need to keep in mind is that you can access the new domain’s Google Apps service settings from your existing (primary) account. Also, additional domains are subject to certain limitations:

You cannot set different policies or configuration settings for different domains. All settings in the Google Apps administrator control panel apply equally to all domains that are part of your account.

You can specify only one custom logo for your account. The same logo appears for users in all domains that are part of your account.

You can read all the limitations for multiple domains here.


Google Stops Free Version of Google Apps for Business

You can no more create Google Apps accounts for free as Google has officially announced and stopped offering the service for free in an aim to ‘focus on the quality of the business user’s experience.’

According to Clay Bavor, Director of Product Management for Google Apps, announced and explained in a blog post that the move will allow the Google to focus on the quality of the business user’s experience, with full service support. However, it is made clear that existing Google Apps users can continue using the service for free, with no additional charges to pay. Additionally, Google Apps for Education will be available as a free service for schools and universities.

Google Apps for Business

When we launched the premium business version we kept our free, basic version as well. Both businesses and individuals signed up for this version, but time has shown that in practice, the experience isn’t quite right for either group. Businesses quickly outgrow the basic version and want things like 24/7 customer support and larger inboxes. Similarly, consumers often have to wait to get new features while we make them business-ready.

The free version, which was earlier called as the Google Apps “Standard,” used to be available for businesses with fewer than 50 users. This free service provided email, calendaring, shared documents, spam and virus filtering, and up to seven gigabytes of inbox space for every account created. Now, instead of two versions – the free version and the premium version – there will be only one, which will include 24/7 phone support, 25 gigabytes of inbox space, and a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee with no scheduled downtime. All of this comes in a bundle that will cost $50 per user per year.

Opinion: Google Hammers the Final Nail in XP’s Coffin

Windows XP has had a good run. It was released on October 25, 2001. Oddly enough, Microsoft plans to unveil Windows 8 on that same date here in a few short weeks. There is no question that Windows XP was a raging success. Compared to earlier versions of Windows, XP was simply a much more stable workhorse. It kind of reminds me of the old Volkswagen Beetles. Those old 60’s and 70’s models are still running the roads today. Though Windows 7 very recently took the top spot away, XP was certainly a testament to a well designed and flexible system. Did it have flaws? Of course it did, but it worked and quite frankly, I believe it worked pretty darn well. Unfortunately, there is a time and a season for everything under the sun and XP, I am sad to say, has run its course. If you’re like me, you’re probably not completely happy about this because from a business productivity standpoint, Windows 7 just doesn’t offer that much more than XP did. Windows 8 is probably going to be a lot of fun for tablet users, but I don’t see it doing for business what XP did. However, 11 years is a long time for a car to run and 11 years is an awful long time for an OS to run. That has been a major problem for Microsoft whose Windows 7 OS, until recently, was essentially competing against its older brother XP. Why is this a problem? First of all, Microsoft exists to make money. Second, you can’t exist as a business with no cash flow. Now I do realize that Microsoft has other products, but they have lost significant revenue over the years due to the fact that they just couldn’t get users to switch from XP.


Google Driving the Nail

All this being said you would think that Microsoft would be the one pounding the final nail in Windows XP’s coffin. The first major sign that XP started dying on the vine was when Internet Explorer 9 was released but wasn’t supported on Windows XP. As it stands however, Microsoft does intend to support Windows XP until April of 2014. Just don’t expect anything significant to be developed for it. The odd news however, is that a recent announcement by Google may be the final nail in the coffin for XP. Here’s a tidbit from their recent blog post:

Internet Explorer 10 launches on 10/26/2012, and as a result, we will discontinue support for Internet Explorer 8 shortly afterwards, on 11/15/2012. After this date users accessing Google Apps services using Internet Explorer 8 will see a message recommending that they upgrade their browser.

This is truly an interesting move on Google’s part and the timing may really play in Microsoft’s favor. Don’t get me wrong, Google is no doubt being opportunistic here. They began the aforementioned blog post with the bragging point that Google Chrome browser automatically updates itself to the most recent version so you never have to worry about things like this. Their timing is impeccable. As any successful business person knows, timing is everything. Now this policy is not something new. Google posted the following in June of last year:

As of August 1st, we will discontinue support for the following browsers and their predecessors: Firefox 3.5, Internet Explorer 7, and Safari 3. In these older browsers you may have trouble using certain features in Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs and Google Sites, and eventually these apps may stop working entirely.

