This article is no longer valid. Google now charges for all Google App setups.
For the impatient click here to start the process...
Since 2002 I have hosted my own e-mail using a home grown FreeBSD server running Qmail and Courier-IMAP. Until now I have never even considered using a third party service for hosting my e-mail services. I have always been the do it yourself type and try to save money by using open source software to host my services. Then I ran across Google Apps and found out that I can create a couple MX records and Google will host my e-mail for free! With a few clicks of the mouse and a half cup of coffee I had my domain up and running on Google Apps. You will be amazed by the easy setup and feature set that you can receive absolutely free of charge.
The Google Apps Standard Edition comes with plenty of features for your average bear. You get 7.3GB of e-mail storage per account. I have never used this much space just for e-mail, and I get my fair amount of e-mail as a business owner. As of now (01/05/2008) I have been hosting my e-mail on Google for two months and have used a whopping 17MB of space without deleting a single e-mail message. That's a whole 0% of my total quota of 7.3GB in two months. This is the same amount of space that Gmail users get, which makes sense because if they are going to give away Gmail accounts for free then why not allow folks to create e-mails using their own domain names and give them the same features right? It doesn't cost Google anything extra for you to use your own domain name compared to giving you one @gmail.com. The only real limit they set on the Standard Edition is that you can only create up to 200 e-mails per domain name. Now if I'm not mistaken this is plenty of e-mail accounts for most small and medium businesses. The only reason for the 200 e-mail account limit is because they do have a Premier Edition and they would, of course, like to make a profit from larger businesses.
In this techies humble opinion the Standard Edition is plenty for what most businesses need. To break it down you get:
There are many other features besides these but I think you get the gist of things. Unless you have some special need to have your e-mail hosting on-site, Google Apps will work wonders for your business and probably offer features that you don't currently have. Most importantly the price is right... FREE!
If you have administered an e-mail server and used SpamAssassin or the likes then you know how difficult it is to fight spam. Although I'm not sure what Google uses to eliminate spam, it does a very good job of collecting trash in the Spam folder. In the two months that I have used Google Apps to host my e-mail I have yet to receive one single spam message in my inbox. I can't tell you how valuable this feature is just by itself. I don't know how many hours I have spent trying to fight spam on my own e-mail server but I'm sure it's ridiculous. You will save yourself a huge headache just on this feature alone.
For the Standard Edition of Google Apps you get no support from Google themselves. What you do get is an entire user community of people that have ran into every Google Apps issue known to man and posted solutions in a special Google Apps forum which you can access via the help link from any of your Google Apps pages. The folks in the Google Apps community are very eager to help. I have posted a few issues there and received appropriate solutions within 24 hours. I believe Google offers incentives for experienced techs who receive credit for solutions they have posted to the community. So if you run into an issue or have problems with a feature you'll be happy to know that there are techs available to help you out or at least point you in the right direction.
The Google Apps site is somewhat geared towards selling their Premier Edition of Google Apps so they have designed the site to push users towards the Premier Edition rather than showcasing the Standard Edition.
Lets not waste tons of time (like I did) trying to find the sign-up page for the Standard Edition and I'll link you directly to it :)
Google does an excellent job of walking you through the process of getting your domain setup on Google Apps but, for the sake of this blog post I will walk you through it. I am going to assume you already own your domain name.
Click the "I Accept. Create my account" button.
Once your DNS is setup properly you should be good to go! One other thing that I did for my domain was created a CNAME record for mail.mydomain.com and pointed it to ghs.google.com so that rather than typing in that daunting temporary link they give you to access your e-mail all your users can go to mail.yourdomain.com to login and access their e-mail accounts.