The difference between Gmail, a Google Account, an Apps Account, and an Apps for Business Account

There are four types of Google email accounts. Susan Cline explains the difference between each type and how they apply to enterprise users.

Do you know what kind of Google Apps Account you have? Do you even know if you have a Google Apps account? There are many variations of accounts associated with Google from a basic Gmail account to a paid and fully secured Google Apps for Business Account. In this post, I will explain the four types of Google accounts and how they apply to enterprise users.


If you are confused about the different types of Google accounts, you are not alone. As Google's product offering grows, they repeatedly change the name of account types and services. They also change the permissions and features associated with each account on a somewhat random basis. This is not a criticism of Google; it's just the nature of the rapid development process of cloud applications. Google also uses the words app, application, product, and service inconsistently throughout their product documentation.

There are really four types of Google Accounts that you should know when it comes to Google for the Enterprise.


A Gmail account is a free Google Account with an email address that ends in Gmail accounts arrived on the scene back in 2004, and they were such a hot commodity that users needed to receive invitations in order to acquire account. At the time, the 1GB of storage space and the clever threading of conversations seemed so modern in contrast to the tired old Yahoo and Hotmail accounts. As the amount of free storage space grew, so did the applications that were associated with a Gmail account. From the Gmail mailbox, user can also access Google Docs, Google Calendar and Google Sites. The account also allows users to instantly login to the dozens of other Google applications like Picasa, Blogger and Maps.

Many Gmail users like the application and the anytime/anywhere access so much that they arrange to have their work email forwarded to Gmail. This is more common in smaller organizations where email security is more lax. The account settings of Gmail allow one to use their business email address to appear as the "reply from" address. Gmail accounts are administered by the individual who owns the account and not the business' IT administrator.

Google account

A Google account is a user name and password that can be used to login to Google applications like Docs, Sites, Maps and Search (This is different than a Google Apps Account). These accounts do not necessarily end with "". For example, a user can sign up for a Google Apps account that is associated with her @yahoo email address. Using this account she can create, edit and collaborate on Google Docs without using the Google Email system. A common myth is that Google Apps users cannot share and edit Google Docs with users who do not have a Google Apps account. But anyone can sign up for a free Google Account and use it to access and edit share docs and files.

Google Apps account

A Google Apps account (stressing the words "apps") is an account associated with a domain that uses Google Apps (mail, calendar, docs and sites) for messaging and collaboration. When this product was first introduced it was called "Google Apps for Your Domain, then it was called "Google Apps Standard Edition" and now it's just "Google Apps".

These accounts currently come with 7GB of email storage space, access to Gmail, Calendar, Docs and Sites. This type of account is useful for organizations, clubs, and informal groups that do not need the enhanced security, support and administration options of Google Apps for Business. The only type of support that comes with this account is a link to the Google Help Center and Google Help User Forum. These accounts are free; however the domain is limited to ten users at one time.

Google Apps for Business

Google Apps accounts are nice to have, but when it comes to Enterprise the only real player in the game is the Google Apps for Business account. Google Apps for Business was previously called "Google Apps Premier Edition". These accounts allow each user access to 25GB in Gmail storage space, Calendar, Mail, Docs, Google Video and Google Groups for Business. Businesses are guaranteed 99.9% uptime as well as email and phone support.

The accounts also come with access to the migration tools which are necessary when migrating old messages, calendar items, and contacts from legacy systems. Google Apps for Business also includes access to Postini Message and Security services at no additional cost. A Google Apps for Business account is the only type of Google account that isn't free. The price is $50 for each user for each year or roughly $5/month. These accounts and services are managed by an Admin in the Google Apps Dashboard.


If you want to compare the features of Google Apps versus Google Apps for Business I recommend reviewing this chart. It also shows the features of Google Apps for Education which is only available to schools and universities.

Many Google users have multiple types of account. For example, I have two Gmail accounts, a Google Account associated with my Yahoo account, and three Google Apps for Business accounts for the three domains that I own and manage.

All of these accounts are relevant and service a specific purpose. However, this TechRepublic blog is about Google in the Enterprise so we will be primarily focusing on the Google Apps for Business accounts.


Susan Cline is the Director of Training and Change Management at Google Apps Parter Ltech. She is also the author of several Google Apps courses on Visit Susan at her website or follow her on Twitter @GoogleAppsSusa...


I have had a number of support issues where users have been unable to log into Google Apps because the sign appears on the right (for GMail). Despite putting the correct URL for Google Apps into the URL bar the customer is redirected to Gmail sign in on the right, and the apps login details are not accepted. I have found that the only way around this issue is to either open a new browser or clear the cookie cache of the browser being used. At Cotswold Web Services we set-up Google Apps for all new customers and it is a fantastic service that Google are still offering free of charge for the first 10 accounts.

Jim Mcnelis
Jim Mcnelis

Hi Susan, I am looking forward to reading more great articles about Google Apps. I wanted to bring some clarity to this somewhat confusing situation: There is only ONE account type: A Google Account. This form of online identity can be associated with any email address. I think what you are trying to explain is if a user sets up a Gmail account or a Google Apps account (Free, Business, Government or EDU), this account is also a Google Account and can access the same services a traditional Google Account can access using your Gmail or Google Apps login credentials. If a user has a non-Google email address (like or they might want to create a new "Google Account" and associate it with their existing email address. They can absolutely do this as you point out in your article. The one caveat here is that a Google Apps account will carry certain restrictions depending on how the domain administrator configures a user's account; a user may not have access to Google services that the domain admin has turned off for that user. The message the user will receive when trying to access a service that their admin has turned off will notify the user to contact their domain admin to enable the service. I hope this helps!


If the intention was to clear things up then you need to be consistent with your terminology. From the "Google account" section: "This is different than a Google Apps Account). These accounts do not necessarily end with ??? For example, a user can sign up for a Google Apps account that is associated with her @yahoo email address." First you say it's different than an Apps account but then finish the rest of the section calling it "Google Apps" just prior to the section of your article with the heading of "Google Apps" where you explain that type of account as something different. I understood the article but it's hard to read at first.


I realize that I actually have dozens of Google/Gmail/Google Apps accounts that I've created over the years. I wish Google had some type of lookup tool where I could enter my date of birth and high school mascot and see all of the accounts under my name.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

How many Google Gmail accounts do you have? Is one of them a Google Apps for Business account?


Until earlier this year, it was possible to have two different accounts, one for Google and one for Google Apps, but both with a login-name of YourName@YourDomain.TLA (or YourDomain.XX.YY or whatever setup your own domain is). People had the Google Apps account created for them by their domain-administrator and the other got created when they used the same account-name to sign in for Blogger or Picasa (or any of the "older" Google services that weren't part of Apps previously). To fix this, Google created an account unification process. Under it, the first time that the the Google-account user logged on after their domain had been upgraded to use the full product set, they were told about these conflicting accounts and asked to transfer their existiing content (blogs, photo-albums, etc) to a different Google Account. Eventually, this process will mean that there are no conflicting accounts left - but this will take a while, because it depends on the owner logging in to a "non-native" apps product. Some of them won't have done so yet, and some never will. Also, I think there are some remaining differences between Google Accounts and Google Apps accounts, beyond the admin-level service control: for one thing, they have different options available to them then restricting the access to web-pages made with Google Sites. I don't know if this is deliberate or not, or what other implications it may have, but it's something I may be investigating soon.


Spitfire, Thanks for your comments. The naming of the different types of Google Accounts is confusing and inconsistent. I did not intend to do the same thing with my article.

Editor's Picks