Google Apps Free vs. G Suite

Updated 20-Sep-2023

For those of us early adopters who managed to snag a 50 user (or 10 user) free google apps accounts, things are sweet. New users have to cough up $ 5 USD/mailbox/month (or $ 4.19 USD/mailbox/month provided yearly billing). What Google really wants is the $ 10 USD/month or $25 USD/month enhanced cloud services. Yeah, right.

Ok, but what if you need more, or different, domains configured for the free account? Google has systematically cracked down on the ability to add secondary domains (only domain aliases allowed beginning a few years ago), and now it is not possible to change the primary domain either with a free account, or by temporarily signing up for a trial account.

The handy ability to add full secondary domains within a trial account means it is not possible to downgrade. However, all is not lost. There is one final loophole that exists (currently) that is still useful.

Secondary Domains vs. Domain Aliases

The main issue is one of namespace. A domain alias (almost) always means all users with a given account (e.g., info@, name@, etc.) have full alias across all domain aliases added. This is not useful if one wants separate mailboxes for separate domains, with the same username (e.g., [email protected], [email protected]).

Mailboxes, Email Aliases, Mailbox Forwarding

What should be discussed ahead of this is how to manage mailboxes. For a single person, a vast proliferation of mailboxes is not all that great, either now or in the future. Mail clients themselves can handle multiple mailboxes, but also mailboxes can have mail aliases, and that is possibly all the functionality actually required. In addition, mailboxes can simply forward email as well. The advantages are: instead of a regular mailbox, it does not need to be logged-into, and mail is stored in a primary mailbox (filters/rules can help with tagging/sorting mail). The advantage over mail aliases is that the mailbox can be logged into separately, and therefore managed separately. This is handy when an info@ mailbox is managed by someone other than the sysadmin, who has the admin@ mailbox as their basic utility mailbox for things such as social media accounts, advertising accounts, website mailer accounts, etc.

In sum, there are three basic configurations:

  • Mailbox, logged-into with a mail client (for monitoring)
  • Mailbox, forwaded email (not logged-into, normally)
  • Mailbox alias, cannot be logged-into (without primary mailbox access)

Let's walk through the main use scenarios to see what is actually needed for certain situations, a unique mailbox (with or without forwarding) or a mail alias.

Postman SMTP - Secure OAuth2 Gmail from WordPress

A very useful and secure email client, Postman SMTP is a great option. The idea is that a single correct email address needs to be used for sending and replies. With two domains and two WordPress sites, is it possible to have [email protected] and [email protected] as the primary sending email addresses while using a single mailbox? No, not really. Any given mailbox requires a primary email address that acts as the username (at least with Google/Gmail/Gapps/Gsuite). For simplicity's sake, the domain name cannot be different from the WordPress website, nor can the email address be different from the send-as email address of the mailer (reply-to can be different, however).

Having a dedicated account for this kind of utility, including troubleshooting as needed, makes work much easier, than having to ask access, and have that access granted, then revoked, each time it is needed.

Paypal Email Account

It is possible to transact with one paypal email address (the underlying primary email address) and use an alias email address. This second email address is the one visible on transactions and that receives email from Paypal.

From both the Postman SMTP and the Paypal examples, it is desirable to have a branded [email protected], and it is necessary to have multiple accounts, at least 1 per domain. In addition, for security it is best to have a dedicated account with administrative rights to email (to be used only for admin purposes, and not as a general purpose mailbox).

Free Google Apps and Unique Non-Aliased Mailboxes

There is one way of creating mailboxes that can maintain unique accounts on a per domain basis. This is basically a configuration work-around. The process is as follows:

  • There will be one mailbox with the standard [email protected]. This will need to be configured in a number of ways.
  • For each domain where an info@ is desired, create a special mailbox with the account [email protected]
  • Once these are created, log into each of them to perform basic configuration, as well as add the [email protected] as a secondary account (validate with the [email protected]), and set this as primary.
  • At the gmail account of the [email protected]. There are three things to do:
    • Configure the mailbox as having other accounts (each of the [email protected], one for each domain alias created)
    • Create filters (which act as mail forwarding), for each of the domains, such as any email coming to the domain-alias.tld will be forwarded to [email protected]
    • Validate the email addresses that are used in the filters (replying with links or the security code to enable the filters
  • Once this is done, there is a mailbox that can receive email sent to [email protected] (forwarded from the [email protected]), and can send email as well from that address.

Most mail clients can that simply add each mailbox in turn, without having to have aliases for the individual mailbox (not always supported in mail clients). The key is to log into the mailbox with the [email protected] account, but change the sending information to [email protected].

A small price to pay for ongoing free access to Google Apps for Domains.

GSuite API - Cute, Not Useful

I'm all for APIs but instead of a developer demonstrator, it would be way better to have a real tool, backed by an API (or not, who cares?). Here are a few clumsy things to do:

Additional Notes

If moving a domain from one Apps/Gsuite account to another (and in the process, deleting the first account), there is about 24 hours where it will be unavailable to register/validate in the receiving account. Prepare for this by changing MX records and forwarding any email addresses that would be impacted.

When deleting a Google Apps account (and any mailboxes and accounts within it, it is important to have granted ownership to a variety of possible additional accounts linked to it, including:

  • YouTube channels
  • Google+ Accounts
  • Google My Business
    • Locations
    • Brand accounts
  • Google Adwords
  • Google Adsense
  • Google Analytics

The list goes on, so think it through.