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Migrating to Google Apps (part 4)

Google Apps with Exchange ActiveSync

I am an iPhone user, having adopted the device with the iPhone 3G (as soon as Exchange ActiveSync support was added). Needless to say, I depend on the excellent ActiveSync protocol for push email, calendar and contact synchronization. I think I started considering Google Apps a viable solution for my personal email when I learned that Google had licensed this technology from Microsoft.

I have setup my mail account on my iPhone with minimal issues, following Google’s instructions. Everything works the way you would expect, and while I have noticed that some folders sometimes take a few minutes to reflect certain changes (only when I moved messages with more than one label, I think), everything else is quick and solid.


My messages aren’t being deleted!

After setting up the iPhone with my new Google Apps account I continued testing (mainly to confirm that all the Outlook issues from part 3 in this series were resolved) by sending myself messages and acting on those messages. For one or two test messages I deleted them from my phone without marking them as read. A few minutes later while looking at the web interface I see two unread messages in my “All Mail” label, when I clicked on the label I became confused. Both messages that I had previously deleted from my iPhone had apparently been archived instead of moved to the Trash. I started searching online.

It turns out that Google sync implements this as a “feature” to lock mobile users into not deleting messages and archiving them instead. I thought, “OK, how do I turn this off?” and found much to my chagrin that you couldn’t! This is one of the things I dislike about Apple (more on that in another post), I do not like anybody making decisions for me, especially when they affect the way I organize my mailbox.


The workaround

After coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t do anything about this “feature” Google built into their sync product except complain with a post in their message forums along with many others, all asking Google to fix this soon. I started looking for a way to work around this annoyance. I personally never archive anything and all the messages in my mailbox are labeled, so this gave me the idea:

Since I don’t archive any messages without a label, I just need to identify archived message without any labels and that should yield any messages that I deleted from my iPhone that Google decided  NOT to delete.

With this thought I set off to search for a way to identify archived mail without labels. When I found out that there is no way to identify unlabeled archived messages I started searching for another way to accomplish this and finally hit with someone who had the right idea. The person’s suggestion was a dirty hack, but it was a solution: create a search that contains a “–label:” parameter for each of my labels, including the inbox, sent, etc. I have over 30 labels right now, so it took me a few minutes, but I did it, and sure enough there were the messages that I had deleted from my iPhone!

Of course, this method only works if you always archive your mail with a label (which I do). Additionally, the search needs to be updated if there is a change to any of the labels in your mailbox. However, I think this is acceptable for now because I don’t change my labels every day and I really hope Google fixes this annoying issue soon.

Now that I had a working search yielding desirable results, I just needed a quick way to access it from anywhere. There are Firefox plug-ins for this, such as Better Gmail 2 which includes a Persistent Searches script created by Mihai Parparita (requires Greasemonkey to run on Firefox). However, this method required 1) Firefox and 2) That I have the plug-in and Greasemonkey installed. I really didn’t want to be tied down to either so I kept looking. Finally, I found someone who had the right idea, create the saved search as a bookmark. This worked well but it still required me to have the bookmark on any machine I wanted to use the search on, which could be any machine if I felt like cleaning out messages I had deleted from my iPhone then and there from the web.

I finally decided on a compromise which is to create a directory on one of my domains containing an index.htm file whose sole purpose was to redirect the browser to my Google Apps Mail account with the search in the query string (using an meta refresh). As long as I was logged in (or logged in while navigating to the link) I would be taken to a search results page with all my “–label:” search parameters already applied, providing me with a list of the messages ready for deletion.



All things considered, Google Apps Premier is a great product and I don’t regret making the switch or giving them my money. I hope the product continues to mature and that Google fixes some of the annoyances I had to overcome in order to achieve a decent workspace. Hopefully this series will serve someone other than myself should I or they have to set this up for anyone else in a similar manner.

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