“One account. All of Google.” — How Google failed to offer the same experience to all customers.

In 2006 Google launched “Google Apps for Your Domain” and in doing so gave birth to what has since become G Suite. G Suite offers a way to have your company, school, or family content under your custom domain name and with the full range of Google features (Gmail, Drive, Calendar, Groups, etc).

To achieve this Google also went from the concept of a Gmail Account to a Google Account, and created the headline “One account. All of Google.” with the tagline “One Google account for everything Google” (both of which are still visible on their account sign-in page if you are signed out).

Except this is not true.

Only a Gmail account is a golden Google account that can do “All of Google”

A G Suite account cannot do half the stuff that a Gmail account can do, and a Google account seems to be halfway between those two. None of this is declared on product pages, and all of it can only be discovered through trying to use features.

Examples of features limited or unavailable to a G Suite account:

  • Google Play Family Library
  • Google Play Music Family
  • YouTube Music
  • Google Spaces
  • Google Assistant
  • Google Home
  • Google Photo Family
  • Project Fi

One only needs to trawl the support forums a little while to find 1,000 comment threads dating back years, where people repeatedly encounter this issue on every new product / feature release.

Something like Google Home simply cannot mix a G Suite account with a Gmail account, so if your partner has a Gmail account and you only have a G Suite account there is no combination whereby you can share a Google Home.

Google Support is not helpful, each product team disclaims responsibility and ownership and the common line in their support response is:

G Suite cannot offer support for Google Accounts, Google Accounts has no influence over product offerings, Google Play state that there is no timetable for offering support to G Suite accounts, and so you can bounce from support team to support team with no-one accepting a problem exists or that the root cause may lie with the company that has produced all of the products… Google. This is a problem entirely of their own creation, every team functions autonomously and no-one appears to preside over the offering to ensure a consistent product experience.

How this probably happened

Within Google I imagine there are many product teams who act autonomously and from here-on I’ll be speculating as to what those teams are,.I imagine that there is a Google Accounts team that have created an authentication platform where (from their perspective) all Google accounts are equal… be it a G Suite account, a Google account, a Gmail account, or even a corporate Google account. A single authentication platform that allows one to sign-in with any type of account, and for this authentication to be recognised by any Google feature.

However… each product team provides the authorisation and feature support for the account type, and what this means is that a given product team i.e. the Google Home team, can act autonomously to determine what they wish to support and how best to prioritise features to ship their product to market. Within each team I believe a very simple process has played out again and again… the quickest path to shipping is to have full ownership over everything that they can do and to avoid the messy communication, security policy, and documentation that comes from interacting with corporate customers. So they build for the Gmail account… the one account that they have 100% control over everything about… and put the standard Google Account support as a lower priority… and the G Suite support at the lowest priority (as that has the highest cost and the perceived lowest value).

What has been forgotten is that Google’s marketing of Google Apps back in 2006 was “Google Apps for Your Domain” and later “Google Apps for your Family”. Today Google Apps is G Suite, and it is effectively for companies only (with some caveats about the education sector).

So the product teams prioritise, and once they’ve shipped their Gmail account product, they already have reached the largest market with the highest value. At which point, how best to spend that engineering resource? Do they improve the product for the largest market, or increase the market size incrementally to those of us caught with G Suite accounts? They do the former, they improve the product.

I’ve no doubt that fully supporting G Suite accounts is on almost every product teams roadmap, it’s just so low priority that no-one ever gets to it.

What to do if you have a G Suite account

There is only one solution worth speaking about, you must migrate to a Gmail account.

Using a personal account is the only consistent workaround offered by all of the Google product support teams, and the experience of trying to keep your G Suite account active whilst also running a personal account is too messy to consider. If you try this you will definitely end up not knowing what is where and in constant frustration that something is in the wrong account.

However, it turns out that migrating full data from one account to another in Google is not possible. There is no account migration tool, and Google takeout allows an export of most data but there is no import than accepts the export.

To migrate fully then, you need to accept that this is a very manual operation and that you are going to lose a lot of data, and to keep some of it will require painful reconstruction.

At the very least you are going to lose the following where it is associated to your G Suite account:

  • Android backups (you’ll need to reconstruct Android preferences on your Gmail account)
  • Browser sync configuration
  • Chrome history and Web history
  • Drive shares and permissions
  • Google Drive documents (either you’ll be exporting as Word docs, or you’ll lose ownership, or you’ll have to manually make copies)
  • Google Fit data
  • Google Keep notes
  • Google Pay account and history
  • Google Photos shares, albums and permissions
  • Google Store purchase history and perks (including things like Unlimited Photo Storage for purchasing a Pixel 3)
  • Google Trips history and customisation
  • Google Home configuration and data
  • Live Case purchases and data
  • Google Maps timelines (though you can retain your stars at least)
  • Google Maps reviews and ratings
  • Ownership of Google Maps photos you’ve submitted (you may wish to delete them all first)
  • Google Chat history
  • Google News subscriptions
  • Groups memberships
  • Groups ownerships (maybe you wish to delete these)
  • Play Books purchases
  • Play Games purchases
  • Play Movies purchases
  • Play Music purchases
  • Play Store App purchases
  • Google Translate history
  • YouTube history and ownership of videos uploaded (you may wish to delete these)
  • Inconvenience forever for Google Account login to third parties as few third parties support changing OAuth linked accounts