With this information in mind, I am not going to sit here and accuse Google of some evil scheme, nor am I saying that they are in cahoots with Microsoft by trying to force XP users to make the switch. However, the unintended consequence of this may just be that users will finally clue in that it is time to say goodbye to XP.

Google Celebrates Its 14th Birthday

It seems hard for me to fathom that Google turns 14 today. Google was officially incorporated on September 4, 1998 and the world has never been the same since. What started out so simply, as evidenced by the picture below, is now the driving force behind much of the web.

Google 1998
Google’s Beta Page 1998 (credit: Anakin101:Wikipedia)

Google started as a research project at Stanford University. Larry Page and Sergey Brin set out to develop a new page ranking technology that analyzed back links to webpages to score their importance. According to Wikipedia, because Page and Brin wanted to show that they were serving large amounts of data, they originally wanted to call the search engine “googol”. Googol is a large number represented with a 1 followed by a hundred zeroes. Somehow, through a misspelling the company became “Google” instead.

Google sure has come a long way since those early days of the web. I remember how impressed I was when I first used Google’s search engine. I was just blown away with how accurate the results were and with how many results were presented. It is obvious that I wasn’t the only one as the word “Google” actually became a verb to represent you were searching for something. Google grew exponentially and became the search engine of choice for most of the world. In 1999, Google came up with the genius idea to sell text-based ads on its website based on keywords. It was a great idea because it contextualized ad results to the consumer, but because they were text-based, they loaded quickly on the screen. For those of you who remember dial-up, speed was everything back then.

It’s hard to imagine a world without Google anymore. Since their initial IPO in 2004, Google has branched out to find new revenue streams and innovate in other areas. Their raging success has not been met without opposition, however. It seems they have been sued by every major player in the Internet industry for some reason or another. I guess that is the price for fame. Let’s just take a second and think about some of Google’s contributions to the world:

  1. Gmail – Google got into the webmail game in 2004. One of the biggest contributions it made to email was grouping messages into conversations instead of just listing messages as they came in. They also were the first to offer contextual ads based on content in your inbox. That was met with more than a little controversy.
  2. Adwords – Google has made a killing on pay-per-click and Adwords, but let’s face it, so have a lot of web sites. People participating in Google’s ad programs have prospered quite a bit.
  3. Chrome – Here is another September birthday. In September 2008, Chrome debuted as an alternative to Internet Explorer. Tabbed browsing and being able to search directly from the address bar were a couple of new offerings that Chrome made available. Though,  Firefox probably had tabbed browsing by then too. Chrome is a fast and secure alternative to Internet Explorer.
  4. Google Apps – There are so many apps, it’s hard to list them here. However, the main draw of Google apps is that you can create and share documents and spreadsheets on the web. They don’t require expensive desktop software to run and you don’t have to be tethered to your computer to use them.
  5. Android – As of this month, Android accounts for 52% marketshare of smartphones. The Android tablets and smartphones are simply dominating the market and giving Apple all the competition it wants.
  6. Google Doodles – How can I not mention the Google doodles? Google doodles started as a result of Page and Brin attending a festival and they redesigned the logo as sort of an “out of office” greeting. Their website tells a lot about the history. I look forward to major birthdays and events when Google publishes their new doodles.

This just barely scratches the surface of all the contributions that Google has made to our world. Perhaps most notable is their commitment to their unofficial motto “Don’t Be Evil”. In a way, I believe the existence of Google has kept others in the industry honest. At the very least, they have busted up the Microsoft monopoly on the web. Hopefully, Google will continue to embrace a culture of doing good in our world and will achieve success for many years to come!

