Google Sinks Sync

14 Jan 2013

Any UC warrior can share war stories about interoperability. They are nasty, involving a wide range of aspects: video, IM/presence, even HD audio over SIP. But through it all we have email as our glittering light of how things can be. We never inquire about the email system used by colleagues because it just works - we send messages, attachments, even appointments without interoperability concerns across town and around the globe.

At the end of this month, a sliver of that interoperability will die. Google intends to discontinue support of Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) in Gmail. Well, that's not exactly true, Google will continue to support EAS for its Google Apps for Business, Government, and Education users - oh, and existing Gmail users, too. In other words, the only impacted users are non-users - folks that use Gmail without Sync today won't be able to change that. It's a cough across the bow of the mighty Microsoft ship called Exchange.

The Google service being retired is known as Google Sync, and it uses Microsoft's EAS protocol to allow synchronized access to a user's mail, calendar, and contacts. Officially, Google is discontinuing support of it in favor of CardDAV, CalDAV, and IMAP open protocols. EAS is widely supported among devices and systems that interface with Exchange. It is also used by Microsoft's cloud MDM Intune service.

It isn't obvious what Google is doing here. Google positions the move as "Winter Cleaning," but as they are not actually retiring the service for ANY current users, it isn't a very effective cleaning. Nor is it much of a statement or battle about Gmail vs. Exchange - again because it won't impact any current users. So why?

The issue really has less to do with email and more to do with mobile phones. While Android and Apple iOS support IMAP, CalDAV, and CardDAV - Windows Phone only supports IMAP. That means Gmail users that purchase Microsoft phones will trip over this newly drawn line in the sand. The Windows Phone native email application will not be able to sync Gmail contacts and calendars. If it's a big problem, Microsoft could opt to support those standards - but grudgingly so. It's far nicer having the email ecosystem revolve around your own protocol.

Google's strategy here is not without risk. Gmail has competitors, namely Microsoft's own Hotmail and which do support EAS. Let the games begin, but don't expect big fireworks. Windows Phone is mostly found in Microsoft loyal circles which are not likely heavy users of Gmail. Existing users aren't impacted, and with Android and iOS dominating market share - most new users won't even know of the issue.


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