Replacing Exchange Public Folder Functionality with Google Apps September 6, 2009Posted by judismith in Email, Exchange, Gmail, Google Apps, Interoperability.
Tags: Exchange, Gmail, Google Apps, Public Folders
One of the problems with ditching Exchange and moving to Google Apps has been the lack of public folder functionality. Public folders are those folders that your Exchange admin would set up where they could give multiple users the right to view content and other users the rights to add and edit content. They are sort of a cheap intranet; at least that’s how we used them.
We successfully migrated 300+ users to Google Apps finishing late this Spring. Part of that required that we solve the lack of public folders. For those public folders where we would just put documents for access, we helped our users migrate to using Google Sites. With sites, users can easily post information or documents. Some of our users also use shared Google Docs for this purpose.
We still had the issue of having multiple users easily access one email account for customer service or other public facing email addresses. We turned to Email Center Pro for a solution that really improves on the public folder paradigm.
The things we like about Email Center Pro:
- Like public folders, there is a many to many relationship between email boxes and users. In other words, users can be assigned to multiple mailboxes and multiple users can be assigned to the same mailbox.
- The user interface is a very nice dashboard that has
- A drop down list of all the users mailboxes,
- A list of all the other users that are currently logged into that mailbox,
- The ability to save searches,
- Recent activity log,
- Account usage,
- The message inbox, and
- a customizable graph of mailbox activity that is exportable to CSV for further analysis.
- Plus there are about 15 more widgets that are available to add.
- Emails can be assigned for response to ensure that no emails are missed or forgotten and that they only get responded to one time.
- The Email Center Pro inbox can send you an alert when email arrives so you don’t have to keep checking.
- You can create and use templates for common responses, ensuring that communications are consistent and saving time.
- Create notes for other team members
- You can create a link from the email to a case in your case system. In our case we use Salesforce. This works nicely when you need to update the case with information from the email thread.
So, we didn’t solve all the problems with just Google. But that’s the great thing about Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, they understand that complimentary functionality and seamless integration is the name of the game. All-in-all, with the public folder functionality replaced and improved, the transition to Google Apps went very well. We are very happy with the choice and the many new features that Google and Email Center Pro have added to our email handling.
Put GMail on Your Desktop with GeekTool August 23, 2009Posted by judismith in GeekTool, Gmail, Google Apps, Macintosh OS X.
Tags: GeekTool, Gmail
Recently the folks over at Panic announced a cool new way to display critical stats on your desktop – Statoo. Like GeekTool, Statoo can put the weather, date, time, disk space, current song, and so on on your desktop. Unlike GeekTool, they do it all in a few clicks. Even more interesting was the ability to put email on the desktop. I hadn’t yet seen that done with GeekTool.
Intrigued by the email portion, I set out to have GeekTool display the most resent messages from my GMail inbox. This requires a little script fu, but not that much. Here’s what it looks like on my desktop.
The word “EMail is something I add as a header to this GeekTool module. Next, emails are displayed as the subject line first then below and indented slightly, the first few words from the body of the email. In the example above, the first email is my schedule from GCal. Since I’m writing this on a Sunday, I don’t have any events and the body is empty. The second email is some spam that GMail managed to miss. Then there is my reminder from Vitalist.com and so on.
To make this script work, we take advantage of the fact that GMail conveniently provides Atom feeds for any of your labels. You can access your feeds at https://mail.google.com/mail/feed/atom/<label name> where <label name> is the name of the label that you want to access. To access the feed for the inbox, we can take advantage of GMail’s built in “inbox” label. So the URL to access the feed for the inbox is https://mail.google.com/mail/feed/atom/inbox. This also works for Google Apps users. The URL is https://mail.google.com/a/<your company domain>/feed/atom/<label name> where <your company domain> is web domain that you use with Google Apps and as above <label name> is the label that you want to access. So the URL to access the feed for the inbox of a Google Apps user with a domain of somecompany.com is https://mail.google.com/a/somecompany.com/feed/atom/inbox.
OK, on to the script. I built the script with just a few variables for you to change. I’ve listed it below but you can download the complete script here.
# Thanks to Dave Taylor at http://www.askdavetaylor.com for the great tutorial on accessing and parsing RSS feeds with a shell script
echo “EMail” # Puts the word “Email” at the top for a header to the module
# Provide your log in credentials
# NOTE – you MUST replace the @ in your username email with %40 or the script will fail
username=’user%40gmail.com’ # username is your email address with @ replaced by %40. For Google Apps users this will be user%40yourcompany.com
password=’password’ # your password
# Set the label that you want use
label=’inbox’ # the GMail label that contains the email you wnat to display
#Set the Wdith of the output
width=’45′ # The number of columns wide that you want the output
# Required for Google Apps users
domain=’yourcompany.com’ # Your company domain – only needed for Google Apps users
