Google is rolling out a new feature which enables users to be logged in to multiple Google accounts simultaneously. The move will greatly simplify life for many users, and help pave the way for more businesses to adopt Google Apps.
One of the most common obstacles to business adoption of Google Apps, or more specifically Gmail, are the hurdles and headaches associated with multiple accounts. Many users have Gmail accounts for personal use, and rely on the Web-based e-mail service to stay in touch even while at work, but doing so becomes much more difficult once the business adopts Gmail as well.
Microsoft Outlook can be connected to Microsoft Exchange, and multiple additional accounts as well. I have had as many as five different POP3 accounts in Outlook along with the corporate Exchange account, and I can select any one of the accounts for sending outbound e-mails--each with its own associated e-mail signature. For personal e-mail, I could also just use a Web-based service like Gmail.
However, if my company elected to switch from Exchange to Gmail as the primary e-mail platform, the options become much narrower and more convoluted. I could continuously log in and log out of each account throughout the day--checking my company e-mail, then my personal e-mail, then back to the company Gmail account. Or, I could use the Google Chrome Web browser to log in to the company Gmail account, and Internet Explorer to log in to my personal Gmail account.
Of course, I could also just set my personal e-mail to automatically forward to the business Gmail address. That solution doesn't allow me to respond to e-mails using the account they were initially directed to, though, and introduces privacy issues--exposing my personal e-mail to the monitoring and archiving efforts of my company.
The Google Help Center explains that the first Google account logged in to becomes the default account. "If you use multiple sign-in, the first account you use to sign in during that browser session will be your default account for the rest of that session. If you visit other Google products that don't support multiple accounts after you've signed in, you will automatically sign in to your default account for that product. If you sign out of any Google product while signed in to any account, you will be signed out of all your Google Accounts at once."
Google's multiple account sign-in may not be a viable solution for everyone, though. There are some potentially serious reasons not to use multiple sign-in for some users. Enabling multiple sign-in does not work from mobile devices, disables the ability to use Google services like Gmail and Google Calendar while offline, and breaks any bookmarks you have linked to your accounts.
Google advises "If you would like to continue using Offline Gmail, Offline Calendar, and browser bookmarks linked to your accounts, do not enable the multiple sign-in option. If you have already enabled multiple sign-in, you may disable it."
It's not perfect, but it's better than what Google offered previously, and it's a step in the right direction if Google wants to compete on more even footing with Microsoft for corporate productivity and messaging.