Google announced yesterday (Jan. 19) that all users of the G Suite "legacy free edition" would need to "to upgrade to a paid Google Workspace subscription" by July 1, 2022 in order to keep using Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive and the Google office suite, including Docs, Sheets and Slides.
But wait — aren't those the services that everyone using Google gets for free? Will all Gmail users start having to pay up to use them?
Google's vaguely worded blog post (opens in new tab) announcing this change was not clear about that, although the post did say that "you will no longer have access to Google Workspace core services, such as Gmail, Calendar, and Meet." YouTube and Google Photos will still be free.
Who's affected by the G Suite shutdown
That sounds pretty scary, but let's cut through the confusing language: This change applies only to those people, often in families or small businesses, who have been using a Google service that gave them free custom domain names and associated email addresses.
Users of Gmail who retain the "@gmail.com" domain suffix and have free Google accounts that give them Calendar, Drive, Docs and so on will not be affected — at least for now.
The service being phased out was originally the free version of Google Apps and was available from 2006 to 2012, but existing free groups have been allowed to continue. The related paid service was later rebranded as G Suite and then again in 2020 as Google Workspace.
So if your uncle set up a Google Apps account back in 2008 with the domain "johnsonfamily.com" and gave each family member an email addresses using that domain, then the current administrator of that group will have to start paying at least $6 per user per month by July. The same goes for a small business that set up "acmewidgets.com" or such.
If you chose not to start paying, the data associated with your group and held on Google's servers will have to be exported (Google has a tool for that (opens in new tab)) before July 1, because after then it might all be deleted forever.
Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo (opens in new tab) notes that unfortunately "there's no way to export things like content purchases for books, movies, music, and apps" and that "you'll also probably lose your Google Voice number."
How to keep your G Suite account
If you do decide to pay, your G Suite account will be converted to a Google Workspace account with pricing "based on the features you currently use" and your data migrated over beginning May 1. Here's a pricing chart for Google Workspace accounts (opens in new tab).
The top tier of Workspace, with unlimited users, is the Google office-and-email setup that for-profit enterprises use and pay for. Smaller outfits with fewer than 300 users can pay $18 or less per user per month. Educational and non-profit institutions that use G Suite will be migrated to Workspace for free.
Users of free Google accounts not tied to a custom domain won't be affected by any of this, but it's clear that Google has a habit of abruptly changing its mind about how much support it gives its services and devices.
The Register (opens in new tab) pointed out that last summer, Google backtracked on its earlier pledge to store unlimited images in Google Photos and now caps all data associated with a free account to 15 GB. And we can't forget that Google will be remotely bricking Google OnHub routers in December 2022 after just seven years of working life.