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Understanding what Google Apps is (and isn't)

Understanding what Google Apps is (and isn't)

The search giant says its Google Apps is a supplement, not a replacement, to Microsoft Office, aimed at helping users collaborate online. What remains to be seen is whether Google's efforts to strengthen the security of web-hosted Google Apps will win the confidence of nervous IT departments.

In addition, Gmail's popularity among consumers could cause users to rise up and call for its adoption in large organizations, what the authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research call a "Groundswell".

Rebecca Wettemann, vice president with the consultancy Nucleus Research, sees the potential uprising, too. "Users begin to ask, 'Why is this easier at home than at work?' " says Wettemann. "Many software firms are trying to leverage what's going on in the consumer space and bring it to users at businesses. Google is very well-positioned to do that."

Google Apps to Microsoft Office: We Come as a Friend, Not a Foe

The spread of Gmail and Google's overall popularity as the web's top search engine made the launch of Google Apps an interesting alternative for businesses to consider: what if you could pay little or nothing for online software and get document and spreadsheet capabilities similar to what you used to pay Microsoft many dollars for with Office?

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and chairman Bill Gates have downplayed Google Apps' importance, dismissing it as not being a true competitor. Both have noted that Microsoft Office applications such as Word and Excel offer more features than Google Apps.

Girouard and other Google Apps leaders have two responses to such statements: First, in the context of large enterprises, Google views its productivity software as a supplement, not a replacement, to Microsoft Office. Only in the case of Gmail and calendaring, he concedes, does Google Apps present enterprises and their users with a choice.

"It's around e-mail (and calendars) where you have co-existence issues with Google users and non Google users," he says. "With docs, it tends to no really be an issue because people are just using both [Google Apps and Office] and they use what makes sense for a particular task."

Secondly, Google isn't focused on the quantity of features it can embed into the product. Instead, it's focused on letting users collaborate online in real time. In other words, it doesn't matter to Google whether a person composes content in the Google Apps interface or Microsoft Word.

"Google Apps is used alongside other applications, and we believe that will increasingly be the case," says Girouard. "In the cloud-based model, there will be more vendor choice and mixing and matching rather than standardizing on a single vendor."

With respect to features, the people designing and managing Google Apps say they focus on getting each feature right for the user rather than packing in new, or half-baked, functions into the software for the sake of it.

"It's not about the application with 503 features beating the app with 502 features," says Rajen Sheth, product lead for Google Apps. "I think it's more about the app with 15 really solid, really useful features."

The Flavors of Google Apps Consumer: Any person who has a Gmail account has access to the consumer version of Google Apps. This includes the key functions (Gmail, Calendar, Docs & Spreadsheets, Talk and Google Sites). Ads run along side many of the applications to subsidize the user's free experience. Each user gets 6.7 MB of storage. Standard: This is utilized by many small and medium sized businesses and is also free (with ads). It has everything the consumer version has, but it enables companies to use their own e-mail address (instead of @gmail) and has mobile access, an administrator control panel, e-mail migration tools, and online support. Premier: For US$50 per user per year, it includes 25 GB of storage per user and no ads. Aside from all the features of the standard version, it has e-mail security provided by Postini, and it comes with APIs that allow organizations to integrate Google Apps with enterprise single-sign on systems and e-mail. It also includes 24-hour phone support.

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