It’s been almost 6 months since Google closed off new free accounts for its Google Apps service. Despite the change, both Microsoft and Zoho have stuck to their guns and continued to offer free domain email & other services. Further, in lieu of Google’s absence from the free domain apps market, Zoho has recently increased its maximum users from 3 to 5.
I’ve recently been working on setting up a few new domain sites for a small company, and this resulted in me looking for free options. For the most part, most clients I deal with typically only need email and calendar. Docs are a bonus, but not really necessary. Because of this, everything else offered in the suite is just extra stuff that is almost never utilized. When I ask someone about it, it’s always the same response – “Why should I pay for extra stuff I’m not using.” One could argue that Google Apps Gmail alone is worth the $5 monthly fee per user, but when you’re a profitless startup with 5 employees and that is all they use the service – it can feel pricey at $50-$60 per year per user.
This is where Zoho & Windows Live Domains come in, and they have the analytics to prove it. In a somewhat recent blog post from Zoho* it reported a 100%-200% increase in registrations immediately following Google’s termination of its free apps program. This is no surprise, but it really goes to show that there is a huge relatively large market for a free domain hosted email.
Stacking Up the Remaining Free Options
With Zoho and Microsoft being the only two players left in the free game, how do they compare? Well, the first thing to look at is the user number, storage, and other administration features.
- Up to 50 users
- virtually unlimited mail storage per user
- virtually unlimited pop clients per user
- Anti-spam & other default mail features that should always be thrown in.
- Docs, Calendar, Contacts and other utilities
What about the Apps?
At first, it looks truly in Microsoft’s favor. More users, more storage space, and fewer limitations on email. If all you’re interested in is email – Microsoft’s plan is definitively the better choice. However, what about apps?
Zoho offers a much more robust online suite, but it requires a learning curve:
- Meeting (web conferencing)
- Projects (team document sites)
- Discussions (team forum)
- Assist (remote support)
- CRM (customer relationship management)
- Invoice (billing & receipts)
- Recruit (hiring management)
- Reports (analytics)
- Sites (website builder with free subdomain.zoho.com hosting)
- Docs (essentially a clone of Google Docs)
- spreadsheets, documents, presentations, groups
- Docs storage (similar to SkyDrive, Google Drive)
- Notebook (clone of OneNote)
If an organization primarily uses email and Microsoft Office, Windows Live Domain hosted email is a winning choice. However, Zoho offers a better online suite. When I compared differences between apps found on both hosts, Zoho still seemed to come out ahead. For example, Zoho’s calendar has a ton of more features, and the interface is much more intuitive. If web-apps and an online suite of business apps are what’s needed then Zoho easily provides a better service. It all depends on the circumstances, both of these free domain hosts offer a decent free service.