Google is ending the free version of its Google Apps for Business online suite after deciding that most business users have been quickly outgrowing it and signing up for paid accounts that offer additional services.
The move, which was announced by Clay Bavor, director of product management for Google Apps, in a Dec. 6 post on the Google Enterprise Blog, comes seven years after Google first began offering the free Google Apps services.
"Google Apps started with the simple idea that Gmail could help businesses and schools work better together without the hassles of managing software and servers," wrote Bavor. "As we grew from a handful of customers to a few hundred, we expanded to offer a premium business version of Google Apps. Fast forward to today and Google Apps is used by millions of businesses."
The paid Google Apps for Business accounts began in 2007 when Google began charging $50 per user annually, a fee that provided larger inbox mail storage, access to Google APIs to allow businesses to build custom apps and other extra services. Google also added apps versions specifically aimed at governments, universities and schools.
"When we launched the premium business version we kept our free, basic version as well," wrote Bavor. "Both businesses and individuals signed up for this version, but time has shown that in practice, the experience isn't quite right for either group. Businesses quickly outgrow the basic version and want things like 24/7 customer support and larger inboxes."
Those features were only available with paid accounts, and that's why Google is now dropping the free service.
All businesses that now want to use Google Apps for Business will have to pay for the service, but they will get expanded services, including 24/7 phone support for any issue, a 25GB inbox and a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee with no scheduled downtime.
The changes, however, won't affect existing business users, who will be permitted to keep using their limited-capacity accounts in the future, wrote Bavor.
"And as before, Google Apps for Education will be available as a free service for schools and universities. Also, as the first cloud productivity suite with FISMA certification, we'll continue to offer Google Apps for Government for $50 per user, per year. "
In October, Google added some key benefits—phone and email support—for paying customers of its Google Apps services when they are accessed through Google's Chrome Web browser. That means that Google Apps for Business, Education and Government customers can get direct support on Chrome installation, functionality, security, browser policy settings and Google Apps interoperability for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Customers with free Google Apps accounts are not eligible for phone or email support but can continue to use Google's free online help services and forums.
In September, Google announced that Google Apps users won't be able to access the office apps suite using Microsoft's older Internet Explorer 8 browser after Nov. 14. Instead, they will have to upgrade to a newer IE browser under its continuing strategy to keep its products up-to-date and working seamlessly with the latest evolving features in newer Web browsers.
The Google Apps policy of supporting only the latest browsers began in June 2011 as big changes were beginning to arrive from new Web standards, such as HTML5.
The new changes mean that users who are still running older browsers and even older computer operating systems will have to make decisions on what to do if they want to continue to use Google Apps.
For users who are still running Windows XP machines, IE8 is the last of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browsers that will run on the soon-to-be-retired operating system. IE9 and the upcoming IE10 weren't built to operate on XP. That means that Windows XP users—and there are still plenty of them out there—will have to upgrade their operating systems if they want to keep using Google Apps.