Although Google seems to be determined to hide it, you can migrate much of your existing account using the methods documented here. For example:
- Log in to google with the account you want to transfer data from.
- Now go to this link. You’ll need to change the e-mail addresses to match your source and destination accounts.
- Choose the accounts that you want to transfer (it is irreversible) and hit go. This works for youtube, picasa, and groups, but most significantly not google play.
- Moving e-mail, contacts, and calendars is pretty easy, so I’m not covering it here.
Considering Google Apps
The decision to use Google Apps as an e-mail provider is a big one, because you’re getting much more than an e-mail provider. The ramifications can be extremely annoying. First, we’ll deal with reasons to use Google Apps:
- Great spam filtering
- Top notch network and redundancy. If Google’s network fails, the world ends (or something like that).
- Good web user interface
- POP3 and IMAP compliant
- Shareable calendars
- Integrates well with Android. Works natively with iPhone
- Generous storage space
- Free for up to ten “users”
- Access to other Google Apps services
- Customizable landing pages and urls, e.g. mail.yourdomain.com
- Concerns over privacy and use of your data to target marketing to you.
- Practically impossible to reconcile personal Google accounts with Google Apps account.
- Organization approach is not conducive to a single person with a domain name for a personal site/e-mail/blog.
- Confusing login pages.
- No traditional e-mail aliases.
That doesn’t sound like much of a downside, but the second one is HUGE!!!!!!!!.
If you already have a Google account for services like Picasa, Youtube, and Play store, you will find it practically impossible to migrate your data to the new account. If you have an Android, you will not be able to transfer your app purchases to your new account. This means that you will have to sync at least two accounts on your phone. Moreover, you’ll have to decide which account you want to put new purchases on. If you want your Youtube channel to be under your own domain name instead of your original account, you basically have to re-upload every single video. And if you have a popular channel or a lot of comments, you lose all of that history. If you have a lot of contacts in Google+, huge pain there too (although I can’t imagine anyone actually using Google+.)
Google Apps users have been complaining about these issues for more than five years with very little progress in resolving them. Part of the problem stems from the assumption that only “organizations” will use Google Apps. The whole thing is geared toward businesses that need e-mail, calendars, and a word processor/spreadsheet. Google seems completely oblivious to the idea that there are people who own their own domain name and just want to move their existing Google accounts over to Google Apps. I mean, really, unless I divorce myself or fire myself, I’m never going to leave the patheyman.com organization. And if I do decide that I like heymanator.com better, then I don’t want to have to create a new heymanator Google Apps account. I want to simply transfer my account from one domain to another.
An additional problem is the Google sign on pages. To log in to Google Apps, you have to go to google.com/a/yourdomain.com. Then you set up a user, email@example.com. You log in to Google Apps and play around. When you log out, you’ll be taken to a generic Google log in page. If you try to log in to with your e-mail address and password, instead of logging in to Google Apps, it will create a personal account with that e-mail and then tell you that you have a conflicting accounts because you have a Google Apps account and a personal Google account with the same e-mail address. I don’t know what idiot at Google thought this was a good idea, but it’s the stupidest thing in the whole world!
While we’re talking about sign on pages, you can also “customize” the sign on page and apps with your own logo and colors, but the image size can be no bigger than 143×59 pixels, and they’ll stretch it if it’s smaller. It’s just silly. Moreover, the main account sign on page is not customized—only the gmail, calendar, contacts, and documents apps are customized. Seriously, Google. You need to hire me to tell you how to run this aspect of your business.
Google Apps does not let you create traditional e-mail aliases. Instead they suggest that you add a dot or plus to your e-mail address, because firstname.lastname@example.org will go to email@example.com. Stupid, right? Especially if you’ve already got all your bills going to firstname.lastname@example.org. A much better workaround is to create a “user” (account) and then tell Google Apps to send all e-mail that does not belong to an actual account to that e-mail. You can use e-mail forwarding rules to send the mail to the appropriate person. Of course, even here, Google apps has to be stupid. It makes you confirm the ability to forward e-mail to your own domain when you only have up to ten users in the first place.