Microsoft Launches All-Out Anti-Google Apps Ad Campaign

Ah, Microsoft and Google. Two of the Great Tech Corporation Triumvirate, always looking to make sure the other does not trump them up in the many platforms in which they compete with each other. However, there are the select few fields in which each one of the three excels (Search and ads: Google, productivity software: Microsoft and selling overpriced gadgets for hipsters/suing the hell out of a competing phone maker creating innovative product designs: Apple) and Microsoft is hell bent on keeping it that way. At least, that is what I could make out with the recent ad launched by Microsoft against Google Apps, a cloud-based enterprise productivity solution that competes with Microsoft’s own Office 365.

The launch of the ad (ironically hosted on the Google-owned and operated, but let’s not make too many assumptions here as Microsoft is only targeting Google Apps and not the rest of the company’s diverse fields of work) adds to the new Why Microsoft website in which comparisons are drawn between Microsoft and Google’s enterprise productivity solutions. Terming Google’s non-search and ad services as “Googlighting” (a portmanteau of “Google” and “moonlighting”), Microsoft aggressively outline how their productivity suite is better than anything else in the market.

Googlighting is what happens when the world’s largest advertising business tries to sell productivity software on the side. In fact, according to Gartner, Google Apps accounts for merely 0.5% of the ad company’s revenue after five years of Googlighting. Meanwhile, Microsoft enjoys its trustworthy reputation in the cloud; with 40% of companies from the Interbrand list of top 100 brands.

The advertisement shows a flamboyant Googlighting Stranger as he tries to sell Google Apps to a corporation. Apart from general clarity and saturated colors, the ad looks like it was made in the 70s with very random jingles of why Microsoft is better than Google.

I honestly do not understand why Microsoft proceeded with this rather terrible ad campaign when the company has become generally better and NonDickish™. Most enterprises live by Office because it has been refined over the years primarily for corporations and end users and is known for its stability. It does seem like Microsoft is scared of Google Apps and is trying the scare tactic against medium to large enterprises, warning them to stay away from Google Apps because Google shut down Gears and Wave – known to be experimental projects while Google Apps is not – and that the software might change completely overnight because Google is using corporates as guinea pigs. I do not think Google needs to reply to this ad at all; as the Beatles said, Let It Be.

Google App Inventor- an Ambitious Project That Met an Untimely Death, Only to Be Resurrected Soon at MIT

When Google App Inventor came out, Google advertised it as a groundbreaking Android app-development platform. One could integrate components to create awesome apps, or so it seemed from the promotional videos. However, it was a lesser-known fact at that time that the App Inventor project would die soon.

Nowadays, the App Inventor page reads,

App Inventor for Android lets people create apps for Android phones by manipulating programming blocks in a web browser.    Since July 2010, Google has run App Inventor as a large-scale public web service as a part of its Google Labs suite.  With the wind down of Google Labs, as of December 31, 2011, Google ended support of App Inventor.

Google pulled the plug on App inventor back in August, but it will live on as a MIT project. Google Research is funding the App Inventor project, and the Center for Mobile Learning is managing it at MIT. The App Inventor project was open sourced and was removed from under the umbrella of Google product. However, App Inventor has been left high and dry at present with no visible future, in spite of promises. At present, the only way to run App Inventor is to run it on the Google Apps Engine. Alternatively, you can setup your own App Inventor service using this guide.

It is interesting to note that App Inventor is based on Open Blocks, which is a MIT product itself. With untimely deaths of products like these, it is extremely demoralizing to trust a vendor and traverse up a learning curve only to find that it was all in vain. The App Inventor project will take some time, until it is back up again.

Work With Gmail Offline!

I don’t know about you, but I think computing is getting a little too “cloudy”. Many companies are offering there software as a service and are pushing us toward “the cloud” for everything. Fortunately, Google has gotten their head out of the cloud long enough to realize we can’t always be in the cloud all the time. Google announced on the Official Gmail Blog today, a new application called “Offline Google Mail”.

“Offline Google Mail” is an app that can be downloaded for free from the Chrome Web Store and installed into Chrome. Here is the link if you would like to download it. Below you can see the web page on the Chrome Web Store. All you have to do is click the button that says “Add to Chrome” and it will begin the installation. It took me less than a minute to complete.

Chrome Store

Once you have the app installed, it will ask you if you want to use it to manage and compose email when you’re offline. Just click “allow”, and then “continue”, and you’re in business.

