Google Apps is a service you can use for free or pay for. It’s affordable and very solid, and its killer feature is a Gmail account that you can use for whatever email address at your business you wish. Even with the free plan you get a hundred email addresses with tons of storage, along with a bunch of other Google services. And over time, we’ve found ourselves using them more and more.

Gmail has really won me over. I can’t bear to use a regular desktop email app anymore! First of all, I love that it automatically keeps back-and-forth discussions in one “thread.” This makes it dead simple to look at twenty messages as if it were just one big long conversation, which feels quite natural to me. I also appreciate that you can “label” a conversation, such as “business,” rather than putting it in a folder. While Google treats these labels as folders behind the scenes, it’s much more natural to be able to add several labels to a message, because then you can get more specific. Something might be “business” and also “needmore.”

This really works well when you realize that Gmail keeps the label for a whole conversation. If I’m using the typical desktop email client, and someone replies to my message, it just shows up in my inbox. But with Gmail, if I’ve already given that conversation a label, it keeps it. New messages go right into the same thread and the same folders with the same label. This is very convenient and saves a lot of time messing about with the folders, something I was always loath to do.

None of this means that I can’t get my email in my desktop client, or that I can’t read it on the go with my iPhone. I can, and it still works just as before. Although I have to say, the uptime with Gmail has been far superior to any service provider we have used in the past. And the spam blocking is by far the best I’ve seen. I get the odd spam message, perhaps one a month, but I used to get a dozen or two a day, no matter who our email provider was. That’s huge! Even if I were still using my desktop client, this would be a big deal.

I feel that Gmail still has a way to go, but that’s okay. It’s probably not a one-size-fits-all solution. For example, I’d love to be able to share a discussion thread with Kandace, or add a note to an email. But since I’m avoiding using my email inbox as a todo list these days, that’s fine. There’s no big problem I can’t work around. And having something as fast and reliable as this is really a huge leap forward already.

You know, I was very excited to see Apple’s new MobileMe service. Having both a work and home computer, I really appreciate its sync services, among other things. But the new website is a disappointment. While it looks far better than Google, it’s just the same old thing. It’s just “lipstick on a pig,” as they say. There’s nothing at all innovative about the email client, for example. Gmail is still light years ahead for me in terms of actual usability. And so this is one place I think Apple has really dropped the ball. They can make it as pretty and modern as they want, but once you’ve used Google’s equivalent apps, you see that there’s really no contest.