You registered a domain name and set up the free Google Apps Standard Edition to get Gmail, GTalk, GCal and GDocs running behind it. Now, take a look at some advanced settings Google Apps (for your domain) makes available.
What the what? Sometimes we refer to all of Google’s regular, free, public products as “Google Apps”, but today we’re referring to the product formerly known as “Google Apps for Your Domain” as just plain “Google Apps”. (Note to Google: Come up with a clearer naming convention.) Give this flavour of Google Apps a domain name you own—like yourfamily.org or example.com—and it puts Google services behind it. If you’ve got a regular Google Account and [email protected] email address, that’s cool — you can forward mail for [email protected] address to and from it. But Google Apps lets you create and manage several users associated with your domain and enable various services for them. Google Apps (for your domain) comes in several flavours: Standard Edition (free for individuals and non-affiliated groups, what we’re going to cover here), Premier Edition (for businesses), Non-Profit Edition, Education Edition and Government Edition.
Nerd Threat Level: Orange
This flavour of Google Apps is only useful to people who own their own domain name (or want to purchase one), and who plan to set up a workgroup behind that domain. For example, if you’re Carol Brady and you register thebradybunch.com domain name, you’re going to want to set up several users at that domain. With Google Apps, Carol could create a [email protected]
account, a [email protected]
account, all the way down to Cindy, Bobby, Alice and Tiger. When Marcia gets hitched? Carol can add her spouse to the family domain. When Alice moves onto greener pastures? Carol could shut down or suspend her account.
The two key advantages to using Google Apps this way are: 1) you get a custom [email protected] email address that you can take with you to another email provider if Gmail goes away or you want to transfer it. Your regular @gmail.com address is married to Google’s service, so you can never use it with another provider. 2) You get system administrator-level capabilities for setting up your workgroup’s IT needs with Google’s easy interface. We’ve already done an an overview of what Google Apps can do; if you haven’t already, here’s how to get it set up with your domain.
If you’re not using Google Apps but you’re interested, know that it takes a low-level set of system administrator skills to get it up and running. You’ll need to configure domain settings, such as your email MX record for your domain at your registrar. It depends on who you used (I recommend NameCheap), but most likely your registrar offers a settings panel to configure these things. You’ll also have to verify your domain by adding files to the web site, most likely via FTP or another method.
With me? Good. Take a look at some of the gems buried in Google Apps’ administrative interface. Access it at google.com/a/yourdomain.com, replacing the “yourdomain.com” part with, well, your domain name.
Name Your Domain
Google Apps give you the option to give your domain a human-readable label beyond just example.com. For fun and an inflated sense of self-importance, I called mine “Gina Trapani Enterprises”, which you’ll see in many of the screenshots here. You can set up your domain’s name in the Google Apps Dashboard, under Domain Settings>General. You and your domain users will see this name in your apps tab titles, and when you sign into any service.
Map Multiple Domains to Your Account
If you own multiple varieties of your domain name—for instance, multiple top-level domains
like example.com, example.org, and example.net—you can map those to a single Google Apps account using domain aliases. To add another domain to your primary domain, from your Google Apps Dashboard> Domains settings> Domain names, click “Add a domain alias” to set another up. (This is located at https://www.google.com/a/cpanel/yourdomain.com/DomainSettingsDomains, but replace “yourdomain.com” with your domain.) As you can see from the screenshot, I’ve got both ginatrapani.org and ginatrapani.com running under Google Apps. This means that if someone emails [email protected]
or [email protected]
, those messages all wind up in the same place. This also works for totally different domains, not just different top-level domains (.org, .com, .net, etc).
Manage Domain Users and Groups
If you’ve got only a few users to create, you can add them to your domain one by one. However, if you’ve got a large group, Google Apps offers a bulk upload option. To use it, you make a spreadsheet of user’s first and last names, username and password, and upload that to your Google Apps Dashboard. (Visit https://www.google.com/a/cpanel/yourdomain.com/Users, but replace “yourdomain.com” with your domain.) You can also create user groups or mailing lists with various flavours of permissions — accessible to the outside world, only reachable from people sending from inside your domain, and with custom roles for each user (member or owner). For example, a softball league might have an “Umpires” group, a “Coaches” group, and a “Players” user group.
Activate Your Services
Once you’ve set up your domain’s users, it’s time to activate the services you want to provide. Google Apps Standard comes with Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, an iGoogle-like start page, Google Docs, Sites and Mobile services. (Sadly, there’s no Google Reader. Wah!) Activate services from the front page of your GApps Dashboard, and log in and use them at the /a/yourdomain.com URL provided in green below each service.
If you click on the “More Services” link, you’ll see more (less popular) services, like Contacts (for accessing your contacts list outside Gmail in Calendar and Docs), Sites (which appears to be a simple intranet application), custom applications hosted on Google App Engine, and even Labs services that include a URL shortener and Google Moderator. I haven’t used any other services extensively besides Gmail, GCal and GDocs in my Apps account, but the more adventurous should dive right in.
Enable Pre-Release Features
One of the biggest complaints about Google Apps accounts is that they’re usually the last to get new and experimental features like Gmail Labs. (Yes, that
took an excruciatingly long while
.) To speed up the process and get new features in your Google Apps account faster, in your Dashboard under Domain Settings>General, check off “Enabled pre-release features”.
(While you’re there, it can’t hurt to check off “Enable SSL” box in the section below that to encrypt your users’ sessions automatically for a higher level of security.)
Create a Catch-all Email Address
One of the advantages of having your own domain name is that you have control and access to every single word combination @ yourdomain.com email address that you want. If you create a “catch-all address”, you can forward any email that comes to your domain and doesn’t match a user to a specific address. This means that if you wanted to use custom email addresses on the fly — like [email protected]
when you register for an account at Amazon, or [email protected]
when you register for an account at Lifehacker, you can do so without having to create custom addresses. Instead, set up your domain’s catch-all address to forward to your user account. To set up a catch-all address, in your Google Apps Dashboard, from the Service Settings drop-down choose Email. There you can either reject mail that comes to addresses that don’t match a user, or set up a catch-all forwarding address as shown above.
Share Calendars, Contacts and GDocs Within Your Domain Only
Where Google Apps really shines is in its workgroup-level permissions-handling. In Google Docs as well as Google Calendar, you can choose to share docs and calendars with everyone within your domain only. That means if someone leaves your team and you suspend their account, they automatically lose access to sensitive workgroup data in one shot. You don’t have to remove them from every doc and calendar you’ve ever shared with them. Conversely, when you choose the “Share” option in Docs and Calendar, you have the option to share with everyone in your domain, instead of individuals, as shown here.
Likewise, Google Apps can automatically share a global address book across your domain users. When you add, remove, or update a user from Google Apps, with Contact Sharing enabled, everyone’s Google Apps Gmail Contacts list gets automatically updated. (So when someone changes his or her name, that change goes out to everyone’s address book in the domain, too.)
Essentially, Google Apps Standard Edition gives you IT director-level administrative control over your workgroup’s domain, for free. For more adventures in Google Apps migrations, see Scott Hanselman’s thorough writeup on how he switched his family from Outlook and Thunderbird to Google Apps.
This article only scratches the surface of what you can configure Google Apps to do. GApps users, what are your favourite tips and settings? Give ’em up in the comments.
Gina Trapani, Lifehacker’s founding editor, likes her GApps goodness and a portable domain name, too. Her feature Smarterware appears every week on Lifehacker.