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Google drops Exchange ActiveSync support on free Gmail

Stuart J. Johnston

Google stirred up a veritable tempest in a teapot in mid-December by discontinuing support for a key synchronization protocol -- Exchange ActiveSync, which it licenses from Microsoft.

But the move is expected to have few long-term effects, particularly for Microsoft Exchange users, said Michael Van Horenbeeck, technology consultant for medical device maker Xylos Corp. in Belgium.

It may even work in Microsoft's favor.

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There might be a fair chance of Google shooting itself in the foot by dropping EAS.

Michel de Rooji,
unified communications consultant

"At best, they'll get people moving from Gmail to Outlook, because users lose functionality they've come to rely on," Van Horenbeeck said.

Google announced on its official blog that after January 30, 2013, it will no longer support creation of new device sync accounts for its free Gmail and other services based on Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) protocol, which the search giant refers to as "Google Sync." That means it will stop supporting Google Sync connections between its free Gmail or free Google Apps and new devices, which could have some impact in some bring-your-own-device scenarios.

However, EAS will continue to be fully supported for Google Apps for Business, Government and Education. Users of those non-free products are unaffected by the announcement. Additionally, Google-synced devices that are already connected via EAS will continue to function.

In place of EAS, Google is fielding its own Google Sync based on open protocols.

"Google Sync was designed to allow access to Google Mail, Calendar and Contacts via the Microsoft EAS protocol," said Venkat Panchapakesan, Google vice president of engineering, said in a blog. "Google now offers similar access via IMAP, CalDAV and CardDAV, making it possible to build a seamless sync experience using open protocols," he said.

In response, Microsoft tried to use the change as bait to attract Gmail users away from Google and onto its own Outlook.com free email and scheduling system.

"It means that many people currently using Gmail for free are facing a situation where they might have to degrade their mobile email experience by downgrading to an older protocol that doesn't sync your calendar or contacts, doesn't give you direct push of new email messages, and doesn't have all the benefits of Exchange ActiveSync," said Dharmesh Mehta, Microsoft senior director of product management, in a blog post this week.

Users are not overly concerned, but find the move irritating.

"While I do understand Google's case, which is probably more a cost reduction and resource focus shift measure rather than another act in the Google versus Microsoft war, I also believe there might be a fair chance of Google shooting itself in the foot by dropping EAS," said Michel de Rooij, a unified communications consultant in the Netherlands. "It gets annoying when vendors drop functionality end users are accustomed to, making them have to put energy into looking at solutions or alternatives, which may become tiresome at some point," he said.

In the longer term, given that the affected accounts are free to the public, the impact on IT shops will be minimal, according to one observer. "It looks bad when Google is using a competitor's product ... but it's really a lot about nothing," said Wes Miller, research vice president at Directions on Microsoft, an independent analyst firm in Kirkland, Wash.

Related Topics: Mobile Devices, VIEW ALL TOPICS

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