A Library Comparison of Microsoft Outlook vs. Gmail

I’ve been doing a cost and feature comparison between the major email solutions for my organization which is a library with ten email accounts. Since this has been so much work, I thought I’d share my findings for those who might find it useful. We’re currently using an older version of Microsoft Outlook which we’re maintaining on the premises, so this comparison will look at three different solutions including; an on-site Microsoft Outlook 2003 installation, the new cloud-based Microsoft Exchange Online, and Google Apps for Non-Profits which is free for accredited US 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations under 3,000 users and includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Drive – with Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Video. And I’d be very interested in any feedback anyone has on aspects I may not have thought about.

Cost Comparison

On-Site Microsoft Outlook 2003
Forrester estimates that it costs a company $25.18 per user per month for an on-premise e-mail system, including the hardware, labor and other costs associated with managing e-mail in-house. (Source: http://www.cio.com/article/474672/Gmail_vs._Traditional_E_Mail_Savings_Adding_Up) We have 10 email accounts at my library which would place the cost of supporting our in-house Outlook server, including trouble-shooting, maintenance and an added Postini spam filter at about $2,500 total cost per year.

Microsoft Exchange Online
Hosted Exchange Online plans range from $4/month per user to $10/month per user depending on features included. This comes to a total of  $480 – $1,200 total cost per year for 10 email addresses. Both plans come with 25 GB of email storage space, although the more expensive rate also includes unlimited storage in an archive.
Source: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/exchange/hosted-email-online-email-compare-exchange-online-plans-FX103764022.aspx

Google Apps for Non-Profits
If your library is a non-profit organization with under 3,000 users, you are eligible for Google Apps for Education for free which comes with Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Drive – with Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Video. This plan includes 25GB of email storage space for unlimited users.


Source: http://www.google.com/intx/en/enterprise/apps/business/pricing.html


Gmail’s search has always been faster although significant improvements were made between the Outlook 2007 and 2010 versions. The Outlook 2003 search is problematic, often locking up desktops while it conducts the search, not allowing multi-tasking while the search takes place. Sometimes Outlook 2003 crashes altogether during a search. The only advantage Outlook search had over Gmail search was the ability to search the full-text of attachments, however Google rolled out this feature in late 2012.

Folders & Labels
Gmail and Outlook take two different approaches to organizing emails. Outlook allows users to create folders and sub-folders (allowing for hierarchy) into which they can drag emails to keep them organized. Once the email is dragged into a folder, however, it is no longer in the main Inbox, but only resides in that folder. An email can only reside in one folder so if it fits into two categories, it must be duplicated. Gmail allows users to create Labels (or tags) to categorize their emails. Any number of Labels can be added to emails therefore an email can be in multiple categories without being duplicated. Emails also remain in the main Inbox. There is no ability to create hierarchy with Labels, however.

Conversation Threading
Gmail’s email interface presents email conversations in a threaded view so that users can instantly see all the responses to each email instantly. Outlook 2003 does not have a threaded conversations option, making it difficult to track previous emails and replies. Exchange Online has added this feature to their interface through their Conversations View.

Spam Filtering
Microsoft Outlook 2003 does not do a good job of filtering spam, necessitating purchasing a yearly subscription for an additional spam filtering program. We use Postini, coincidentally owned by Google which does a great job at filtering spam in their Gmail product.

Microsoft Outlook has the option of shared contacts which can be shared across the network within an organization, however it doesn’t automatically create contacts for you as Gmail does based on your correspondence.

Our on-site Microsoft Outlook 2003 installation allows for up to 75GB storage for the entire organization. Both cloud email programs offer 25 GB of storage space per person, and Exchange Online’s pricier option offers allows unlimited archival space.

Social Media Integration
Google Apps for Non-Profits includes not only Gmail but the Google Calendar which can be shared just as Outlook’s calendar, Google Talk for instant messaging, Google Drive for hosted storage which offers users 5GB of space – along with Google Docs, Google Sites, and Google Video. The new Exchange Online integrates with Microsoft SkyDrive which offers users 25GB of hosted storage space and the Outlook shared calendar. We’ve encountered many issues with the Microsoft Outlook 2003 including the inability for some people to view other people’s events, the default setting for new events created in month view to post as “Free” time, etc.

One area where Outlook outshines Gmail is the integration of tasks and task sharing which is built into Outlook. However, Gmail has released an add-on from Remember the Milk which now offers task integration into Gmail.

Innovation Rate

“Last year Google added more than 40 new features for its Premier Edition Gmail users, in addition to the 45 new innovations released to its Docs and Sites applications. This in contrast to the hosted Exchange users who’ve waited up to three years to see a single new enhancement to the Exchange platform.” Daniel Riley, Vice President of Services at Isos Technology. Source: http://www.networkworld.com/community/tech-debate-gmail-exchange


While Microsoft may claim a more robust email offering than Google’s, Gmail clearly wins out when it comes to ease-of use. Gmail has a simple, straightforward interface that users can get up and running with without any formal training. However, training is one of the main reasons that give most organizations pause when considering switching from Outlook to Gmail.
“One of the biggest, if not the biggest reason that organizations aren’t switching to Gmail is the reluctance to train employees who have grown used to Outlook to use Gmail. Those of us used to using Gmail and its incredible interface could simply dismiss this as a silly reason to continue paying through the nose for email, but organizational fallout over a software switch is a real thing to consider and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.” – Cord Blomquist, Founder of ReadyMadeWeb. Source: http://readymadeweb.com/2010/01/07/gmail-vs-outlook-the-real-question-is-cost


Microsoft wins out when it comes to support. Google is more of a DIY (do-it-yourself) company, while Microsoft has a reputation for providing business-level support.


Both cloud-based solutions offer mobile access to their email from any online device that can provide email. Our current Outlook 2003 has always been an issue for some users on their mobile devices.


In June of 2012, Google announced it had become the world’s biggest email supplier with 425 million active users, but comScore reported in December 2012 that Gmail had 306 million users, Yahoo email had 293 million, and Hotmail (owned by Microsoft) had 267 million. Microsoft claims that the new Outlook.com has 60 million active users already.
Major non-profits and educational institutions who are using Gmail and Google Apps for Education include; Unicef, Columbia University, NYU, University of Texas at Austin, University of Connecticut, and many more. Source: http://www.google.com/nonprofits/community/index.html and http://www.google.com/enterprise/apps/education/customers.html