I know the stupidity at work in Google Apps, but I want to use them as my e-mail provider anyway.
Okay, but I warned you. The first thing to do is open your Google Apps account. If you have 10 or fewer “users” (accounts) then the Standard (free) edition should work just fine for you. The problem is that Google likes to hide it. There is no direct link to it, and most of the guides from a year or more ago are outdated. As of October 3, 2012, the way to get to the Standard (Free) Google Apps is to go to the Google Apps page and then click the pricing link at the top. You’ll see the Standard, Business, and Premier plans, with Standard being free…YAY!!!!!
Fill out the boxes with the appropriate information, and then you will have to prove that you own the domain that you are registering for. The easy way to do this is to upload a file to your website.
- Download the file
- Upload the file to your webserver
- Tell it that you did it.
Now you get to choose between Express Setup and Custom Setup. I chose Custom setup which is a huge pain in the—well—something. If you’re setting this up for just yourself or you and your wife and kid, I’d say choose the Express setup. I can’t really describe it too much, because I didn’t do it, but hey, there you go.
Tip: Throughout the set up process, keep an eye on the top center of the screen when you hit save or submit changes. Status messages will flash up there. If you get an error message, it will flash red just long enough to see that there was an error, and not quite long enough to read it, so pay attention.
As part of the set up process, you’ll need to set up one or more e-mail addresses (users). Here’s where the dashboard will lead you astray. It implies that the set up process has four steps, with the last step being “Direct email to Google Apps Mail.” You would think that this would walk you through changing your DNS settings, but you’d be wrong. It actually takes you to a screen on how to set up your mobile device with your Google Apps account.
The real fourth step is to set your DNS records so that the MX records are pointing to Google’s e-mail servers.
- Log in to your DNS host.
- Change your TTL (time to live) on your mx records to 300 seconds (5 minutes). If you screw up, it will only take 5 minutes for changes to take effect.
- Change your mx records to point to Google’s servers. Namecheap.com is particularly nice in this regard, because they have an option “Google Apps” that will automagically configure your mx records correctly. If your DNS host does not provide this useful service, then you should enter the following:
Hostname Target Type Priority TTL @ ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.com MX 1 300 @ ALT1.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.com MX 5 300 @ ALT2.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.com MX 5 300 @ ASPMX2.GOOGLEMAIL.com MX 10 300 @ ASPMX3.GOOGLEMAIL.com MX 10 300
- Once your DNS records have propagated, you can set the TTL back to whatever it was before.
- You can now access your e-mail by going to mail.google.com/a/yourdomain.com, but you probably would prefer to go to mail.yourdomain.com. You can customize your mail, calendar, contacts, and documents (GoogleDocs) in the same way.
- Log in to your Google Apps dashboard and in the center of the screen under “Your Google Apps” click on the settings link to gmail.
- Under web address, click change link, and choose the url you want to use, such as mail.domain.com, and click continue.
- It will direct you to create a CNAME pointing mail to ghs.googlehosted.com. (some DNS hosts require the ending period for CNAMES)
- Then click done. Now rinse and repeat for calendar, contacts, and documents.
- Now you just need to set up your mail clients and mobile devices to check Google’s servers instead of your own.
Note: Google has pretty extensive help online, but it’s organized in an obtuse way that makes finding what you need almost impossible. They also have help records for specific DNS hosts, but in the case of NameCheap.com, they didn’t mention the automagic way of doing it.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to figure out how to set up a custom URL for the main login page—only the individual apps mentioned above.
Now enjoy and regret the fruits of your labor. I had been getting 200+ spam messages a day despite training spam filters, and now I get less than five.
In future installments, I’ll talk about:
- Setting up a Linux VPS
- Making the move