Worried about the cost of setting up servers for your office needs? Call on Google Apps instead!
Organisations have needs—office documentation, e-mail, personal communications (including chat), and scheduling and organising solutions such as calendars. We’ve said plenty about how Google’s productivity applications can make a difference to you as an individual, so why must you settle for less just because you can’t use your Gmail ID for work? Google Apps For Your Domain gives you all that Google goodness and lets you keep your work ID—what’s better, you don’t have to bear the cost of a dedicated mail server any more!
The Whole Package
To start with Google Apps, visit www.google.com/a/. Only domain administrators can sign up for Google Apps services—this is for improved security and to prevent anonymous users from abusing domains. On the Google Apps page, enter your official e-mail address and click on Get Started. After this, Google verifies you as the administrator of the domain, and in a matter of minutes, your organisation should be registered. On the next page, fill in all your details and provide a password, with other contact information. With an initial e-mail user count of 200, practically any small or medium business should be able to complete its transition to Google Apps in less than twenty minutes. You can also add more users later. Accept the terms and conditions and proceed to the next page—the dashboard. This, as the name suggests, is the panel with all the controls—it is nothing but the administrative page of your domain.
Google Apps takes care of most of your IT needs
On the dashboard, are several major services—the Start Page, Calendar, Chat, Docs, Email, Web pages and Sites. Before proceeding to these services, create a list of users in your organisation. To create new users, simply click on Create New Users. For each user, fill the three data fields—name, surname and username. Google Apps provides you—the administrator—with a password that can be changed later by the new users.
You have to start with creating an account
One window for all your needs
You can also upload a compiled list of all users in the CSV (Comma Separated Value) format, and all users can be created at once. This makes things really easy for you.
The Start Page is where you access all Google applications. You can personalise the start page in the same way you personalise your iGoogle page—bring together your content, other Google services, and interesting applications from the. The URL for the Start Page is typically http://start.your-domain.com. The first time you click on the start page, the typical feeds available are your e-mail—where you can see a snapshot of the new e-mails in your inbox as well a shortcut to compose a new mail. Other useful applications that you find on the Start Page are Calendar and Sticky notes, which is an online alternative to the post-it.
The calendar is a critical tool in time management. Access your calendar at http://calendar.your-domain.com. Insert an event in the calendar by clicking on the respective date, at the start time of your event. In the balloon that pops up, type your agenda. If you realise that the event is going to consume more time than the default hour, you just have to drag the lower end of the event box.
You can set passwords for new users, or let Google auto-generate one
You can share calendars with each other, and know when members of your team are free or busy—this lets you plan activities around everyone’s schedule. You can also synchronise your Google calendar with Outlook (using third-party software), and even with your Blackberry.
Google Docs is another interesting tool that’s a part of Google Apps. With Google Docs, you can do away with the Office suite altogether. You and your team can collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and presentations all in one go! Google Docs offers you the option to share and publish your documents in to a unique URL. That apart, you can save it to a host of other formats too. This is of immense help to those people who are always on the move. They can start work while away from their workspace, without worrying about any data being lost. To use Google Docs, visit http://docs.your-domain.com. Once here, you can click on the New tab to the left. Of the options for Document, Spreadsheet or Presentation, choose any depending on your requirement. Once you start typing, Google Docs continuously saves your document as and when changes are made.
In its basic version, Google Apps provides 6 GB of storage per user—quite like a personal Gmail account. The URL for your e-mail will be http://mail.your-domain.com. In addition, Google also monitors email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org to report spam, abuse and other technical issues. Configuring the email addresses of your employees to Google Apps doesn’t require more than couple of minutes. There are two major steps involved in setting up your new mail service. First, you need to create new user accounts. Second, set up the email delivery.
To switch your domain to use Google Mail, you’ll need to change your MX records—you can do this from the administration page of your hosting provider. You can find instructions specific to your provider here: http://www.google.com/support/a/bin/answer.py?answer=87084. It takes around two days for MX records to get updated—to avoid losing e-mails during this time, first create all the e-mail accounts you need, and only then change the MX records.
You can upload the details of existing e-mail accounts in bulk using the CSV format—username,userid,password. Log in to the control panel and go to Advanced tools. To upload the list in bulk, go to User Accounts Bulk Update. Upload the CSV file, and you’re done. Once you’ve created the same user accounts in your control panel as you have in your existing domain, you won’t lose any new mail.
Another interesting feature that Google Apps provides is email reforwarding. For example, say you have an employee named John in your organisation, and his email address is john.smith@ your-domain.com. If someone sends an e-mail to email@example.com, you can set it up so that the e-mail reaches a “catch all” account like firstname.lastname@example.org.
At times, teams in your organisation may reside at remote locations or even client bases, making communication back and forth rather tedious and expensive. To reduce these ancillary costs, Google Talk is a viable option. With Google Apps, you can configure Google Talk within the users in your organisation. To control the use of Google Talk, go to the dashboard and click Chat—Google Apps gives you the option to warn your users when they chat with users outside your domain. You can use this feature to ensure no sensitive information gets out, and that your employees aren’t wasting their time chatting with friends.
You get to take charge of all your online needs, without the hassles a typical system administrator faces. Google does all the dirty work for you, while you can focus on improved productivity and business related issues. Apart from this, if the Docs application is optimally used, you can drive the running costs to rock bottom by doing away with the office suite completely. With large corporate houses also showing interest in Google Apps, this is one upcoming trend.