Google, Microsoft, and the EAS problem

By Kip Kniskern | In Opinion | Posted December 15, 2012 42 comments

Today, in a blog post on the Google Official Blog, Google announced that they were shutting down some services, including Google Sync.  According to the blog post:

Google Sync was designed to allow access to Google Mail, Calendar and Contacts via the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync® protocol. With the recent launch of CardDAV, Google now offers similar access via IMAP, CalDAV and CardDAV, making it possible to build a seamless sync experience using open protocols. Starting January 30, 2013, consumers won’t be able to set up new devices using Google Sync; however, existing Google Sync connections will continue to function. Google Sync will continue to be fully supported for Google Apps for Business, Government and Education. Users of those products are unaffected by this announcement.

The decision to end support for EAS via Google Sync has direct implications for Windows 8 and Windows Phone, as Windows products don’t support CalDAV and CardDAV, and Windows users (including Windows Phone users) currently use Google Sync to get full Gmail sync.  Once Google Sync goes away, Windows users won’t be able to fully sync Gmail to their devices (they will still be able to use IMAP to get Gmail, but not Calendar or Tasks sync).

This has caused a bit of an uproar, of course, with pundits declaring that “Google just declared war on Microsoft”, and that Google is “going to screw Gmail users on Windows Phone”.  The problem runs a bit deeper than just shots across the bow in an ecosystem war, however.

The first thing to remember is that Google is a licensee of Exchange Active Sync, and must pay Microsoft a license fee for the use of EAS in Google Sync (users can access the output of EAS without paying, of course, but the server software creating the Google Sync content must be licensed).  Coupled with Google’s recent decision to end free access to Google Apps, it seems likely that Google is seeking to end supporting “business” services for free, and especially services that they have to pay for themselves via licensing fees.

Google plans to continue offering EAS services in its paid Google Apps, both to support Enterprise customers (who rely on EAS for their corporate mail), and probably to pass the costs of EAS licensing along to customers.  For a single user, the cost isn’t much, only $50/yr or about $4.17 per month.  Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as just upgrading a Gmail account to Google Apps – you have to create a new email address for Google Apps, so just upgrading your current Gmail address to Google Apps for Business won’t work.

But the problem with accessing Gmail on Windows, unfortunately, is not so much that Google won’t continue to pay Microsoft for proprietary access, it’s that Microsoft doesn’t support the open source standards (CalDAV and CardDAV) that Gmail, and many other services are based on.

In addition, and this is one reason we’ve been harping on about a Windows Live / Outlook.com Calendar, Google Calendar offers now (even with the recent cuts) and has from the beginning a better set of services than what we’ve been offered through Windows Live.  We know that many of our readers gave up years ago on Windows Live Calendar, and switched to Google, just because they needed a working service. Those Windows Live / Outlook.com calendars are also not based on open source standards, even as Microsoft has moved away from other proprietary services like Silverlight towards standards based HTML5 and JavaScript. 

Saying that “EAS is what we call a de facto standard because everyone uses it”, as Paul Thurrott did in his post on Google’s decision is like saying that everyone should support IE6 instead of web standards.  It’s the wrong road to take, in our opinion.  With IE6, Microsoft’s insistence on using proprietary standards cost users dearly, and is still costing users to this day.  Google may indeed be declaring war on Microsoft to get them to support the standards that the rest of the world is using, but we don’t think that’s evil, in this case.  We think it’s the right thing to do.

Google isn’t out to get Microsoft and Windows Phone users so much as it is to continue to come down on the side of web standards over proprietary protocols, but the effect is the same.  Without EAS/Google Sync, Gmail and Google Calendar just aren’t going to work with Windows Phone or Windows.

That still leaves a number of options, however.  If you’re a Windows Phone user using Google services, you could just switch to Outlook.com (of course this might be a better option if we would ever get a new Calendar!).  Or, of course, if you’re dedicated to Gmail, you could switch to an Android or iOS (for which Google provides a dedicated app) device.

Beyond that, Microsoft could move to support the open source CalDAV and CardDAV protocols, and perhaps that’s one reason why we’re not seeing an Outlook.com calendar just yet (that’s just a wild guess, though).  Or, Microsoft or a third party (they are, after all, open source standards) could build a Gmail app for Windows Phone and/or Windows 8, which might not connect seamlessly with the People Hub, but would at least get your Gmail and your Google Calendar on your phone or desktop.

Until Microsoft adopts open source standards for mail and calendar sync, as it has done for web standards, Windows and Windows Phone users are going to suffer, and that’s the real problem.

