I spent most part of last night setting up Google Apps to use with one of my domains. Google Apps is a set of google web applications (i.e., gmail, calendar, gtalk etc.) that you can personalise to use with your own domain.
I have been using Gmail since the day it was released and despite all the talks about privacy (or the lack of it), I think its a great email service. Very clean interface and easy to use, and the (virtual) sorting of mails using filters and labels just works great. I use Gmail for most of my email needs, including backups of other email accounts, either using email forwarding or now using Gmail's own built-in pop mail retriever.
Its not just the Gmail however, I also use Google's calendar, and love the SMS alert of the events! I have tried Google Documents (Text and Spreadsheet) and know how useful it can be for collaborative work, if all you want is to create a simple text document or a spreadsheet, especially in collaboration with your friends/colleagues.
And last but not least there is Google Chat. It has really made staying in touch with my contacts a lot easier, without the use of fancy IM programs.
Well, Google Apps brings all these nice web applications together, and lets you personalise them for your domain. So instead of firstname.lastname@example.org you'll get email@example.com as your email, which is powered by Gmail, with exactly the same interface. And all that for free, unless you want even more features and subscribe to the Premium package! I had a .net domain that was just lying around so I decided to give Google Apps a try last night. As with Gmail (and other web based email too), some commentators have expressed concerns about the privacy of your data when using Google Apps, as all those are stored in Google's servers and not in the web host of your choice. But if you are already using Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Documents and Chat, and are happy with those, I don't see why you should be too much concerned about privacy while using Google Apps.
I guess privacy will be a big issue (and a cause of concern) for Small Businesses and Private Organisations who want to use Google Apps, and who it seems Google is trying to gear this set of Applications for. However, I would think Google must have something on offer that would address such concerns, otherwise it wouldn't be offering (and actively promoting) these Apps, including free trial for the Google Apps Premium till the end of April.
Anyway, in my personal opinion, Google Apps would be perfect for Small Business, Organisations (NGOs) or Educational Establishments (Schools, Colleges, and even Universities) in developing countries like Nepal, where they do not have vast amount of resources to spend on IT.
Everything seems to be tied to IT these days, and even a small job requires some use of IT, especially if it involves collaborating with various parties. I think local NGOs in a country like Nepal, with very few resources, could benefit from Google Apps immensely. Just by acquiring a domain name for their organisation (less than 10 USD a year), they can provide professional-looking email addresses to all their employees (most of whom still use hotmail or yahoo as their primary email!); they can have live communication between colleagues within their organisation using personalised Google Chat; they can share documents and spreadsheets, and even work collaboratively in real time; and they can schedule and plan events using shared calendar - all this for free if they use Google Apps Standard Edition! Should they need more features and support, they can always subscribe to Google Apps Premium.
Same could be said of schools, colleges and even universities, many of which still do not have dedicated IT department and do not provide students with an institutional email address. Google Apps could be for these educational establishments as well.
When Gmail first came out, there were some people who wrote incessantly about how it could threaten our privacy and all that. And despite those early scares, Gmail is probably the most popular web-based email now. This is not to say that those concerns regarding privacy were/are unimportant. In fact those repeated concerns must have kept Google alert all these years to make sure nothing untoward happens with regards its account holder's privacy.
Who knows, same thing could happen now. And all these concerns about Google Apps and privacy should keep Google on its toes and make it even more vigilant in making sure its costumer's privacy isn't breached in any way.
Me personally, I love using Gmail, and now I love using Google Apps.