Google Apps add-on breaks Outlook features in email wars

Google has released an add-on to Outlook that apparently breaks Outlook search. Google Apps Sync synchronizes Outlook email, calendar and contacts with Google Apps. Google recommends it as a transition tool for people migrating from Exchange, or for people who prefer the Outlook UI. A premium version of Google Apps is required.

Unfortunately it breaks some Outlook functionality. In particular, Outlook search no longer works correctly. There are also potential issues with the Hotmail connector and, according to Google, the Acrobat PDF Maker toolbar and the Outlook Change Notifier.

Although uninstalling Google Apps Sync should restore the features, this wasn’t working in early versions of Google Apps Sync. So the somewhat counter-intuitive advice is to upgrade Google Apps Sync to the latest version and then to uninstall; or tinker with the registry yourself according to Microsoft’s guidance.

Let’s reflect a bit on what is happening here. Google is encouraging its users to install an add-on that damages the functionality of a rival product. Understandably annoying for Microsoft; but it is explained in the documentation if you read it carefully. I doubt it is deliberate sabotage; on the other hand, it highlights the fragility of desktop versus cloud applications. Google’s technical advice on the subject is pretty much a shrug: if you don’t like it, uninstall it.

Another perspective on this is that if you are happy with Outlook with or without Exchange, be wary of third-party add-ons, especially from companies that want to migrate you to another product. If you are making the transition to Google Mail and just need to export your data, of course, breaking Outlook a little will not worry you.

The broader reflection is that many third-party add-ons for Windows, though claiming to make things better for you, actually make things worse.