Posted December 15th, 2012 at 2:23 pm
  • FremyCompany

    Thanks for this very informative article!

  • FremyCompany

    Thanks for this very informative article!

  • NicolaMantovani

    that’s no reason for a cutoff with less than 2 monts of warning. google is a dick, acting like the microsoft of old. i hope they get their ass raped the same way as microsoft.

    • http://www.LiveSide.net Kip Kniskern – LiveSide.net

      With the license agreement between MS and a company the size of Google, we doubt very much that MS had “less than 2 months warning”. Because we’re just hearing about it now does not mean that Microsoft’s just hearing about it now.

      • NicolaMantovani

        so where is microsoft answer? if they knew far in advance all of this, all the necessary software to fix the situation should almost be ready. hell, it should already be in WP8.

  • NicolaMantovani

    that’s no reason for a cutoff with less than 2 monts of warning. google is a dick, acting like the microsoft of old. i hope they get their ass raped the same way as microsoft.

    • http://www.LiveSide.net Kip Kniskern – LiveSide.net

      With the license agreement between MS and a company the size of Google, we doubt very much that MS had “less than 2 months warning”. Because we’re just hearing about it now does not mean that Microsoft’s just hearing about it now.

      • NicolaMantovani

        so where is microsoft answer? if they knew far in advance all of this, all the necessary software to fix the situation should almost be ready. hell, it should already be in WP8.

  • alterSchwede

    Sorry but open standards aren’t better just because they are open. EAS proprietary as it may be is an advanced protocol which has proven reliable and usable. So why just switch to less efficient protocols.

    IMAP is nice for home devices but the push feature of EAS is just better for mobile devices.
    As long as a proprietary technology is usable by anyone for acceptable licensing fees we shouldn’t base technological decisions only the “openness” of protocols.

    • NicolaMantovani

      this x 1000

    • http://www.LiveSide.net Kip Kniskern – LiveSide.net

      I see your point, but for elements like email, calendar (and web standards), isn’t open and accessible, even if it’s a “lowest common denominator” better than closed system “advanced protocols”?

      • NicolaMantovani

        they were supporting both just fine, now we all have the lowest common denominator. nobody wins with stuff like this.

        graceful degradation is about giving basic stuff to less capable clients, not giving shit to the more capable ones.

        • http://www.LiveSide.net Kip Kniskern – LiveSide.net

          Just playing devil’s advocate, but we were all just fine when everyone used IE6, too. EAS dominance means MS controls everything, open standards means they don’t

      • alterSchwede

        Well that depends. In context of HTML i would support your thesis, because the impact of something better but restricted to one ecosystem has terrible implications.

        But in context of google giving up interoperability between devices, i don’t see any benefit.

        And if one would argue like you did, that google wants to be good and may be even force microsoft to be more open, i have to ask: Is it realistic that microsoft will implement carddav/caldav in the 2 months till EAS support is discontinued?

        It’s close to impossible that this will happen.

        Regarding your statement about IE6 i have to disagree. IE6 was neither advanced nor was it open to anyone who would pay licensing fees (these were my criteria to decide between properietary positive vs. negative ;) )

        To sum this up: I’m a big fan of open source, open standards and general open access.

        But as a developer i think if i have a cool idea which is superior to others i should be able to make a few bucks with it, as long as I’m not blocking future innovations.

        It’s basically like with patents and FRAND. The current patent system is bullshit, but the ideas behind FRAND could allow a being innovative and giving credit to those who have or had great ideas(that being said: a patent in the it industrie shouldn’t be active longer than 3-4 years… )

    • http://www.twitter.com/tarpara Viral Tarpara

      When I heard Google looking to abandon EAS, i was like WTF, but having recently experienced Apple’s CardDAV implementation in iCloud, I can safe that there is ZERO reason for a regular consumer to choose EAS. EAS is so limited in terms of the amount of data that can be stored in a contact. CardDAV allows an individual to truly unify a contact with so much native information and custom tagging that properly syncs back and forth. EAS was great for its time, but I have been waiting for an expansion contact storage only to be left longing needlessly. I’m jumping the EAS ship as soon as I find a free weekend.

      This predicament also means that I will be unable to recommend Windows 8 or Windows Phone to anyone because I believe a properly unified CardDAV and CalDAV experience is so important for consumers, especially those not technically inclined.

  • http://twitter.com/alterSchw3de Tobias

    Sorry but open standards aren’t better just because they are open. EAS proprietary as it may be is an advanced protocol which has proven reliable and usable. So why just switch to less efficient protocols.

