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Boston drops Microsoft for Gmail

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The mayor who doesn’t do e-mail is now on Gmail.

Whether Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who doesn’t even have a computer on his desk, actually uses it is another matter. But he's moving to Google, and bringing some 20,000 other city employees with him.

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Boston has dropped its longstanding e-mail system, Microsoft Exchange, for Google Apps, the search giant’s suite of software for businesses and government, following the lead of a growing number of big cities, federal agencies, and large companies that have made the switch.

Even though Menino has resisted writing — or even reading — e-mails, banned voicemail from City Hall until recently, and can’t find his way around an iPhone, he has certainly made technology a major focus of his administration. He renamed a section of South Boston the Innovation District, and has personally wooed technology companies to move there, adopted a number of computer tools and mobile apps to improve public services, and his police officers are even tweeting crime updates.

“We are continuing to drive it forward,” said Bill Oates, Boston’s chief information officer. “We’ve been ready, willing, and able to leverage any of these new capabilities.”

The city estimated it costs about $100 a year per employee to use its current roster of ­Microsoft products.

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It’s not just the gee whiz factor: It’s also a matter of money. It will cost Boston around $800,000 to move over to Gmail, Google Docs for word processing, and Google’s cloud service for storing documents. But by dropping some Microsoft products, the city government will save at least $280,000 a year.

“The number one reason that organizations are going to Google is price,” said Matt Cain, an analyst at the tech research firm Gartner Inc.

What’s more, Cain said, Google’s contract terms are much simpler than dealing with Microsoft. And since Google updates its software via the Internet, which Microsoft only recently started doing with some of its products, it means clients won’t be working for years on outdated applications.

While Microsoft remains the dominant player in business software, Cain said Google is becoming a “threat to Microsoft’s hegemony.”

To be sure, Microsoft is not taking Google’s incursion into its territory lightly, and has questioned whether Google is a safe enough service for storing sensitive government documents.

“We believe the citizens of Boston deserve cloud productivity tools that protect their security and privacy,” a Microsoft spokesman said in an e-mail to the Globe. “Google’s investments in these areas are inadequate, and they lack the proper protections most organizations require.”

Boston officials said they vetted Google and are satisfied with the security protections that come with Google Apps for e-mail and document storage. Also, Boston isn’t completely cutting ties with Microsoft, as it will continue to use its other products, such as the Windows operating system on its PCs.

Boston is not alone in making the change. The US Department of the Interior, the state of Colorado, and Princeton University have, too. (The New York Times, owner of the Boston Globe, is also planning to move to Google software from Microsoft Exchange.) Google said that some 5 million businesses around the world are now using its cloud applications.

The Gmail that businesses and government use doesn’t look much different from what consumers use free of charge. Some key differences include much larger storage for e-mail, and business and government customers won’t see ads based on key words within e-mails. The cost for businesses and governments is roughly $50 per user per year. Google doesn’t charge public schools for use of its apps.

The city estimated it costs about $100 a year per employee to use its current roster of ­Microsoft products.

For the city’s employees, it might take some getting used to the new Google applications. After all, many of these people have spent entire careers working on Microsoft software. But the city said the digital transition will take about a year.

“Anyone with a current Gmail account will not have much trouble transitioning,” said David Nero, director of technology for Boston.

Moreover, Boston employees won’t have to get new e-mail addresses. That goes for Menino, too. Whether he checks it or not, anyone can still e-mail him at mayor@cityofboston.gov.

Michael B. Farrell
can be reached at
michael.farrell@globe.com
.

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