I was rather surprised that Google was pulling out the free version of the Google App. However for those who has already signed up before 8/Dec/2012 news announcement were indeed rather fortunate! Google has been shrinking the free account features starting with reducing the number of inboxes available from 50 free users to 10 free users on 10/May/2011 for new signups. And now the bombshell, no more free Google app account offering!
Anyway here's an excerpt of the message I received:
Starting today, we're no longer accepting new sign-ups for the free version of Google Apps (the version you're currently using). Because you're already a customer, this change has no impact on your service, and you can continue to use Google Apps for free.So for myself and friends that I have helped set up the Google Apps, we were really fortunate with our timing. As for new sign ups, that's it! No more chance to sign up for the free offering. Only paid version. Mind you, at USD5 per inbox user per month is not cheap! If you like the gmail webmail system, the only way is to use the normal Gmail to be used for your own domain. Wait! Wouldn't all your emails come out with the irritating "on behalf of" tell tale sender's header? There is a way to circumvent this irritating issue.
How to avoid / remove the "on behalf off" email header in GmailIn order to avoid the "on behalf of" issue, the simplest way is to sent out your email from Gmail is to use your own hosting SMTP. The are other methods like using SPF (sender policy framework) and DNS verification to avoid the "on behalf of" mail header, but when I tried it, it didn't work. So using the SMTP method was actually far easier to set up in comparison.
And if you used this method, would your sent messages still be stored in your Gmail account? Yes, it would. A copy would still be kept in your Gmail sent folder even though your messages was sent out via your own webhosting SMTP account.
To set up this method of sending mail:
1. Go to "settings"
2. Then "accounts and import" tab
3. At the "send mail as" row, click the "add another email address you own"
4. Start filling in your email address details
5. And select the "Send mail through your own SMTP server" option
6. Fill in the required SMTP server settings and give it a go!
Not all email / webmail program will show the irritating "on behalf of" headers. To really check whether the above settings work, you need to check using Microsoft Office Outlook or Windows Live Mail email software.
Granted, using Gmail as an alternative is not as elegant as using Google App, plus if you are a small SME / SOHO / enterprise business trying to administer simple low cost email system, you will need to have full access of each individual's Gmail account. On top of that, there is the issue of the Gmail account expiring when it is not log in after a certain period of time (in case you are using an email client rather than a webmail interface) means you have to periodically log in to each account that you have set up.
With the Gmail closing their offering, that was a quick swipe from Microsoft asking users to swap over to their new Outlook Live Hotmail system! Then again, you would still have the "on behalf off" issue with Microsoft email and there is no way to circumvent it. Gmail would still the better way to go to avoid this compared to say Outlook.com or even Yahoo! Mail.
This is fine if you were just using emails only. If you want other additional collaborative feature of Google Apps, such as contacts sharing, calendar sharing, etc. then just too bad.