The death of Google’s ActiveSync support, and what it means for you
Google’s announcement that it would be ending Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) support seems to have invited a lot of criticism over the impact it will have on businesses that use Google Apps.
Over the past few years, Google Apps in general, and Gmail, to be specific, have emerged as some of the most popular business computing tools. IT admins love Google Apps as it’s easy to configure, provides access to Gmail (which most users are already comfortable with), provides no-fuss mobile access, and can easily be scaled up as requirements grow.
So what does Google’s decision to axe ActiveSync support really mean for you, your administration load, and of course, your users?
What exactly will happen?
Exchange ActiveSync is a Microsoft technology that allows for seamless syncing of data – including E-mail, calendar information, and contacts. If you’re using Microsoft Outlook, Windows Phone 7.5 or 8, or the in-built E-mail and People apps in Windows 8, you’re probably connecting via EAS. ActiveSync makes mobile and desktop data access simple, allowing users to take their mail, appointments, and contacts along with them.According to Google’s official blog (http://googleblog.blogspot.in/2012/12/winter-cleaning.html), the decision to remove support for EAS was part of a ‘winter-cleaning’ process. Here’s what you can expect:
From 30 January 2013, new accounts won’t be able to use EAS to sync your E-mail, calendar, and contacts. While existing users and organizations with Google Apps for Business, Government and Education accounts will still be able to use EAS, other users will have to use IMAP (for E-mail), CalDAV (for scheduling and calendars), and CardDAV (for contact information) to maintain syncing abilities.
Some ‘less-popular’ services are being axed completely – From 4 January 2013, you won’t be able to create Appointment Slots (although existing slots will continue to work for another year). Other services that will be cancelled include Calendar Labs’ Smart Rescheduler, Check your calendar via SMS, and Create event via SMS (GVENT).
Google Calendar Sync, which allowed syncing between Google Calendar and Outlook has been cancelled and the download link removed as of 14 December 2012.
Google’s explanation might not really have made it clear as to what end-users and domain admins can expect. Here’s a brief rundown of what changes you’ll see if your account loses EAS support.
Android users will carry on without noticing any issues as Google uses a combination of IMAP, CardDAV, and CalDAV. - On iOS, while users will not be able to add any more accounts through the Microsoft Exchange option, they can use IMAP, CalDAV, and CardDAV. Apart from this, you also have the option of choosing Google’s Gmail app, which has better support for Gmail’s push notifications.
Blackberry users can use BIS for syncing but will only have access to the primary calendar
It’s users of Windows Phone 7.5 and 8 that will be hit the hardest as while WP supports IMAP mail access, it does not yet offer CalDAV and CardDAV.
On the desktop
Microsoft Outlook uses IMAP for mail so that won’t be affected. However, with Google Calendar Sync being discontinued, you’ll no longer be able to sync your calendars without using a third-party tool like OggSync (oggsync.com) or SyncMyCal (www.syncmycal.com). Free users of Google Apps can also check out Go Contact Sync (www.webgear.co.nz/Products/GOContactSync.aspx) for making sure their Gmail contacts are available on Outlook.
If you’re already thinking of transitioning to Windows 8, you’ll have to keep in mind that Microsoft’s latest OS does not feature built-in support for CalDAV and CardDAV. While you’ll be able to access E-mail via IMAP, the Windows 8 Metro apps for contacts and calendar will no longer offer syncing with Google Apps accounts.
Of course, existing users of Google Apps will not see any change and will be able to access their data as earlier – Any new users on free Google Apps accounts
will, however, have to turn to a combination of IMAP, CalDAV, and CardDAV.Also, paid Google Apps accounts will still be able to add new user IDs that support EAS functionality
Using IMAP – pros and cons
For most users that face some disruption in their service, the answer seems to be IMAP for E-Mail access. However, you should keep in mind that IMAP is not without its drawbacks:
IMAP is an E-Mail protocol. You’ll need CalDAV and CardDAV for calendar and contacts syncing abilities. If your platform of choice does not support these protocols, you’ll have to turn to a third-party tool or service for calendar/contact sync.
IMAP does not support push notifications out of the box and requires always-on connectivity. The IMAP IDLE specification does support push but some platforms, like Windows Phone and iOS do not feature this. (On iOS, you can get away by using Google’s Gmail app)
The IMAP IDLE specification offers push notifications on platforms like Android but it does result in greater network overhead as compared to Exchange ActiveSync as a greater number of connections have to be maintained. Also, with IDLE, every change on one client is reflected on the others. This also makes IMAP IDLE a lot harder on your device’s battery life.
We hope this post has cleared up some of your doubts over Google’s decision to stop support for Exchange ActiveSync. As a company that gives users Shared Labels in Gmail for Google Apps, we would love to see google improve its IMAP support. GrexIt's Shared Labels are built entirely on top of IMAP, which helps us support all email clients, but makes it very hard to build and scale the service because of Google's poor IMAP support.
About the author
Niraj is the Founder of Hiver. Hiver turns Gmail into a powerful collaboration tool by letting you manage Shared Inboxes right from your inbox. Niraj can be reached on Twitter at nirajr.