# If you are using Google Apps put a # at the beginning of the first url= line and remove it from the second url line.
url=’https://’”$username”‘:’”$password”‘@mail.google.com/mail/feed/atom/’”$label” # GMail users
#url=’https://’”$username”‘:’”$password”‘@mail.google.com/a/’”$domain”‘/feed/atom/’”$label” # Google Apps users – remember to edit your organization’s domain in domain variable above
# Do not modify below this line
if [ $# -eq 1 ] ; then
headarg=$(( $1 * 2 )) # $(( )) specifies that you’re using an equation
headarg=”-8″ # default is four email messages
curl –silent “$url” | grep -E ‘(title>|summary>)’ | \
sed -n ’2,$p’ | \
sed -e ‘s/<title>//’ -e ‘s/<\/title>//’ -e ‘s/<summary>/ /’ \
-e ‘s/<\/summary>//’ | \
head $headarg | fmt -w “$width”
Once you have modified the file with your information, save it to a location with the name gmail.sh. I use a GeekTool folder inside my Documents folder. Then you will have to make the script executable. To do that, assuming you saved the file as above, open the terminal and enter
chmod +x ~/Documents/GeekTool/gmail.sh
While you are still in the Terminal, to see if everything is working, try running the script by entering
If you’ve done everything right, you should see the subject lines and a summary of the body for first 4 messages from your inbox listed in the terminal.
Once you’ve saved the file and added the execution permissions, we can now go over to GeekTool. Open System Preferences and select the GeekTool module. Then click on the button for a new entry and select Shell as the entry type. The enter the command to run the script file in the command box
The script is set to take an argument for how many messages you would like to see. It will default to 4 messages, but you can alter that by putting a dash followed by a number at the end of the command. For example if I want to see 10 messages instead of 4 the command would be
sh ~/Documents/GeekTool/gmail.sh -10
You can see the GeekTool set up in the picture below.
That’s it! adjust the GeekTool settings to your liking or to match your awesome desktop and enjoy. I look forward to seeing GMail on the desktops featured Lifehacker from the Flickr Lifehacker Desktop Show and Tell pool.
iCal, Exchange, GCal Sync Update December 21, 2008Posted by judismith in Calendar, Google Apps, iCal, Macintosh OS X.
Tags: Exchange, GCal, iCal, Sync
1 comment so far
Well, its that time of the year again when I revisit the state of iCal syncing. This time there is a lot of progress to report.
First up – who could miss the announcement that Google Calendar now officially supports CalDav – the same open calendar standard that iCal speaks. This means that your Google calendar can be right on your OS X desktop in iCal. Changes made in iCal sync to Google and vice versa in a matter of seconds.
On the Exchange front, as predicted in my last post on this topic, the release of Exchange 2007 with its use of more standardized web services has allowed at least one company to come out with a product that will sync your iCal with Exchange. Sync’Em is in version 1.15. According to their website, Sync’Em will sync more than just your appointments. It will also sync your contacts, tasks and notes. For those of you who still have to live in a place dominated by Microsoft technologies, this just may be your ticket. (Thanks to all who commented about Sync’Em).
Of course those same Exchange 2007 web services have enabled Apple to promise out of the box Exchange interoperability with Mail, Address Book and iCal. So you may not want to throw down the cash for those Sync’Em licenses until Snow Leopard debuts. If you just can’t wait until mid to late 2009 to access your Exchange data natively in iCal, Sync’Em looks to be your only choice at this point for iCal/Exchange syncing.
Use Google and Exchange Calendars in the Same Domain July 20, 2008Posted by judismith in Calendar, Exchange, Google Apps, Interoperability.
Tags: Calendar, Exchange, Google Apps, Sync
I can hear you asking already, “Why would you want to do that?”
Well, the problem is if you use shared calendaring and you want to migrate your organization off of Exchange on to Google Apps, everyone has to get moved over to Google Apps at the same time, and in one weekend. Not too bad if we’re talking about 10 people. If we’re talking about 600 people or thousands of people, that’s another story. If you have a fairly large organization like mine – that’s not going to happen. Well, while maybe technically it could happen… there’s that whole human side of the equation. You have to roll out training. And then there’s fear of the unknown. You have to help people see that they can do the same things they used to do, just better and faster. Of course we all know that Google rocks, but as far as everyone else is concerned, we’re just the geeks and our opinion on matters such as these is not to be trusted. So we have to find a way to get some internal champions who aren’t techies. Unless you want to create a riot and send productivity into the toilet for the next couple of weeks or months (not recommended if you want to keep working), you have to do the migration gradually. That means at least for a while you’ll have users on both systems.
Generally, everything works fine across two different systems – email, tasks, instant messaging, and so on, even with Microsoft® involved. The folks in Redmond have give the occasional nod to adhering to some standards. Even sending appointments between the two systems generally works – if only because Google took the effort to make it work. But shared calendaring – seeing the free/busy information, now that’s the issue. If you are on Exchange and I’m on Google Calendar, you can’t see my schedule and I can’t see yours. If we’re in the same organization, we’ve just moved back to the dark ages. I’m calling you to see if your schedule works with mine to get a meeting – OK, well maybe we’d be using IM, so we’re not quite back to the dark ages. This folks, is a show stopper.
