Lorin Ricker writes "Computing in the Cloud — Free Apps — Outsource It! Yippee! Automation TCO nirvana at last! You can hear the non-technical managers and home-users unite in grateful song and dance! If we can just offload our office applications and data to the Cloud Known As Google, that apparently bottomless source of storage, search and now other useful capabilities, our office automation problems will be solved! Hooray! 'Well, just y'all hold up there a minit, lil' cowboy. Thar's a few thangs y'all oughta know 'bout afore ya go rushin' off...' If John Wayne didn't say exactly that, well, he should'a." Keep reading for the rest of Lorin's review.Scott Granneman's new book Google Apps Deciphered — Compute in the Cloud to Streamline Your Desktop is a very useful technical overview about deploying Google Apps. It promotes a contagiously positive "we're gonna be saved" view of Google's ambitious initiative to provide our user communities with the perfect environment to counterbalance the Microsoft-centric archipelago of computing workstations. Good on Google, and good for Mr. Granneman for providing this practical overview, a comprehensive how-to for deploying Google Apps in any workplace.
And yet, to dampen our somewhat overly enthusiastic spirits, along comes none other than RMS himself in the role of the cowboy philosopher, with words of warning regarding the collective wisdom of committing all our eggs to the Google/Cloud basket: "Hold on there, pilgrim." The present book review is not the place to engage in this particular debate (see Ben Rothke's illuminating review of Greg Conti's recent book, Googling Security) — suffice it to say that Google Apps Deciphered pays no attention whatsoever to the issues of data security, privacy, and ownership.
The business wisdom of committing proprietary information, trade secrets, sensitive data, competitive analysis, private reports, personal/identity and non-public customer data is not even acknowledged as Granneman launches enthusiastically, without reservation, into his topics. Readers seeking any guidance on the legal, statutory, ethical and practical issues regarding data security in the Cloud will come up empty-handed in Google Apps Deciphered — start with Conti's book instead. In fairness, however, the whole concept of Cloud data storage is in the formative stages of discussion and understanding by many of us; still, I find myself wishing that Granneman's book had at least given a nod to and perhaps delineated the issues at hand, rather than jumping uncritically into the presumed virtues of total Cloud commitment.
That said, it was my only real gripe about Google Apps Deciphered. Taking it at face value, this book is a sure-footed guide to deploying Google Apps at its current state of development and fitness for duty.
The author starts out with an Introductory chapter which lays out the benefits (but without the down-side) of Cloud computing, and extols the general virtues of Google Apps itself — that's the cheerleading part of the book. Where appropriate, several of the chapters are neatly tied off with a list of supporting references, nearly all of which are websites or online articles cited by title, author (where relevant and available), and full URL.
The meat of the book is a comprehensive how-to for Google Apps, in six parts of a few chapters each: Part I "Getting Started with Google Apps" covers the selection of the appropriate "edition" of Apps, and then goes on to discuss migration issues for existing user data (email, contacts and calendars), concluding with advice on managing Apps services.
Part II covers email — not from an individual 's "I've got a gmail account of my own" perspective, but from the corporate or organizational "let's convert from Exchange Server" ambition. Part III similarly covers Google Calendar.
Part IV addresses Google Docs, Google's answer to Microsoft's Office Suite. Part V is about Google Sites, while Part VI picks up various miscellanea, including Google Talk, the Start Page, Message Security and Recovery (no, not exactly about data security), and finally, Google Video.
Park VII consists of three Appendices, one addressing "Backing Up Google Apps" (sic! — but why? Doesn't adopting the Cloud forgive us of this responsibility?); the next covers "Dealing with Multiple Accounts" (apparently, the existence of certain pre-existing Google accounts can complicate a new deployment); and finally, an appendix which touts "Google Chrome: A Browser Built for Cloud Computing."
For the most part, each of the Parts is similarly constructed, with chapters covering "Setting Up...", "Things to Know About Using..." and "Integrating ... with Other Software and Services" for gmail, Calendar, Docs, Sites and the rest. And herein lies the strength of the book as a how-to deployment guide. Scott Granneman is a well-regarded author, educator and consultant to the free and open source software community, having previously written good books about Linux, Knoppix, Firefox and more. He brings this expertise and experience directly to bear on the practical problems of deployment and committing an organization's computing resources and users (or at least a part of them) to Google's Cloud resources.
These how-to chapters are comprehensive; they anticipate and resolve many of the practical problems one would encounter during deployment with directions and advice which is obviously hard-won, based on the real-world expertise of the author. He's clearly done the Apps deal himself, and writes from actual experience, not from the hypothetical.
As examples of these comprehensive deployment recipes, the chapter on gmail includes consideration of: folder structures and limitations; live cutover considerations; IMAP and POP; migration tools; issues special to Exchange Server; mbox and Maildir stores; techniques and tools for actually moving bulk messages (and having them land correctly); specific issues with Outlook, Hotmail, Thunderbird, Macs, web-based email, and more; and solving common problems. With this thoroughness, it's likely that most problems and issues of deployment are anticipated and covered — the rare thing that's not can probably be figured out by analogy with what Scott does address. And so on for the other Google Apps as well.
The author also comes clean about the various limits and restrictions imposed on Google Apps accounts and deployments, and delineates these according to the five Editions of Apps: Standard, Premiere, Team, Education, and Partner (free and paid modes). For example, Google Docs imposes strict limits on document file sizes, and "at most a limit of 5,000 documents and presentations and 5,000 images." (Really. Is this adequate for even the average office worker over the long-term? What about prolific Sally the tech-writer, or John "the tool" over in proposals? Are such limits practical for an enterprise?) There are more such things scattered throughout the book, as well as existing problems (such as the previously mentioned "multiple accounts" issue) which, honestly, only serve to bolster the common impression that many Google products are in a perpetual state of beta.
This book belongs in the hands of every technical staff who gets charged by their employer with the responsibility for a Google Apps deployment. If that's where your company is going, then Scott Granneman's book will no doubt save countless hours of experimentation, false starts and problem solving — it's a serious practical, technical leg up on what will be a non-trivial data and environment migration effort.
Given his target — the why/benefits of adopting the Google Apps/Cloud approach, and how to get it done — Google Apps Deciphered scores well for hitting its mark. I gave it slightly lower marks for its lack of coverage of the "should you even do this?" data security and privacy issues, and because it only hints at some of the pre-planning, project costing considerations that must be considered by any enterprise which is contemplating this commitment.
I opened this book thinking that I'd likely try or do some of the deployment exercises for myself — but I closed it with the conviction that, for me and my own SOHO business needs, Google Apps is not yet ready for my own prime time. Helping me come to that conclusion made the book very worthwhile; for others, your mileage will of course vary. I am convinced that, as awareness of the data security and privacy issues matures, and approaches to these evolve and improve, Cloud Computing will become ubiquitous to various degrees and needs — as if it's not already — and probably sooner than we suspect. In that event, Google Apps Deciphered and its future editions will be among the most useful of guides.
You can purchase Google Apps Deciphered -- Compute in the Cloud to Streamline Your Desktop from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.