I’ve been using hosted Exchange (via Rackspace) and Microsoft Outlook on and off for several weeks now. I have not integrated Exchange/Outlook into my workflow yet, but I’ve used the services enough to make a comparison with Gmail. I’m not going to write about every single feature of Exchange/Outlook and Gmail. That would be insane. Instead, I will focus primarily on the features that I noticed were significantly different between the two email products.
Setting up a new email account with Gmail is almost instantaneous. You just fill out a short form and your email account is created just like that. The process only takes about a minute. Creating a hosted Exchange account with Rackspace is also quick. However, the process took about a day for me because I was flagged for using a Gmail account to sign up for my hosted Exchange account. The process would have been a lot faster if I didn’t use a free email account to sign up. However, I think the account creation would still have taken longer than Gmail’s one-minute setup.
Ease of Setup
Setting up a hosted Exchange account is a lot easier than setting up an Exchange mail server in-house. However, it’s not as easy as setting up an account with Gmail. As I pointed out previously, all you have to do is complete a short form to create a Gmail account. With hosted Exchange, you have to fill out a form to order your email box. Then you have to mess around with MX and Cname records of your email domain. It’s not rocket science, but it’s definitely not something most people could easily do.
Currently, Google gives Gmail users 7.57 GB of storage space. If you need more space, you can pay to upgrade your storage up to 16 TB (that’s terabyte, not gigabyte). Hosted Exchange with Rackspace only includes 2 GB of storage and you can only upgrade to 10 GB.
Gmail is free so it easily wins on this criteria. Exchange hosting at Rackspace costs $10 per box. Extra storage is $3 per gig and each MS Outlook desktop client will run you another $2.50. All the Rackspace figures are monthly charges. Google, on the other hand, charges their upgrades in annual amounts. For instance, they charge $5 per year for 20 GB of storage and $4096 per year for 16 TB.
Gmail is free because it’s supported by ads. Hosted Exchange isn’t free, but at least users don’t have to deal with seeing ads while they are reading/sending emails.
Email Attachment Size
From what I was able to find out, users can have email attachments up to 50 MB for hosted Exchange and 25 MB for Gmail.
Folders vs Labels
Gmail uses labels to tag emails. One of the nice feature of its label system is that users can assign more than one label to each email. However, users can’t create sub-headings for labels. Every label is at the same level, which is very different from Outlook’s folder/sub-folder tree structure. And unlike Gmail, Outlook users can drag-n-drop emails into folders. You can’t drag emails to labels with Gmail. In addition to folders, Outlook also supports categories for tagging emails. And like Gmail’s label system, users can assign more than one category to each email.
Hosted Exchange easily wins on this criteria. Gmail is a good product, but good luck in trying to get someone at Google to help you with an email problem. Rackspace, on the other hand, offers 24×7 support and you’ll have a lot easier time getting hold of their tech support for help.
As far as I know, there isn’t an easy way to back up your Gmail account. With hosted Exchange, backup services are included at Rackspace. In addition, users can use Microsoft’s Personal Folders Backup tool to backup their Outlook inbox, folders, calendar, and contacts on their computer.
With Gmail, all the emails are sorted by date. Unlike Outlook, there isn’t an option to sort by recipient, sender, subject, etc.
With Gmail, you can only see a few words without opening the email. Outlook, on the other hand, lets you view the entire email in the preview pane.
Both Gmail and hosted Exchange/Outlook are excellent products and have nice features. Gmail is free, but is ad supported. Exchange and Outlook isn’t free, but the $12.50 monthly fee is small compared to an employee’s salary of $50,000 to $100,000. Gmail is easier to setup and costs less, while hosted Exchange/Outlook is better supported and offers more functionality.
[Disclosure: I received a trail subscription to hosted Exchange and an Outlook license from the Microsoft Communications Services team for review purposes.]