Email used to be the field of the IT experts. The choice you had was setting up your own Microsoft Exchange server on Windows, or a Postfix server on Linux, then deal with everything from DKIM and SPF DNS entries, reputation management, blacklists, spam, and so on. Now, any entrepreneur can go to one of many online services and start their own business email account for very little money, and almost no technical know-how. Hosted email has become the norm, where very few people bother running their own email server anymore.
So when I started Dendory Capital last year, I decided to do what most of my clients are already doing, and go for hosted email as well. In fact, I tried three different options, and I'm going to review them here for you today:
- Google Apps
- Microsoft Office 365
- Amazon WorkMail
Now admittedly, our needs are very basic. We're not a large firm, in fact it's just me and a few freelancers. I also wanted to look at this solely from the point of view of email, and not the overall package that these services are offering. I already have a calendar, I already have cloud store, and no I don't care about free phone minutes being included as an extra perk. But that's what a lot of startups or even single entrepreneurs need as well. You want your email to look professional, like firstname.lastname@example.org and you want an inbox to receive and send those messages from, so you're not giving your clients some hotmail address.
Let's look at the options.
Google Apps is very easy to setup. All you have to do is go to apps.google.com and sign up. One of the first advantages of Google Apps is that it's familiar. Most people these days use Gmail, or at least know how to work with the interface. So when they start their business account on Google, they get the exact same Gmail interface for their business inbox. That's a huge plus. Transferring a domain is also pretty easy and the features are decent. For USD $6 a month per user, you get your usual email inbox with 30 GB cloud storage plus all the traditional Google Docs apps.
I think the only disadvantages when it comes to Google is the fact that they tend to have sub-par support, and Google is well known for monetizing email content, and that can turn some people away. But for a small business or even a single entrepreneur, it's a great option.
Microsoft Office 365
Microsoft 365, the rebranded version of Office 365, is really aimed at the large corporation. That doesn't mean a single person can't use it for their own business needs. In fact, the lowest tier pricing is just slightly higher than Google at $6.40 per month, per user. It includes a lot more features like 1 TB of cloud storage and mobile versions of Office apps, and it gives you a lot more customization options when it comes to configuring how your business email and domain will behave. The web mail interface however is just the same as Hotmail, so for day to day use it's just as easy as Gmail.
On the negative side, I found the interface far more complex and Microsoft is trying hard to make you adopt their entire suite of online services. The pricing page is just the start of the dozens of pricing options they have. Microsoft 365 is probably best for larger organizations, or those with more precise needs, like law offices or those with regulatory requirements.
WorkMail is certainly a much less known option, but since I've been working with AWS services for years, it's always been on my mind to try it out. The first advantage you get here is that it's the least expensive option at $4 per user. If you already use AWS for your other services, for example to manage your domain, it's also the fastest and easiest option to configure. You simply sign up for WorkMail, add your user, then everything is configured automatically. If not, then you may need a bit of technical expertise where it wouldn't be needed with say, Gmail.
On the negative side, WorkMail is email. And that's it. You do get 50 GB per mailbox, IMAP support, ActiveSync for mobile devices, and so on, but that's on par with the other offerings. Office apps, cloud storage, or anything else has to be bought separately. Also, while they do have a functional web mail client, it's extremely bare-bone. It looks like web mail form 15 years ago.
So what did I pick? Dendory Capital went with Amazon WorkMail. The reason is simple, we only needed email and WorkMail was the cheapest option. Having an ugly web mail client doesn't really matter, and since we already pay for a lot of other Amazon services, it made sense to keep going that way. This isn't to say that I would recommend WorkMail for everyone.
My personal recommendation goes as follows:
- For single person businesses, small businesses, and non-technical people, go with Google Apps.
- For large enterprises, businesses with specific needs, or if you're going to combine it with Office apps, go with Microsoft 365.
- For the more technically minded, or cheapskates, go with Amazon WorkMail.