Ask LH: What Should I Do Now That Google Apps Accounts Are No Longer Free?

Dear Lifehacker, I heard the news that Google Apps for Business is no longer offering free plans to new sign-ups. That sucks because I just bought my own domain! What can I use for email, calendar and other tools that won’t cost me a stack of money? Thanks, Free Reign On My Domain

Dear Free Reign,

Unfortunately, if you haven’t signed up for Google Apps for Business with your personal domain already, you’re out of luck. Google has promised to grandfather in existing users, so if you already use Google Apps for free, you won’t have to pay. (At least, not yet). But you can no longer move existing domains onto the service without paying $US50 a year.

That doesn’t mean you’re entirely stuck, though. You do have some alternatives, and most of them are free. Let’s take a look at your options.

Stick With Google

If all you were seeking from a Google Apps account was the ability to use an email address such [email protected] with Google’s interface, you can still have that . . . sort of. Google has documented the process here, and walks you through how to set up a free Gmail account to send and receive mail as another address. It’s not perfect — some email clients will display your mail as [email protected] on behalf of [email protected],”, and your Gmail address will always be in the headers of your message. However, this way you still get Gmail’s interface, filters, search and power tools, all with the convenience and professionalism of using your own domain. Image by Adria Richards.

This method works well if all you require from Google Apps is Gmail with your own domain. If you need cloud storage (Google Drive), calendaring (Google Calendar) or productivity tools (Google Docs) specifically associated with your domain or your domain’s email address, then you’ll need to keep looking.

Split Your Needs Into Individual Free Apps

We’ve talked about how you can go Google-free in the past. If you’ve just registered a domain and wish you could get Google Apps-like features, your best bet may be to split out your needs into individual free services:

  • Email: Outlook instead of Gmail, with your own domain. Visit the Windows Live Admin Center to link your domain to an Outlook account. It’s worth noting that doesn’t support IMAP, although it’s reportedly “coming soon.” Zoho Mail is another good free alternative.
  • Calendar: Zoho Calendar instead of Google Calendar. It’s the only web-based calendar that comes to close Google Calendar in features. Other options include iCal with iCloud syncing on the desktop and on the web (and mobile, if you live in Apple’s ecosystem,) and 1Calendar.
  • Productivity: Office Web Apps is free for individual users, and automatically uses SkyDrive for document storage. You can edit Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations easily. Since Office Web Apps is built by Microsoft, compatibility with desktop documents isn’t an issue. If you hook Outlook to your domain’s mail and use SkyDrive with that Outlook account, you get the same level integration that exists between Google Drive and Gmail with Google Apps. There’s also Zoho Office to consider.
  • Cloud Storage: Dropbox is our favourite cloud storage solution, mostly because it’s so easy to get more space and there’s a wealth of developer plug-ins and add-ons to integrate it with other services. There’s also SkyDrive if you’re making the shift to Microsoft’s ecosystem. This field is wide, so check out our charts for detailed comparisons.

Consider A Complete Package For Your Domain

Google Apps isn’t the only web-based office suite in town. While it’s definitely one of the best, there are other companies that offer end-to-end email and productivity solutions. Some of them are free, but most will charge you (at which point you’ll want to weight them against Google’s $50-a-year charges). These are our favourites for individual users and small teams:

  • Zoho Office – Zoho offers a wealth of tools, many of which integrate perfectly with Google Apps and your Google Account. Zoho Mail is an attractive webapp with great sorting and junk mail filtering features, and Zoho Office has always been a viable web-based office suite with word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. Most apps are free for individual users, and mail is free for one domain and up to three users on that domain with 5GB inboxes each. If you’re looking for an all-in-one package without spending anything, Zoho is where it’s at.
  • Microsoft Office 365 – If you think moving your domain over and connecting the pieces between Outlook, Office Web Apps, and SkyDrive on your own is a little kludgy, Office 365 will handle all that for you. Pricing starts from $7.90 a month, though that’s likely to change once Office 2013 rolls out.

The bottom line? You have plenty of choices; the main question is whether you want to pay for them.


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