Mail merge feature added to Google Apps

Mail migration lets corporate users transfer existing mail to the online platform

Just weeks after unveiling offline capabilities to its Google Apps collection of services, the company Monday added a mail migration feature that lets corporate users transfer existing mail to the online platform.

The mail merge feature is available for the Google Apps' Premier and Education editions. Google has developed a self-service wizard that lets administrators securely transfer into their Google Apps account e-mail from any e-mail server that supports IMAP.

The two most-used corporate e-mail servers -- Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes -- support IMAP interfaces.

Google officials said the mail merge capabilities will support Exchange 2003, but that Notes is yet to be tested with the software.

Other platforms already supported are the open-source Courier Mail Server, Cyrus and Dovecot e-mail servers.

The mail merge capability signals the first time Google is directly giving users tools in order to migrate away from established corporate e-mail systems.

First major step we have with taking e-mail archives and providing migration," said Rishi Chandra, product manager for Google Apps. "We recognize that a lot of people love the apps we are providing.... but they have existing e-mail systems they want take their old data and move it into Google Apps."

Two weeks ago, Google offered other help for corporate users, saying emerging offline capabilities for Google Apps had been a "key missing piece" of its platform, especially for large companies running Exchange and Notes. But company officials also said their motivation was to build enterprise services and not attack Microsoft and IBM/Lotus.

Google Apps Premier Edition currently includes Gmail with 10GB of storage, Google Docs & Spreadsheets, integrated instant messaging and search tools, Google Talk for instant messaging and VoIP services, support for Gmail on BlackBerry mobile devices, Google Calendar, a set of APIs and partner technologies to integrate with existing enterprise applications, and 24/7 phone support. The suite is priced at US$50 per user.

With the new mail merger capabilities Gmail will put messages into conversation threads and display the original sender, recipient and message date. The tool also will convert existing mail folders into labels. Once transferred, the messages are searchable via Gmail's search feature.

Two weeks ago, Google said it will add a presentation application to its Google Apps lineup by the end of this year, and possibly could add other applications to its Office-like suite, including video, note taking, blogging and group discussion applications, according to Matthew Glotzbach, director of product management in Google's enterprise division.

Google also is aiming to establish parity between the offline and online capabilities of its productivity suite: Earlier this month it unveiled a set of APIs as part of a browser extension called Google Gears that will let Web-based applications work in a disconnected mode.

In the near future, the look of Docs & Spreadsheets will be overhauled to make it easier to search, locate and organize documents.

Google says it has added more than 30 features and updates to Google Apps since rolling out in February. The company says those additions show how quickly services can be updated to add features and functions that usually take providers of on-premise e-mail servers another software upgrade to add.

The newest features include a shared address book, a charting capability for Docs & Spreadsheets, multiuser chat and a doubling of the maximum size of attachments to 20MB.

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John Fontana

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