Years ago, Google Apps was free for any organization that signed up. That meant you, and your fifty closest employees, could get free personalized @yourlawfirm.com Google accounts, which came with Gmail, calendars, and every other Google service.
It was nifty.
Many of us geeks snapped up accounts, even for personal domains with only one user. Alas, Google eventually trimmed the free version to five users, and then to no users. Unless you are a nonprofit organization, or got in before the switch, you'll have to pay to play with Google.
A lot of small firms and small businesses focus on shrinking their overhead. Who wants to pay $5 or $10 monthly per user in addition to legal research, practice management software, and the other toys that keep your business running smoothly. Those new attorneys may be tempted to cheapen out and go with an @gmail, @yahoo, or @outlook.com address.
Not only does it make you look unprofessional, but you can get that @yourlawfirm.com email address for free.
Of course, you'll need the domain name. Domain name registration services often run specials for as little as $1 per year for the name, hoping that you'll pay extra for hosting or web design services. (That's an issue for another day.)
For now, you need email. And when a friend's nonprofit came calling earlier this week, they needed email as well. This gave me the perfect opportunity to try Microsoft's free offering for custom domains. The setup isn't terrible (here is a detailed walkthrough of the process) but isn't quite as simple as Google's now-paid offering. All you need is (1) a domain name (2) access to the domain name's settings and (3) an alternate email account.
It took me fifteen minutes to set up the servers and begin adding users. For those who don't eat, sleep, and snort tech geekery, it'd probably take an hour or two. Adding users takes a few seconds each and is way simpler than Google's process.
Between the two, if money wasn't a consideration, we'd still have a hard time choosing between Google and Microsoft now that the new Outlook interface is available. We loved it when we tested it earlier this year and had positive impressions of SkyDrive, Office Web Apps, and the Outlook Calendar as well. Google's services are about neck-and-neck or even slightly better in some areas (collaborative document editing, for one) but they still have those pesky privacy issues.
And Google isn't free. Outlook is - for up to 500 users.
Now, if you have an existing free Google Apps account, should you migrate over? Create a free Outlook.com account and try out the services. It really is an eye-of-the-beholder sort of preference. We wouldn't go through all the effort of migrating over hundreds of thousands of emails, calendar entries, and contacts (not to mention Google's tight integration with Android phones and tablets), but if we were staring from scratch, or needed more users, the Microsoft alternative truly is compelling.
Editor's note, May 3, 2016: This post was first published in April, 2013. It has since been updated.
- Microsoft, Outlook Terms of Service Translated (FindLaw's Technologist)
- Is Microsoft Becoming the 'Privacy Company'? (FindLaw's Technologist)
- Microsoft is Finally Bringing Office to iOS and Android Next Year (FindLaw's Technologist)