Watch Out MS Office, Here Comes Google

Google Apps, first launched as a free service in August 2006, is now a commercial product available to users for US$50 per user account per year.

It debuts with Procter & Gamble Global Business Services as a marquee account — not that Google needed one. Since its initial launch in August, more than 100,000 small businesses and hundreds of universities have signed on to the service, according to Google.

The commercial suite, called Google Apps Premier Edition, is a new version of Google’s original hosted communication and collaboration applications, and includes phone support, additional storage and a new set of administration and business integration capabilities.

Partner Firms

Currently, partner companies such as Avaya and Postini are developing additional functionality, such as e-mail gateways, enhanced security, Google Calendar synchronization and third-party integration with Google Talk, using Google’s APIs (application programming interfaces).

Besides P&G, other early adopters of the suite include San Francisco Bay Pediatrics, Salesforce.com, Prudential Preferred Properties and Essilor and Mediametrie in France.

“With Google Apps, our customers can tap into an unprecedented stream of technology and innovation at a fraction of the cost of traditional installed solutions,” said Dave Girouard, vice president and general manager of Google Enterprise. Google Apps Standard Edition and Google Apps Education Edition will continue to be free. In addition, all versions of Google Apps will now include Google Docs & Spreadsheets and will support Gmail for mobile on BlackBerry handheld devices.

Competition for Microsoft?

While Google is unlikely to topple Microsoft’s domination of the desktop — at least in the medium term — its commercial product does provide new options to companies that once felt tied to the Office suite.

“Google is giving CIOs more negotiating power with Microsoft than they have had in the past,” Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of Nucleus Research, told TechNewsWorld.

However, there are certain limitations to the new product, she added. “While on-demand has become a more acceptable option among companies, Google does need to address offline capability at some point.”

On the plus side, though, Google is likely to innovate faster because the product is delivered on-demand. “In that environment, rather than worrying about fixing individual bugs you can focus resources and attention on additional innovation,” Wettemann stated.

One notable feature missing from the new suite is some kind of presentation or PowerPoint-like capability, she added.

Collaboration Is a Draw

For users that don’t really need presentation functionality or are frustrated trying to collaborate around spreadsheets and word documents, Wettemann said Google Apps Premier Edition would be a good choice.

That is one selling point for Jeff Greenhouse, president of Singularity Design, an interactive marketing agency in Philadelphia.

“We spend a tremendous amount of time e-mailing Microsoft Word documents back and forth with our clients to gather and edit the content for their Web sites,” he told TechNewsWorld. “I am considering adopting Google Apps primarily for this purpose because I feel it will help us streamline the editing and collaboration process.”

Also, the company will be able to maintain one set of documents, rather than having multiple versions residing on various computers, Greenhouse added. “This may also make it easier for us to review the entire history of changes that are made by each party,” he noted.

New Features

Other new features in Google Apps Premier Edition:

  • 10 gigabytes of storage per user, which is about 100 times the storage of the average corporate mailbox, according to Google;
  • APIs for business integration, including data migration, user provisioning, single sign-on and mail gateways;
  • Service level agreements that ensure 99.9 percent uptime, with Google monitoring and crediting customers if service levels are not met;
  • Twenty-four hour/seven day a week support, extended business hours telephone support for administrators;
  • The ability to turn off the advertising; and
  • Application-level control that can adapt services to business policies, such as sharing of calendars or documents outside of the company.

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