A Good Thing While it Lasted (Google Apps Free Legacy)

I first signed up with Google apps for Business shortly after December 6, 2012. If you are familiar with Google Apps for Business, this is an important date. Before this date, you got Google Apps for Business for Free. Now you have to pay either $5 or $10 per user per month. It is still a good deal. And Google has excellent phone and online support and service that just makes sense. It is easy to find answers and tutorials for getting things done. I’ve had to work with Microsoft Hosted Exchange Support for over four years and it is a significant difference. I much prefer the support I’ve had from Google, both simply reading online user walk-throughs and on the phone.

I took advantage of the free accounts (limited to 10 users per account) with two personal sites, and for a non-profit that I work with. So three different admin accounts, 3 x 10 users = 30 users.  At the time, and still today, I thought, “what a great deal”. Google was helping out small organizations an easy way to customize their email addresses”. Well now that is gone. Now you have to pay. (Although I do think you can still have a Google apps account with 1 user with limited functionality for free).

My last blog post detailed How I changed 20 employees from Microsoft Hosted Exchange to Google for Business. We didn’t just change email providers, we also changed web domains. One of the last steps of the process was to add our original domain as a domain alias. Until this step, our Microsoft Exchange email addresses were simply forwarding users emails to the new domain hosted by Google. Users didn’t really have a way to reply using their old email address unless they logged into Microsoft Online.

I ran into a road block when I tried to add our old domain as an alias in Google Apps. The Control Panel told me: “This domain name has already been used as an alias or domain.” Strange, I thought. Our email is hosted with Microsoft on the old Domain. How can we have a Google Apps account? After some digging and working with Google support, I found out that we had created an account in 2010 that afforded us not 10, but 50 free accounts.

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Fifty user accounts with Google Apps is the equivalent of $3,000 per year worth of email service (minus support, Outlook integration, and 99.9% SLA uptime guarantee, and the accounts are limited to 15 GB instead of 30GB). Despite these exclusions, I trusted my personal email with gmail for years, so despite the restrictions of the legacy free service, it is a great deal.

I faced a dilemma. I just spent hundreds of hours moving to a new domain with a paid version of Google Apps for Business. Now it comes to my attention that I am also in control of a grandfathered legacy version of Google Apps for Business account that could accommodate up to 50 users per year for free. The savings for just the 24 people we already have signed up is $1,440. Per year. Every year. That is a like a trip to Europe. Even the helpful Google support contact on the phone was chuckling outloud – “If I were you, I would just use the free version”. There is no easy way to merge accounts. I would have to re-migrate hundreds of thousands of emails.

I thought about this for a few hours and talked to some people I trusted and decided not to waste  further time on it. I would leave things the way they were. We don’t want to be in a position to not have paid Google support and an SLA. When I finally also saw the comparison of what I would be missing – notably the Outlook / Exchange sync, it was obvious what I had to do.

Unfortunately, there is no way to transfer a Google Apps Account to a new domain. So I couldn’t transfer these grandfathered legacy benefits. But I needed to free up the domain’s identity with Google Apps because I need it as an alias. I logged in and deleted the account. You’ll notice in the photo below that afterwards,  I reached my max at just one user. I was a little sad. 🙁

But I still have three other accounts with Google Apps that are in the 10 user legacy version. If only I could transfer or merge the domains.

Happy New Year,







  1. Frank Anderson - May 13, 2015 @ 1:24 pm

    Pete! I’m glad I found this article. I’m in the very dilemma you had – now. I had a grandfathered account of 50 users. Meanwhile, our main website is on the paid, Google Apps for Business. It’s $1k a year or so for our usage. Problem is, I want to move that main domain as an alias under the current grandfathered account. My understanding is that I could simply use the grandfathered domain as the main (since I have to) but use the alias domain (which is actually our primary and preference) with alias email addresses. As I understand it, effectively our users will have two email addresses?

    I’m curious as to your pain/cost threshold for not moving everyone over to the legacy domain you had?

  2. Pete - May 13, 2015 @ 2:24 pm

    Frank unfortunately, I don’t think the grandfathered version of google apps allows you to add a domain alias. My advice is to call support / your google representative and ask him or her for their opinion. My representative was straightforward and told me: “if I were you I would get the free version”. Long term though, I don’t think it is the right decision. We need a business class support. Unsupported free is not an option since we use so much email.

  3. Anon - January 22, 2016 @ 8:54 pm

    I did the trial, not knowing that it would block me from downgrading. They said that I could downgrade if I didn’t add any secondary domains. I did add an “alias” before upgrading, then changed it, and I will try to delete it at one point. The support said that deleting it won’t change my account. I guess advertising a free trial without any terms is where they get us. I’ve only used the trial three times in my decade of having the Google apps account, and didn’t know that the upgrade/downgrade was a bug. I find this incredibly shady, as I wouldn’t of used the trial if I had known it would destroy my free account. I actually did the third trial to see why upgrading would be so special- not to add another domain- but I guess that f’d me over. Support won’t help, I thought Google was always there for us little guys. Paying a ton of money for an email service seems drastic. I had different emails to organise the types I receive. (I run a media website, therefore we get 1,000+ emails a week). *sigh* end of an era!

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