Google sours on legacy G Suite freeloaders, demands fee or flee

Free incarnation of online app package, which became Workplace, is going away


Updated Google has served eviction notices to its legacy G Suite squatters: the free service will no longer be available in four months and existing users can either pay for a Google Workspace subscription or export their data and take their not particularly valuable businesses elsewhere.

"If you have the G Suite legacy free edition, you need to upgrade to a paid Google Workspace subscription to keep your services," the company said in a recently revised support document. "The G Suite legacy free edition will no longer be available starting May 1, 2022."

The G Suite legacy free edition will no longer be available starting May 1, 2022

Workspace subscriptions start at $6 per month for the most basic membership.

Google will begin automatically upgrading legacy accounts to Workspace come May but won't activate those accounts without the submission of payment information. Those who fail to supply payment information for Workplace before July 1, 2022, will find their accounts suspended.

Suspended accounts can be revived with a subscription fee, an arrangement that may sound like a ransomware operation but is really just business as usual. G Suite refugees can avoid this scenario by exporting their data using Google's Data Export Tool.

"Today we notified customers using a legacy free subscription for our communication and collaboration apps, including Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Docs, that they will need to transition to a Google Workspace plan by July 1, 2022," a Google spokesperson said in an email to The Register. "The legacy free subscription was available from 2006 to 2012, and provided a basic set of business features and integration with a custom domain."

"We’re now asking these customers to upgrade to Google Workspace, which offers solutions tailored to the unique needs of our broad range of customers, as well as increased storage and security, 24/7 support, and more. We’re offering deep discounts to help ease the transition, and are excited for our customers to have more choice and flexibility in their collaboration experience."

Google's support documents fail to explain whether data can be exported after an account suspension and how long the company will retain data in suspended accounts. Google's spokesperson didn't immediately have an answer when asked for clarification.

Gmail is now part of Workspace, so anyone using a version of Gmail associated with Workspace will lose access without a paid subscription.

"If you don't provide your payment information, your Google Workspace subscription will be suspended until you set up billing," another Google support document explains. "After 60 days in suspension, you will no longer have access to Google Workspace core services, such as Gmail, Calendar, and Meet."

Those using the free version of Gmail tied to a Google Account shouldn't be affected by this change, nor should users of YouTube or Google Photos. And there's still a free version of Google Drive (15 GB of free storage) that exists outside of Workspace.

So, to be clear, these changes affect the legacy free version of G Suite that was aimed at small groups, such as organizations or families, who wanted to manage their Google accounts together under one roof, typically sharing a custom domain name for their email. Those folks will now have to start paying. People with free personal Google accounts can still use Gmail, Google Docs, Calendar, and so on, gratis.

How long these services will continue to be offered without a fee, though, is anyone's guess. As of last June, the Chocolate Factory stopped providing unlimited free storage for photos stored at "high quality" in an effort to steer customers to its Google One subscription.

The free version of G Suite hasn't been available to the public since December, 2012, when the service was known as Google Apps. That's when Google stopped allowing new customer sign-ups for the free version of Google Apps and offered only Google Apps for Business ($50/year).

Google's subscription-based office suite became G Suite in 2016 and was rebranded Workspace in October, 2020. Throughout this identity crisis, anyone who had signed up for what was long ago called Google Apps Standard Edition could continue to access the free service. But in a few months, this free legacy version of G Suite will be gone.

Perhaps unaware of these pending changes, Google's chief legal officer Kent Walker on Tuesday published a blog post arguing that a recent amended tech bill "could prevent us from providing consumers and businesses useful, free services" and "seems to punish free services in favor of services consumers have to pay for, as it seems to exempt 'fee for subscription services' (like Microsoft’s subscription-based software)." ®

Updated to add on January 28

In an update to its support page on the free G Suite discontinuation, Google now says it will offer a way to transfer "non-Google Workspace paid content and most of your data" to an as-yet undisclosed no-cost option — what sounds like a free version of Workspace with feature limitations.

Details on this option will be revealed, the web giant says, before it starts suspending accounts and the July 1, 2022 termination of the legacy version of G Suite.

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