Review: Google’s GMail for Your Domain

by Devanshu Mehta

Google recently started offering GMail-like hosted email service for universities and beta-testing private domains. As soon as the “Google announced the beta”:http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/02/big-mail-on-campus.html of the service, I signed up my “Star Wars website GalaxyFarAway.com”:http://www.galaxyfaraway.com/gfa/ for “hosted GMail”:https://www.google.com/hosted.

Recently, I got an email that my site was accepted for the beta. I have been using it for a few days now and must say I am impressed.

Features
A lot of people seem to be wondering why you would want GMail to host your email if you already have a web host. Well, let me list the features that, in sum total, make it a worthwhile experience:

  • 25 Free Email Addresses: The current incarnation of GMail hosted allows the creation of 25 email accounts, each with 2 GB of storage for emails. The interface suggests that there will be a paid version with more features in the future. UPDATE: More or less than 25 may be given; read more in update at the bottom of the article.
  • GMail Bells and Whistles: Every feature that GMail has, is included in this service as well. This includes keyboard shortcuts, filters, search, labels, contacts. The whole thing.
  • GMail for Your Domain for GalaxyFarAway.com 2

  • Chat: I am already falling in love with GMail’s chat-in-browser feature; it is a boon to people behind firewalls, people on alien computers and people for platform independence everywhere. I love the fact that I get it for galaxyfaraway.com users as well.
  • Ease of Administration: The clean, simplified administration is perfect for people of all levels of expertise. I can imagine even my parents managing this- as always, with Google, less is more.
  • Spam Blocking: I get a lot of spam on my main galaxyfaraway.com email address. This feature is really necessary and, for those of you already using GMail, you know it works.

Setup
The key to this service- like every other successful Google service- is its simplicity. On the first link you are provided, you select an ‘admin’ email address, a password and you are pretty much set to go. You will have to set up your DNS, but most likely, have to do only once. This provides you with the MX file entries you will have to provide to your host or ISP so that your email points to Google’s servers.

The main control area is the Google Hosted Dashboard. This allows you access to do the following:

  • Users: List the email users you have created, when they last signed in and the % of their quota (2GB) that they are using. From here, you can go on to edit any of the user accounts you choose
  • GMail for Your Domain for GalaxyFarAway.com

  • Create User: This allows you to create a email user with either a temporary password or one you specify. Each user can also have a ‘Nickname’ which is a second email address that points to the first one. For example, I could have admin[at]galaxyfaraway.com point to main[at]galaxyfaraway.com, but them both from the same interface. And since GMail already allows changing the ‘From’ address of your email on a per email basis, this becomes a lot more powerful.
  • Email Lists: You can also create email lists meant for different subsets of your users. This could be a simple way to create staff or administration email lists for the people in your organization.
  • Domain Settings: These settings allow simple configuration and customization of your domain email. You can specify a color scheme for the main page, a logo that would appear in place of the GMail logo in the upper-left corner and whether you want to enable Chat or not.
  • Advanced Tools: At the moment, the only advanced tool is one that allows you to upload a CSV file with usernames, first name, last name and password to allow bulk creation of accounts. This is a nice feature, but one that I did not have to use.

Thoughts
Overall, I am quite happy with the service. I was already very comfortable using GMail for my personal email, so this was more than just an experiment- it is something I look forward to.

  • SPAM: Since I receive a lot of spam on this email address, that was one major concern of mine. GMail’s spam filter has proven to be 100% effective so far. No worries.
  • Chat: I am already falling in love with GMail’s chat-in-browser feature- it is a boon for people behind firewalls, people on alien computers and people for platform independence everywhere. I love that it is also available for people with galaxyfaraway.com email addresses.
  • Privacy and Confidentiality: This could be a legitimate concern for many people. The thing to remember though is that our entire internet experience is based on trust- of ISPs, web sites and, in some cases, of other users. The only question is- how much trust do you want to place in one company? Considering that my email was already served by one company that I knew less about than I do about Google AND I already use GMail for my other email accounts, this is not an issue for me… for now.
  • Google’s Future Hosting Services: Now I am in speculation territory. I predict that Google will start offering a lot more hosting services for other web sites in the near future. I base this entirely on the design of the Dashboard. My reason is:

    The mail is hosted at http://mail.google.com/hosted but the dashboard is hosted at http://www.google.com/hosted. That means the Hosted Dashboard is meant for more than just mail.

    It’s not much, but enough to base a theory on. I believe we can expect hosted web services of many kinds from Google in the not-too-distant future.

Overall, I think the 25 free accounts (read update below) are a great service for small companies, home businesses and personal web sites like mine. Also, all you need is a domain registration and you can have your own email address managed by GMail. With people already used to GMail and GTalk, the transition is much smoother than any other ISP or web host. That’s all I have for now! Will add more if the service changes- for better or worse.

UPDATE: “Slashdotted”:http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/03/28/2110207 , killed and maimed. For the second time in its short history, this web site faced the brutal onslaught of the Slashdot effect. In any case, here are a few updates about the GMail for your domain service:

  • The number of accounts you are given for free is variable. It depends on what you ask for when you sign up. I sort of suspected this, but the comments on Slashdot confirmed it.
  • You can “contact Google”:https://www.google.com/support/hosted/bin/request.py to inform them about bug reports, feature requests or to request additional user accounts. Very cool!

UPDATE #2: Today I also verified that GMail for Your Domain also works fine with Google’s GMail Notifier software. Just enter your email address as the user name. Also, you can run two GMail Notifier’s concurrently (at least on the Mac), so you can have each check a different address (e.g. @galaxyfaraway.com and @gmail.com).

About 14000 people read this article on this site alone- that is not including the mirrors at “galaxyfaraway.com”:http://www.galaxyfaraway.com, mirrordot or Coral Cache. The site died all morning after being slashdotted, but has been doing fine since it recovered.

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