The only things you really are not going to lose:

  • Email
  • Calendar
  • Drive Docs (not in Google formats)
  • Photos

And yet… with all that data loss, the accumulated frustration and pain of constantly having a third-class experience of products for which the ticket price remains quite high (Pixel 3, Home Hub, Android TV, Android Auto)… means that this level of data loss has for me, become an acceptable thing just so that the hardware I’ve purchased is as useful to me as it is to others.

Migrating from G Suite to Gmail

The crux of this article… how to actually migrate from G Suite to Gmail.

Assuming you already have created a Gmail account, let’s begin.

It is far easier at this point to use Chrome to have two profiles, 1 for the G Suite and 1 for the Gmail. In Chrome use the avatar icon in the top right of the window to Manage People and ensure you have 2 profiles established and are logged in to G Suite in one, and to Gmail in the other.

Contacts

In G Suite visit https://www.google.com/contacts and click More and then Export. You want to export this in the Google CSV format.

In Gmail, https://contacts.google.com/ and click More and then Import. Select the file that you exported. The import will happen part in the background.

Calendar

In G Suite visit https://calendar.google.com/calendar/r/settings/export and click Export. You need to individually choose each calendar that you may have and export the calendar.

In Gmail visit https://calendar.google.com/calendar/r/settings/export and click Import. Individually import each calendar.

NB: This import will work but is not very communicative. If you have calendars with tens of thousands of events it will happen in the background and eventually import. There are no decent error messages here.

NB: Guests to calendar events are not imported.

NB: Calendar invites can be forwarded from G Suite to Gmail via email notifications, but it will always show your personal Gmail address as having accepted and being the attendee (you will leak your Gmail address here).

Photos

In G Suite visit https://photos.google.com and open the sidebar and under Shared Library click Share Your Library. Enter the email address that is your Gmail account.

In Gmail visit https://photos.google.com accept the shared library invitation and ensure that you select “Add to library”, this creates an independent copy of the original photo (in the original resolutions, along with videos and other metadata).

Once it is completed and you have let it rest for a few days, delete the sharing connection and make sure your phone and other systems are configured against the Gmail account.

NB: Allow a day for all images to be copied over, and then you can unshare from the G Suite.

NB: All permissions, shares and albums will have been lost. But hey, you have your photos.

NB: If you want to delete the old photos out of G Suite, then there is only one way to do this: Use a script in the JavaScript Console of the G Suite photos.google.com account… basically it will manually select images and delete them:

setInterval(() => {
let checkboxes = document.querySelectorAll('.ckGgle');
if (checkboxes.length <= 0) {
console.log("[INFO] No images detected.");
clearInterval(deleteTask);
console.log("[INFO] Pausing for images to load.");
return;
}
checkboxes.forEach((checkbox) => { checkbox.click() });
console.log("[INFO] Deleting", checkboxes.length, "images");
setTimeout(() => {document.querySelector('button[title="Delete"]').click();setTimeout(() => {
document.querySelector('#yDmH0d > div.llhEMd.iWO5td > div > div.g3VIld.V639qd.bvQPzd.oEOLpc.Up8vH.J9Nfi.A9Uzve.iWO5td > div.XfpsVe.J9fJmf > button.VfPpkd-LgbsSe.VfPpkd-LgbsSe-OWXEXe-k8QpJ.nCP5yc.DuMIQc.kHssdc.HvOprf').click();
}, 1000);
}, 1000);
}, 7000);

NB: At time of writing there was a bug in which Google One doesn’t recognise the copied over photos as taking any space. This is… worrying but Google confirm that the approach above is correct and that images will not be deleted even though they count as zero bytes of storage use:

Drive

Download to a Mac or Windows machine the https://www.google.com/drive/download/backup-and-sync/ tool.

Sign in to Backup and Sync with your G Suite account. Wait for everything to sync to your local drive.

Sign out of Backup and Sync from your G Suite, and sign in using your Gmail account. The local copy of everything that you had sync’d will now be uploaded to Google Drive.

There is a catch here, .gdoc and .gsheet documents are not actually the documents and their contents, instead they are JSON files containing descriptions of the document location and owner within Google. Backup and Sync will error on these but do not cancel the errors just ignore them until you have sync’d everything else.

To get Google Docs and Sheets sync’d go to your original G Suite account and do a search in Google Drive for something like type:document -type:docx -type:pdf owner:me this should find all of your Google Docs files that are not Word docs or PDF files and that you own, if you scroll down to view them all you can now select them all and share them with your Gmail account. Once you have shared them you can return to Backup and Sync and click Retry All on the failed sync and these will now work. However… all that we’ve done is get them shared and in the right folder locations, you still need to go through Google Drive in your Gmail account and find all of the files (same search as above but without owner:me) and make local copies and remove the ones that are not owned by you.