    IMAP is nice for home devices but the push feature of EAS is just better for mobile devices.
    As long as a proprietary technology is usable by anyone for acceptable licensing fees we shouldn’t base technological decisions only the “openness” of protocols.

    • NicolaMantovani

      this x 1000

    • http://www.LiveSide.net Kip Kniskern – LiveSide.net

      I see your point, but for elements like email, calendar (and web standards), isn’t open and accessible, even if it’s a “lowest common denominator” better than closed system “advanced protocols”?

      • NicolaMantovani

        they were supporting both just fine, now we all have the lowest common denominator. nobody wins with stuff like this.

        graceful degradation is about giving basic stuff to less capable clients, not giving shit to the more capable ones.

        • http://www.LiveSide.net Kip Kniskern – LiveSide.net

          Just playing devil’s advocate, but we were all just fine when everyone used IE6, too. EAS dominance means MS controls everything, open standards means they don’t

      • http://twitter.com/alterSchw3de Tobias

        Well that depends. In context of HTML i would support your thesis, because the impact of something better but restricted to one ecosystem has terrible implications.

        But in context of google giving up interoperability between devices, i don’t see any benefit.

        And if one would argue like you did, that google wants to be good and may be even force microsoft to be more open, i have to ask: Is it realistic that microsoft will implement carddav/caldav in the 2 months till EAS support is discontinued?

        It’s close to impossible that this will happen.

        Regarding your statement about IE6 i have to disagree. IE6 was neither advanced nor was it open to anyone who would pay licensing fees (these were my criteria to decide between properietary positive vs. negative ;) )

        To sum this up: I’m a big fan of open source, open standards and general open access.

        But as a developer i think if i have a cool idea which is superior to others i should be able to make a few bucks with it, as long as I’m not blocking future innovations.

        It’s basically like with patents and FRAND. The current patent system is bullshit, but the ideas behind FRAND could allow a being innovative and giving credit to those who have or had great ideas(that being said: a patent in the it industrie shouldn’t be active longer than 3-4 years… )

    • http://www.twitter.com/tarpara Viral Tarpara

      When I heard Google looking to abandon EAS, i was like WTF, but having recently experienced Apple’s CardDAV implementation in iCloud, I can safe that there is ZERO reason for a regular consumer to choose EAS. EAS is so limited in terms of the amount of data that can be stored in a contact. CardDAV allows an individual to truly unify a contact with so much native information and custom tagging that properly syncs back and forth. EAS was great for its time, but I have been waiting for an expansion contact storage only to be left longing needlessly. I’m jumping the EAS ship as soon as I find a free weekend.

      This predicament also means that I will be unable to recommend Windows 8 or Windows Phone to anyone because I believe a properly unified CardDAV and CalDAV experience is so important for consumers, especially those not technically inclined.

  • http://www.facebook.com/iain.simpson.127 Iain Simpson

    Maybe Google should use a standard IMAP too instead of the abortion they are using now. The open source standards Google uses CalDAV and CardDAV are not very well supported protocols either, I think Google will suffer more from this change than MS. I don’t think IOS folks either will be too happy with the choice Google has made either. Going from using 1 standard for everything to using 3 standards that are not as good to do the same as EAS.

    • http://www.twitter.com/tarpara Viral Tarpara

      Actually CardDAV and CalDAV as implemented by Apple on iOS and OS X is beyond excellent. I’m hoping that Google’s implementation is up to par, which I think it will be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/iain.simpson.127 Iain Simpson

    Maybe Google should use a standard IMAP too instead of the abortion they are using now. The open source standards Google uses CalDAV and CardDAV are not very well supported protocols either, I think Google will suffer more from this change than MS. I don’t think IOS folks either will be too happy with the choice Google has made either. Going from using 1 standard for everything to using 3 standards that are not as good to do the same as EAS.

    • http://www.twitter.com/tarpara Viral Tarpara

      Actually CardDAV and CalDAV as implemented by Apple on iOS and OS X is beyond excellent. I’m hoping that Google’s implementation is up to par, which I think it will be.

  • http://twitter.com/angrybuzzard Angry Buzzard

    You seem to have coined a phrase: “Open source protocols” – they’re not open source, they’re open specification, or just “protocols” in other words.
    Also, your assertion about “loads of other services” using CardDAV and CalDAV is amusing given that we’re basically discussing Gmail vs Outlook vs iCloud.

    Users shouldn’t have to care what protocol is used. Full stop. There is no benefit for the user here, only transition pain. Goog are trying to minimize that to an extent, but clearly not “at any cost”.

    Had the DAV suite been extensive and widely supported enough for Google to implement initially, *they would have implemented it initially*.

