LAS VEGAS-Google Apps is like a "fog rolling into the harbor," permeating businesses quite possibly at the expense of Microsoft and IBM, Gartner analyst Tom Austin said. Google just isn't doing it by coddling the enterprise market the way its rivals do.
Austin, in a presentation at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo here April 9, said that 20 to 30 percent of businesses Gartner surveyed claim they are using free Google Apps in addition to Microsoft Office, SharePoint or IBM Lotus software.
While this wouldn't seem to threaten Microsoft or IBM, Austin wondered what might happen if 80 percent of the users in 80 percent of large enterprises start using Google Apps. He argued that the more people use Google Apps, the harder it will be for Microsoft or IBM to benefit from renewing contracts.
"Clients are calling us about GAPE [Google Apps Premier Edition]," Austin said. "They will use it as a bat to beat Microsoft or IBM to make them lower the cost of their software."
The analysts' claims come as the industry is closely watching the escalating war between Google and Microsoft, two vendors playing in search, online ads, applications, and most broadly, cloud computing.
One-Day at a Time Roadmap Won't Work
Microsoft's research team is allegedly working on a cloud operating system, code-named Dryad, which will likely be an area Gartner analysts explore with Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie in an interview keynote later today at the show.
In a line of reasoning echoing Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' claims that Google doesn't understand businesses' needs, Austin said that Google doesn't understand the enterprise. It is not that the company can't, he said, it is that Google doesn't care to understand the enterprise.
For example, while Microsoft and IBM offer customers five-year roadmaps under non-disclosure agreements, Google's roadmap is one day at a time.
He noted that the best way users can track what Google is doing with its Apps portfolio is to follow the myriad Google blogs on Docs, Gmail and other Apps. These are updated roughly weekly, and Austin exhorted the audience to track these developments for four or five months if they wanted to follow the trail.
"You would not accept this from a mainline vendor of enterprise software," he said. "Stop thinking of them as an enterprise. Start thinking of them as a global class services provider for billions of people."
Google Not Following Microsoft's Lead
Unlike Microsoft, which he said struggled to grasp the enterprise software market until Windows 95, Google will not likely change the way it works, viewing the lack of a road map as a strength instead of a weakness. However, they will do a better job of SLAs (service level agreements) and sales support.
Moreover, he predicted that Google will trot additional editions of its Apps, tailored for different verticals and lines of business.
Also, expect Google to lose money or maybe break even with regard to Apps, which are free. Google may drive revenue through Gmail by users clicking on ads in the program but ultimately the company is willing to absorb losses to as a way to keep Microsoft off balance and keep them out of their ad business.
This would seem to be a tall order. Gartner's David Mitchell Smith April 10 will present the case that Microsoft is better positioned to succeed in online advertising than Google is in enterprise software. With Microsoft targeting Yahoo as a major acquisition, Smith may well be right.