Ayende @ Rahien

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Killer Applications: Gmail vs. Outlook Web Access

It came up in a conversation today. Gmail & OWA are doing much the same thing, using much the same technologies.

Yet it was Gmail who was the Ajax killer application, not OWA.

Why?

Comments

Trumpi
11/18/2007 06:12 PM by
Trumpi

Possibly because Gmail was available to the masses. Also, it was not just the Ajax that made it distinctive. While Hotmail was still offering 2mb in its free package, Gmail came out with 2Gb.

Søren Spelling Lund
11/18/2007 06:29 PM by
Søren Spelling Lund

Probably because Gmail comes from a company which is considered cool while OWA is from Microsoft which of course is the root of all evil.

Just think about some a new features in Leopard, they're completely ripped off from Vista but when Apple does it it's apparently called in-no-va-tion :)

Jeremy
11/18/2007 06:40 PM by
Jeremy

Because home users do not run Exchange Server

Rob Meyer
11/18/2007 06:47 PM by
Rob Meyer

Personally, I'd guess it's because OWA is one of the worst, most unusable web applications I've ever seen (some enterprisey time or expense applications excluded), while gmail is one of the best. Gmail, even in it's basic html mode is more useful than OWA.

At least that's my opinion. My experience is with 2003 and a few before that. Doesn't seem like there's been any improvement over the course of the last few releases.

Oh, I have heard that OWA is better with IE, so my comments are reserved for the fallback html version that I always get since I'm a firefox or IE user.

Although I really think it was google maps that was the killer AJAX application. That was my first real "wow" moment.

Julien Rivière
11/18/2007 06:49 PM by
Julien Rivière

I don't know but maybe someone here can tell: does OWA depends on IE ? If yes, it could be another reason :)

Shadi Mari
11/18/2007 07:10 PM by
Shadi Mari

One of the reasons i believe is UI design simplicity.

Eber Irigoyen
11/18/2007 07:33 PM by
Eber Irigoyen

marketing, good application and right timing

Chad Myers
11/18/2007 07:35 PM by
Chad Myers

OWA requires Exchange Server. It also mimics Outlook.

So if you don't run Exchange, or you don't like Outlook, you ain't gonna like OWA.

While it does run on FireFox, it does so in a limited fashion (the 2003 version, I think 2007 is much better but haven't tried it myself).

Gmail ain't much prettier and it's kinda clunky from a usability standpoint, but it's a.) free b.) pretty useful with a nice search feature and c.) 'hip'

Arnon Rotem-Gal-Oz
11/18/2007 08:09 PM by
Arnon Rotem-Gal-Oz

I'd say that's because OWA doesn't try to be a Rich web application - rather it tries to mimic the windows client (outlook)

Which means it doesn't do anything really well - i.e. it isn't a good web application not it is a good desktop replacement.

Gmail, while not perfect, is built as a web application (e.g things are done in place not opening a popup window etc.)

Arnon

John Chapman
11/18/2007 08:26 PM by
John Chapman

Help me out here if I'm wrong but didn't Microsoft invent Ajax with their first release of OWA? They just didn't call it the right name and publicize it correctly. Google shows up later and all of a sudden Ajax is cool. OWA deserves a lot of credit.

If you want to say Gmail is superior now, that's fine. But OWA was certainly the Ajax killer application, considering that's where it was first used, and used pretty darn well if you ask me. It took a long time before someone else used it as effectively.

Adam Vandenberg
11/18/2007 09:15 PM by
Adam Vandenberg

When using OWA I actually prefer the "downlevel" version presented to non-Win/IE browsers.

The Other Steve
11/18/2007 09:59 PM by
The Other Steve

I'll disagree with Rob Myer... gmail has one of the worst usability experiences I've ever seen in a web app. Totally inconsistent. Compose mail link is not where you would expect it. Delete at overview level is a big button, but when reading an email it's a drop down link and so on. OWA is better in terms of usability, but it tries to do so much that it overwhelms.