Enter Google Calendar Connectors! If you have a premiere Google Apps account (or an Educational/Non-profit account) and at least Exchange 2003, you’re in luck. Over at Google Code, you’ll find the Google Calendar Connectors project. You’ll also need a Windows 2003 server with .NET 2.0 to run the Connectors.
From the Google Code Project website:
This open source project is a developer and partner release and is not targeted for direct customer or end-user installation. The Google Calendar Connectors represent a set of tools and should not be considered native functionality of Google Apps Premier Edition.
* Google Calendar Connector Web Service: This connector allows users in Google Calendar to see free/busy information for users who maintain their calendars in Exchange. It is a .NET web service that takes requests sent from the browser with Google Calendar and returns free/busy obtained from a Microsoft Exchange 2003 server.
* Google Calendar Connector Sync Service: This connector allows users of Microsoft Exchange to see free/busy information for users who maintain their calendars in Google Calendar. It is a Windows Service that periodically queries the Google Calendar GData API to get updated free/busy information and publishes this information as free/busy information in Exchange.
* Google Calendar Connector Plug-in: This connector allows users of Microsoft Exchange to see free/busy information for users who maintain their calendars in Google Calendar. This product is an Exchange plug-in that adapts Exchange requests for Calendar free/busy information into a request to the Google Calendar GData API. This has the advantage over the Sync Service of not needing to poll Google Calendar and the free/busy information is more current. However, installation requires modifications to the Exchange server environment, which some customers are not comfortable with.
We have the Connectors up and running in our organization. It took a little work to get them going, but once up, we are happily co-existing on two systems.
Now, with Google, I can potentially share my free/busy information with the world. If a vendor wants to schedule an appointment, they can just check my Google calendar. Of course, if your calendar is like mine, good luck with finding the “free” part of that free/busy information.
One other thing I forgot to mention, there is a little foo that needs to happen in order to have Exchange happily share a domain. For those users who you migrate to Google Apps, you need to set up Exchange so that it will forward their emails to another server when it see that they don’t have an email address in AD. Normally, if someone in the organization sends an email to someone else in the domain, Exchange assumes that Active Directory is the only place to look for the email address. If the email address doesn’t exist in AD, Exchange normally assumes it doesn’t exist anywhere and send the appropriate error message. A little work has to be done to teach Exchange how to share nicely.
With that hurdle overcome, I’m back to thinking about what we’d be missing if we moved off of Exchange and whether we really can use Google Apps as an Exchange/Sharepoint/Blackberry Server replacement. See my initial thoughts on that in may post on Google Apps as a Viable Replacement for Exchange.
Microsoft’s death grip on the desktop just got a lot weaker.
Google Apps – a Viable Replacement for Exchange? September 28, 2007Posted by judismith in Exchange, Gmail, Google Apps.
Tags: Exchange, Gmail, Google Apps
Google Apps is a collection of online services from Google aimed at small to medium enterprises. Google Apps consist of GMail (which includes spam filtering), GoogleTalk, Google Calendar for communication, Google Docs, Start Page and Page Creator for collaboration and a control panel, access to APIs as well as 24/7 support for managing your Google services.
With these services you get either 10GB or 2GB of online mail storage, depending on your plan. You get support for mobile devices including Blackberrys. You use your own domain name and your emails are to and from email@example.com. You can even integrate Google Apps into your LDAP or Active Directory.
The biggest advantage of Google is that it is completely hosted. When we looked at Google for our enterprise we calculated that we could get rid of three systems – Exchange (2 servers), the Blackberry Server, and the spam appliance. It would also free up about 1 full-time employee.
So how much does this all cost? If you are an enterprise and you sign up for the premium service, it will set you back $50 per user per year. Yes, that is per year not per month. If you are a school or a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization – the cost is free, zip, nada.
For me that means we can support our 5000 volunteers with “official” email addresses. We couldn’t afford that even with Microsoft’s generous non-profit discounts. That means our volunteers can access their email and collaborate with each other anytime day or night, anywhere in the world and I don’t have to worry about whether our system is up or our ISP is down.
Let me just take a minute to add that while I am not a fan of Exchange because it is so proprietary and doesn’t play well with others, my hat is off to Microsoft for so generously supporting the non-profit community. A few other large software vendors – let’s start with Oracle – could learn from Microsoft in this regard.
So what’s the catch? There is some Exchange functionality missing. Some people think that GMail doesn’t support distribution lists. However, distribution list functionality is achieved by using the groups functionality in GMail contacts. Watch this three minute demo to see how it is done.
But, there are at least two significant pieces of Exchange functionality that are missing from Google Apps: public folders and delegates. Public folders allows a group of people to access the same set of emails and documents. Delegates allows me to let my assistant manage my calendar and appointments – which is a full-time job. But there is hope. See my upcoming posts on using Google Groups as a replacement for Exchange public folders and how to let your assistant manage your (Google) calendar.
View this Google Apps Q&A with Google Engineers