Most people could care less about Gmail outside of the free e-mail accounts so many of us use on a daily basis, but one of the best-kept secrets of Gmail was the fact that Google provided a free version of its Google Apps for business that allowed small businesses to create up to seven users under a domain name while utilizing the Gmail servers.
In layman's terms, this meant that if you had a small business and a domain name for your website, you could set up an account with Google that would provide you all the same services offered by Gmail, but with your domain name instead of firstname.lastname@example.org: lots of storage, great server accessibility and, most importantly of all, IMAP, which allows users to check e-mail in multiple locations -- on your PC, on your phone, on your tablet -- and see the same inbox wherever you are.
I have personally utilized the business version of the Gmail service for several years and found it to be about the most reliable and feature-rich e-mail service available for a budget. Since most micro businesses have neither the need nor the budget to afford an Exchange server, this was a great option.
Unfortunately, the days of free accounts are over, sort of, as Google announced Thursday it would discontinue the free for business service immediately.
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If you already were using a Google Apps for Business account for free, you get to keep using it that way, indefinitely. However, if you want to start using it, you will now have to pay $50 per user per year. In a single-person business, this is still a hell of a deal. You can create as many e-mail aliases (e-mail addresses that point back to a primary box, so, sales@ pointing to yourname@, for example) as you like, making it a pretty easy way to manage things.
However, if you have ten employees, all of whom will use e-mail, the cost of that service for your business just jumped to $500 per year -- $50 per employee. Sure, you get dedicated customer service, additional storage space and the like, but that $50 per year can add up.
I had often wondered how Google continued to allow the gravy train of free accounts to continue -- hell, I still wonder how they subsidize free Gmail accounts. I guess I got my answer.
Even at $50, Google offers the single best option for e-mail on the Web if you are on a budget, but it sure was convenient when it was free.