However, I do agree that google maps was the first "wow" experience.

Oran
11/18/2007 11:56 PM by
Oran

I use both on a regular basis, and one of the biggest usability features of Gmail is their keyboard shortcuts. There are a few nice onces I've discovered in OWA, but I have to reach for the mouse far less in Gmail. Not many web apps do a good job with keyboard shortcuts, but Gmail and Google Reader make it very comfortable to live in them from the keyboard alone.

WTF
11/19/2007 09:36 AM by
WTF

Why are you comparing GMail with OWA? They are both different markets.

If you want to compare GMail with a Microsoft offering, compare it with the equivalent: Hotmail.

Henning Kilset
11/19/2007 10:15 AM by
Henning Kilset

Hmm.. There are many reasons, I guess.

*OWA works horribly badly on Firefox/Opera/Safari/anything else Microsoft didn't make.

*GMail has a much smarter organization system, with automatic conversation threading, multiple filter organization instead of simple "folder" structures.

*Gmail has nice keyboard shortcuts

*Gmail is tons faster

*Gmail is publicly available

etc. etc.

Richard
11/19/2007 12:30 PM by
Richard

As a user of both I'd say it comes down to intent.

Gmail was intended to be a mass market email system with a slick user interface and OWA appears to be an extra thrown in to the exchange product, probably because of a business requirement to retrieve email through a browser.

Well....OWA certainly full fills that requirement in the same way that many IT projects full fill their requirements.

GMail is something different and was designed to be special.

Brian
11/19/2007 02:34 PM by
Brian

GMail advances the webmail experience. Rather than just deploying a front end that mimics how your Outlook client operates, it tries to thread conversations and provide other information in context. The paid 'google apps' variety offers a reasonable business SLA, allows you to store all your email (25GBs and growing), and it even provides an API for importing your email. I have an Outlook 2007 extension that I hacked up to selectively import email from my archive.

Steve Bohlen
11/19/2007 05:12 PM by
Steve Bohlen

I think it really sort of depends on what you mean by 'killer application'.

If you mean 'made the technology popular' then I agree with the prior poster than Google MAPS deserves the credit for that rather than the abominable UI that is GMAIL (note that just from the posts here, you can see both 'I love gmail' and 'I hate gmail' feedback, so this is clearly a value judgement about which reasonable people will disagree).

If you mean 'made the technology leap forward that made all other comers possible' then I think clearly the nod goes to OWA since it was Microsoft's attempt to get the OWA experience to (imperfectly) match the full windows outlook experience that lead to the creation of the XMLHTTPRequest object in the first place, without which none of the rest of the AJAX work would have ever been possible.

I also agree that comparing OWA to GMAIL is really an apples-and-oranges comparison since one is a web-only paradigm unconstrained by the need to mimic a 'sister' windows app and the other is clearly an attempt to bring as much windows-like experience to a web-browser-based UI.

Windows Live Mail v. GMail is a discusssion worth having tho and I find neither impresses me much; GMail makes me hunt for the link to compose a new msg (like 50% or more of the reason I'm there in the first place) and Windows Live Mail seems to programmatically click my mouse four times every time I click on something...who KNOWS what's going on behind those scenes....? :)

goodwill
11/19/2007 05:30 PM by
goodwill

Simplicity without losing power, the same reason why Mac OS X is praised over Vista.

MS tends to either:

  1. Complicate everything too much and get you to a level that you can't understand any of them

  2. Simplify the entire thing too much and get you crazy down to an unusable software

OWA is towards #1 which makes the interface cutter too much and not respecting the fact its an webapp.

Also, they seldom respect standards (except proposed by themselves), uptill OWA 2003 its still IE only product and sucks on anything other than IE. They even ask you to download Active X- I am more impressed if they just give me a link to download an outlook and install.

Warning: Ad ahead: see my blog for the reason why I come up with #1 and #2 conclusion: http://bugthis.blogspot.com/search/label/vista

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