For the past 16 years G Suite has been free for those customers who signed up in its early days.
G Suite, which includes Gmail, Google Drive and Google Docs, was free from 2006 to 2012 when the company began charging.
Existing ‘legacy’ customers were able to hang on to their free accounts until now.
Gmail with your own domain name
One feature of the early deal was that customers could use Gmail services with an email address containing their own domain name. Other Gmail customers have to use gmail.com addresses.
This was useful for small business owners. Having a generic gmail.com address signals to email recipients they are not dealing with a well-resourced business. A company domain name gives the appearance of a substantial business and in the online world, appearances can matter.
The deal lived on when G Suite was wrapped into the rebranded and reorganised Google Workspace two years ago.
End of free
Now that’s over. Subscriptions for Google Workspace start at US$6 a month. That’s around NZ$100 a year.
It is not expensive, but for many people that is not the point.
The new arrangement starts on May 1. Customers who don’t sign up to pay will have their accounts suspended on July 1.
On one level it is hard to be upset by Google’s move.
After all, Google is a business, not a public service.
And it would be hard to accuse Google of ‘bait and switch’ when the time lag between stages is a decade.
Yet, it is another warning of the dangers of being dependent on a Google service. Many will feel locked-in to Gmail.
That doesn’t have to be the case, there are alternatives.
Alternatives to G Suite
Microsoft has Office 365 options at different price points. The cheapest comes in below Google’s basic offer at US$5 a month for an inbox with 50GB of storage. That is NZ$7.60 a month, still a fraction cheaper than Google.
It includes Microsoft’s web apps. To get the desktop apps, storage and web mail with a custom domain works out at close to twice Google’s price.
A mail-only service from Zoho can cost as little as US$15 a year. There is a limited free version.
For now people with a free version of Google won’t see any change. YouTube and Google Photos will stay. The free, 15GB version of Google Drive remains.
No G Suite migration path
Switching to a free account is an option, but you lose the custom domain name.
There’s no guarantee these accounts will stay free long term.
Where Google’s strategy gets nasty is for people who have Play store purchases or You Tube subscriptions using one of these accounts. It appears the licences don’t transfer. There is no official migration path.
The change may not affect everyone with an older, free, Google account. To find out if it affects you, log into to Google and visit your subscriptions page.
If it says “Legacy Account”, you will get a mail from the company soon telling you about the change.