    They licensed EAS because it’s an industry standard. There was no better option at the time. Now they’re trying to move to a new standard, and fair enough – but it’s not without development cost to any implementer to just up and change protocols. But don’t try to position this as “Open > Closed so EVERYONE WINS!” – this is a strategic move by a megacorporation in a fight with other megacorporation.
    Seems to me that they felt they needed to provide accessibility to a broad range of mobile devices at first; released their own mobile OS, and now feel that they have enough pull that they can dictate the protocol, and users will be motivated enough to pick devices and software that works with their protocol, not the other way around.

  • Jesse Houwing

    Or Microsoft might provide a CardDav/CalDav -> EAS service as part of the Windows Phone/App experience without you even knowing.

  • http://twitter.com/angrybuzzard Angry Buzzard

    You seem to have coined a phrase: “Open source protocols” – they’re not open source, they’re open specification, or just “protocols” in other words.
    Also, your assertion about “loads of other services” using CardDAV and CalDAV is amusing given that we’re basically discussing Gmail vs Outlook vs iCloud.

    Users shouldn’t have to care what protocol is used. Full stop. There is no benefit for the user here, only transition pain. Goog are trying to minimize that to an extent, but clearly not “at any cost”.

    Had the DAV suite been extensive and widely supported enough for Google to implement initially, *they would have implemented it initially*.

    They licensed EAS because it’s an industry standard. There was no better option at the time. Now they’re trying to move to a new standard, and fair enough – but it’s not without development cost to any implementer to just up and change protocols. But don’t try to position this as “Open > Closed so EVERYONE WINS!” – this is a strategic move by a megacorporation in a fight with other megacorporation.
    Seems to me that they felt they needed to provide accessibility to a broad range of mobile devices at first; released their own mobile OS, and now feel that they have enough pull that they can dictate the protocol, and users will be motivated enough to pick devices and software that works with their protocol, not the other way around.

  • Jesse Houwing

    Or Microsoft might provide a CardDav/CalDav -> EAS service as part of the Windows Phone/App experience without you even knowing.

  • fleon888

    I do agree that I’d like to see MS support the CalDAV / CardDAV standards, but I’ll also say that I don’t see Google doing either of these correctly- their IMAP implementation is not done to the IMAP spec, and I’ve had tons of problems with them as a result. I would also like to mirror the below statement that, just because something is open, it is not necessarily better.

    And, contrary to your above statement, I could never get my calendars to sync correctly on gmail, but have never had a problem with hotmail’s version- and I have a couple of die-hard Google friends who do the same thing for the same reason.

    • Josh Schlesinger

      I too agree WP should support these protocols, but does IMAP even support push on a mobile device? The IMAP IDLE command makes push possible on a desktop since it leaves a open TCP connection…but does this work on a mobile device?

  • fleon888

    I do agree that I’d like to see MS support the CalDAV / CardDAV standards, but I’ll also say that I don’t see Google doing either of these correctly- their IMAP implementation is not done to the IMAP spec, and I’ve had tons of problems with them as a result. I would also like to mirror the below statement that, just because something is open, it is not necessarily better.

    And, contrary to your above statement, I could never get my calendars to sync correctly on gmail, but have never had a problem with hotmail’s version- and I have a couple of die-hard Google friends who do the same thing for the same reason.

    • Josh Schlesinger

      I too agree WP should support these protocols, but does IMAP even support push on a mobile device? The IMAP IDLE command makes push possible on a desktop since it leaves a open TCP connection…but does this work on a mobile device?

  • http://twitter.com/riteshny ritesh

    How about the fact that with eas you can sync your google contacts with your iOS device? It’s been the only way I have been able to sync contacts between gmail, iPad, outlook and android phone.

  • http://twitter.com/riteshny ritesh

    How about the fact that with eas you can sync your google contacts with your iOS device? It’s been the only way I have been able to sync contacts between gmail, iPad, outlook and android phone.

  • uberlaff

    Microsoft needs to get out there and support standards other than it’s own. It’s not in the dominant position it once was.

    I think it’s a stupid move for Google because now there are going to be a lot of iPhone users without push email support. I don’t think the “average user” is going to understand that they have to get a Gmail app and will just find out that Yahoo, Apple, and Outlook have push email and Gmail doesn’t.

  • uberlaff

    Microsoft needs to get out there and support standards other than it’s own. It’s not in the dominant position it once was.

    I think it’s a stupid move for Google because now there are going to be a lot of iPhone users without push email support. I don’t think the “average user” is going to understand that they have to get a Gmail app and will just find out that Yahoo, Apple, and Outlook have push email and Gmail doesn’t.