Gmail and Google Apps customers will have a severely-downgraded experience on Windows 8 thanks to a protocol spat between Microsoft and Google.
This past December Google announced the sunset of support for a variety of interfaces to its email and other services, including Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). Google plans to continue support for existing connections established over EAS, but would no longer support new ones, unless the Google account was a paying Google Apps account, rather than a free Gmail account.
The new version of Windows Mail released earlier this week supports only IMAP for Google accounts. The Calendar and Contacts apps do not support CalDAV or CardDAV, the open standards supported by Google for calendar and contacts synchronization. Therefore, the Windows 8 apps have no way of synching with Google. Microsoft hasn't said so, but I would expect similar updates for Windows Phone soon.
Just to be clear about this, the new apps are locking out even the Google users for whom Google will still support EAS, as I discovered this week when I tried to set up a new Windows 8 tablet using my paid Google Apps domain: The new apps won't even try to set up EAS if the server domain is google.com.
When I tried to set up my system for EAS I got an error: "This account can't be connected using ActiveSync," even when I knew I was using the correct values. I suspected that Microsoft was blacklisting google.com from all EAS and asked Microsoft. A Microsoft spokesperson replied:
And it's even worse than it seems: Because contacts don't sync, the fact that you have IMAP email is of no value. An email program without contacts isn't very useful.
In light of Google's decision to change its support for EAS, we are now using IMAP for those customers that wish to connect their Gmail accounts. More information on how to synchronize Google services on your Windows or Windows RT device is available here.
Of course, going this far was not necessary. It should have been fairly easy for Microsoft to try the EAS connection and, if it failed, report an error. Perhaps they could even report an error that noted that Google had removed support for EAS for some of its accounts and directed the users to instructions.
But doubtless many paying Google customers, free or otherwise, will want to use Windows 8. Google has made clear that it has no plans to write apps for Windows 8 (or Windows Phone), so Google users will be stuck using browser access to Google services.
It's hard to read this as anything other than payback for Google's withdrawal of EAS support. Google's options are now to:
- Ride out the storm, perhaps hoping that users will choose Chromebooks instead (and not move to Outlook.com or other alternatives)
- Reconsider its EAS policies (this would only make sense if Microsoft agreed to put EAS support for Google back in to the Windows 8 apps)
- Write Windows 8 (and maybe Windows Phone) apps
What will Google do? What should it do? You tell me. My money says Google rides it out for a while and then "discovers" customer interest for Windows 8 versions of its apps.