Allow Offline Gmail

The main window, pictured below, is sort of a dumbed down version of what you would see in  Gmail online. You have a list of your messages in a column on the left side of the screen and a preview area on the right side of the screen. You can compose messages offline and they will be sent when you are connected at a later time. You can even add labels to your messages offline.

Main Window

This is a great feature add on for Google products. I know there have been many times where internet access has been scarce for me. This made using Gmail very inconvenient as it didn’t have the offline capability. Now, I can add this new app to my laptop and can work in my “Offline Google Mail”. The good thing is it will seamlessly work in online and offline modes.

Google also plans to roll out similar products for Google Docs and Google Calendar. According to the blog post, it appears that Google Docs allows offline viewing now, but they haven’t implemented offline editing quite yet. If Google gets this perfected, I believe it will make them much more attractive to corporate IT.

I am encouraged by the fact that Google recognized the need for offline synchronization. While I think it is great that we live in a world where everything is accessible virtually anywhere, the reality is there are still a lot of dead zones when it comes to internet access. I hope this is a sign of many more good things to come from Google.

Google Apps for Government Claims FISMA Certification, Misleads the Government And Upsets Microsoft

Last year, the Department of the Interior selected Microsoft’s service for their cloud-based email system. Google advocated open competition and sued the Government for not considering their Google Apps for the Government service.

Google used the FISMA certification as one of the factors when pushing their Google Apps for Government service, though it has recently come to light that Google Apps for Government does not have FISMA certification. It has only applied for it. On the other hand, another service from Google, namely Google Apps Primer has FISMA certification and this has led to a lot of confusion.

The DOJ has seen through this and says,

On December 16, 2010, counsel for the Government learned that, notwithstanding Google’s representations to the public at large, its counsel, the GAO and this Court, it appears that Google’s Google Apps for Government does not have FISMA certification.

David Howard, the Corporate Vice President & Deputy General Counsel writes in his Technet blogs report,

I’ll be the first to grant that FISMA certification amounts to something. The Act creates a process for federal agencies to accredit and certify the security of information management systems like e-mail, so FISMA-certification suggests that a particular solution has proven that it has met an adequate level of security for a specific need.

While Microsoft accuses Google of misleading information in their services, Google accuses the Government of unfair competition and gets a lot of bad press from both ends.

(Image Source)

Google Brings Enterprise Control To Android

With Android being one of the leading smartphone operating systems and very rapidly climbing the charts in deployment, it’s well received news that Google is aligning their mobile offerings to include enterprise-level controls to compete in the business market.Google has updated their Device Policyapplication to include the ability for users to control their Android devices by way of tracking it via GPS, activating the ringer or resetting the PIN or password on the device. In the event that an employee or regular Apps user loses their device, they can use the online remote functionality to retrieve or secure their phone. Administrators and users can set up multiple devices in a new page that provides detailed information about each synchronized device (a tablet or smartphone) and plots the last known location. Devices must be running Android 2.2 or higher in order to use this feature.

Continuing along with the ability to remotely secure a device, Google Apps administrators now also have the option to force encryption for data stored on the device (supporting Android 3.0/Honeycomb tablets with encrypted storage). This will greatly reduce some of the risks that organizations take when employees wish to bring personal devices to work, it will allow security provisioning for any data exfiltration to ensure it is stored properly. Presumably, this can be done on a device-by-device basis allowing administrators to specifically select which devices have this set.

The last minor, yet very welcomed addition is Google Apps Lookup, which provides a much easier way for users to search their corporate address book for a contact. Similar to Microsoft’s Exchange Global Address List (GAL), mobile users can enter the name of a contact (by speech or text input) and the app will automatically search the online Apps directory for the contact and provide all the available information for the user to interact with as a regular contact in their device address book. This feature is available to Android devices running 2.1 or higher and must be enabled by the Apps administrator.

With personal devices making their way into the corporate environment, many organizations are feeling the weight of providing support for numerous devices yet retaining control and security over sensitive information. Google is taking steps in the right direction to take Blackberry head-on with some competition in the enterprise market.

Via Google Enterprise Blog