NB: All knowledge of shares will have been lost.

Gmail

Ah, the big one (for me). All of my email since 1997 has been imported into my G Suite and I have never deleted anything and have received on average a couple of hundred emails per day and have been hygienic in my use of labels.

As I want to keep labels the well-documented POP3 approach won’t work here, in fact only IMAP is going to work here and there’s a great utility available but that does require a little more involvement than just clicking around user interfaces, https://github.com/imapsync/imapsync is the tool I used.

In my case the command I needed to run was simply:

./imapsync \
--host1 imap.gmail.com --ssl1 --port1 993 \
--user1 user@domain.com --password1 appPassword1 \
--host2 imap.gmail.com --ssl2 --port2 993 \
--user2 user@gmail.com --password2 appPassword2

Where --user1 is the G Suite user and --password1 is the static app password for the G Suite user, and --user2 and --password2 are for the Gmail user.

This process for me took a long time, I span up a virtual machine on Linode and it was processing at an average speed of 1.14 emails per second, and I have in excess of 600k emails (just over 6 days of constant processing).

NB: I had to disable 2FA on my Gmail for this to work, due to some error about “Less Secure Apps” that prevented the IMAP login even with a generated App Password for the Mail application.

Maps

We can only save your starred places, and this requires manual effort.

In your G Suite visit Google Takeout and choose Maps > My Places. This will generate a JSON file that you can download within a .zip file, and that file is called Saved Places.json . As a .json file you can do nothing with this as there is no way to import it into anything Google… so first we must get it to an .kml file which we can do via http://nearby.org.uk/convert-saved-places.php .

Once you have the .kml file you can go to My Maps within your Gmail profile and import the .kml file.

You have a choice now… either you are happy with the custom map and it being available on your desktop but a bit of a pain to reach otherwise and not actually part of your map… or you can convert the pinned places on your My Map to a Starred Place within Google Maps.

The choice rests on a single question: How much effort do you want to put in?

In my case I had over 700 starred places, and this requires manually clicking on a pin in the My Map, opening the link to Google Maps, and manually starring the place before deleting the pin from the My Map. In this way, the My Map import is a to do list of stars to manually migrate. This took me a few weeks of idly doing this in quiet moments for hours at a time.

Last few bits

  • Forward all new email from your G Suite to your Gmail.
  • Turn on email notifications in your G Suite calendar for all types of events, so that you receive those invites in your Gmail.
  • Delete any data you no longer wish to own / manage in the list of products above that you couldn’t import over.
  • Cancel all subscriptions except the single-user G Suite subscription where you should leave a wildcard email alias to send email for your domain to your G Suite email where it will be forwarded to Gmail.
  • Change your Android to use your new Calendar account.
  • Change your Android to use your new Google Pay account.
  • Change your Android to use your new Contacts account.
  • Change your Android to use your new Contacts account as default in Phone.
  • Change your Android to use your new Drive account.
  • Change your Android to use your new account as the device backup.
  • Change your Android to use your new Drive account as the backup for WhatsApp (and other apps that can backup to Google Drive).
  • Change your Android to use your new account as your Assistant account.

Assuming that you will now abandon use of the G Suite account except as email forwarding for your custom domain name, you probably wish to go through every product and unlink all sharing and delete all data. For me this took several weeks and resulted in the deletion of thousands of Google Map reviews, photo uploads, tens of Google Play playlists, and then just a data hygiene clean for the data I had migrated to the Gmail account (mail, Drive, Photos, Maps).

The prize

Google Home is now available to you fully featured, as is Google One, Family sharing of Photos, Family sharing of Google Play Music, Family sharing of Google Apps, and you can finally create a Home group that includes your spouse and others that live in your home… assuming they too have Gmail accounts.

Summary

Google has a compelling story in hardware + software + AI. Quite a while ago I made the jump from iPhone to Google because I believe that software can evolve faster than hardware and that hardware quality stabilises around the point the market is willing to bear the price… that is… iPhones and Android phones would equalise in hardware, but Google would enable their Android phones to excel.

This point where Google could beat the overall experience of everyone else was reached a while ago and yet the biggest barrier to being able to take advantage of this comes down to Google themselves.

There is only one type of Google account that is worth speaking of if you really want to fully experience the Google offering, and that is the Gmail account.

It’s a real shame and a real opportunity missed, but it’s no longer constructive to moan about it as over a decade Google have consistently shown that G Suite accounts accessing this consumer set of features and capabilities on an equal footing is simply not their priority.

With that in mind, if you are caught on G Suite and want to get the full value of the hardware from Google (Pixel, Home Hub, Android TV, Android Auto, etc) then there really is only one thing you can do… take the core of the data that is most critical to you, and start again with a Gmail account.

I work at Cloudflare and run lots of community websites.

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