Google fails to provide upgrade path for Gmail.
Google’s failure to allow users to change document ownership has left users of its free email service Gmail without an easy upgrade path to the business-oriented Google Apps productivity suite. Unhappy Gmail users have filled online forums with complaints about the lack of a practical upgrade path but the vendor has not provided a suitable fix.
Google did not alert Gmail users that it was not possible to transfer ownership of documents created in a Gmail account to a Google Apps account.
The situation remained confusing to users because nearly all Google Apps applications were available through the free Gmail account, which lead many to assume that it was possible to transfer ownership of documents, spreadsheets, emails and videos from Gmail to Google Apps.
In some cases businesses had to retain control of a personal Gmail account to retain ownership of business-related documents that had been created by Gmail account.
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One user complained in a Google forum that he had convinced his CEO at a 70-employee company to switch to Google Apps but was afraid of telling him that the many documents created by the staff in personal Gmail accounts would not be easily transferred to the company Google Apps account.
“Unfortunately, now that I’ve convinced [my CEO] to sign up, I’m afraid once he finds out what a pain it is and how many hours of labor it will take to get the documents transferred he will just cancel the whole idea,” wrote Truth Smiles in February last year.
“I wish Google could understand that the people most likely to sign up for Google Apps are people who have already been using Google Docs – and many of those with corporate usernames. Not having thought about how people will easily make the transition would be a serious oversight.
“Somebody please tell me I just didn’t see the “migrate” button on the screen.”
Another user who claimed to be a teacher said that teachers moving between schools were affected by the problem in reverse. They couldn’t transfer ownership of documents created in the school’s Google Apps account to their personal accounts.
“Google has made a big effort to attract schools to use Google Apps, and it’s a fantastic resource. But teachers move around, and one of the most common issues we have is that teachers want to keep a copy of their resources when they get a new job. But Google Apps will not allow documents to be transferred outside the current domain. The solution that teachers find is to create all their resources in their personal Gmail account, and so they end up not using the school’s Apps account at all,” wrote RetroSnob in August.
Google employees have responded with sympathy in forums to users complaining about the lack of a working upgrade path and in particular document ownership issues.
“You’re right, this whole thing is a nightmare,” wrote Gill, a Google Docs guru, in June.
Next page: The problem in detail
Even though the same applications were used by a Gmail account and a Google Apps account, it was not straightforward to move emails from one to the other while retaining labels and filters.
Google required users to redirect emails from their personal Gmail account (using the POP protocol) or to import the emails with a tool that was only available in the paid version of Google Apps and not the free, Standard version.
A greater problem surrounded the ownership of documents. Google encouraged users of its popular free email service Gmail into using other parts of its productivity suite including Google Docs, the document management platform which functions like Windows Explorer with online file storage.
Anyone with a free Gmail account could start creating documents for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and drawings and sharing them with friends and colleagues.
However, if a Gmail user then decided to use Google Apps with a business or personal website and email address, it was currently impossible to shift ownership of documents from the personal Gmail account to the Google Apps account.
This was because Google had restricted changes of ownership to users within the same domain. So a Gmail user could transfer ownership of a document to another @gmail.com email address but not to a business domain such as @yourbusiness.com.
Google’s recommended workaround was to download all files from the Gmail account and reimport them to the Google Apps account. However, the download process could corrupt the files especially formats in headers, footers and images. After downloading documents a user would need to open each document once it had been uploaded to check that the file had not corrupted.
This approach also removed the greatest attractions of Google Docs such as sharing settings, the changelog (Google’s track-edit function), comments attached to the document and its “publications” – a deal breaker for many users.
Another method was to share a document in a Gmail account with the Google Apps account and then, from Google Apps, select “Create a copy”. The document would copy over to the Google Apps account and could be renamed the same as the original file.
The problem with this workaround was that it was not practical to open, change and close every file if shifting large numbers of files between the Gmail and Google Apps accounts.
Third-party applications such as MigrationBox could transfer documents between Google Docs accounts but were unable to retain document sharing settings.
The easiest way to avoid the document-ownership issue is to test Google Apps by creating a Google Apps account rather than using a free Gmail account. The Standard version of Google Apps is free for up to 10 users and can be easily upgraded to Google Apps Premier. Read Google’s documentation on how document ownership works as it has implications for documents created by former employees too.