Live Custom Domains vs. GMail Hosted

Thursday, March 30, 2006

OK, so this is a bit bleeding edge, but very, very cool. Please take this mini-review with a very large grain of salt because both services are evolving fast.

Both Windows Live Custom Domains and Gmail For Your Domain provide the same basic functionality, which is the ability to use the corresponding company's mail service (either Live Mail/Hotmail or GMail), to host the users in your own domain.

I've been doing something similar to this for my own email at my domain, by setting up my accounts to forward messages to Windows Live Mail or Gmail (depending on the account). The problem here is that:

  • People you're sending mail to can figure out where the mail comes from (Hotmail/Live Mail uses Reply-To, Gmail sets the From: address but uses a Sender: address of Gmail that will show up in some mail clients as "on behalf of").
  • Only effective for your account - not everyone in the domain.

I credit Windows Live Custom Domains as having the first incarnation of the service. Basically, you tell the DNS system that the mail server (technically, this is changing your MX record) is not your hosting provider's mail server, but rather it's Google's or Microsoft's mail server. Some issues with any service like this:

  • There's no halfway - it's either everyone in the domain or noone
  • It's hard to change back

There's another issue that both services also have, at least right now, which is the ability to pull in all your existing mail. Of course, I believe both Hotmail and Gmail have the ability to pull from POP, so there is at least that migration path.

For the tests, I registered a free .info domain ( at 1&1, a large hosting provider. I signed up for the Google Beta and the Windows Live Custom Domains beta (internally this is known as BYOD for Bring Your Own Domain). They both work essentially the same, with the following differences:

  • Windows Live requires that each user establish a Hotmail/Windows Live account. So far (and this is preliminary), Google does not require this. I would give Google the edge on this point, but Windows Live may have a better privacy story to tell.
  • Google lets you brand GMail with your own domain logo. Very cool touch.
  • Google lets you import users from a spreadsheet (exported to CSV). Also very cool, and this is a new feature that Windows Live may replicate.
  • Google beta took me about a month to become a member. Windows Live Custom Domains was immediate.

It's hard to ignore my feelings about the actual mail system (I tend to prefer Google), but judging on simply the domain hosting features, I think I give this one to Windows Live Custom Domains, primarily because it takes so long to get into Google's beta.

Next step is to get another free .info domain so I'm not repointing things all the time so I can do more than a 24 hour evaluation. This concept excites me, and I look forward to some cutthroat competition!

Emil's Wicked Cool Blog