Like two very large men stuck in one small hotel room, Google and Microsoft have been bumping into each other, but still maintained at least a facade of politeness. Those days are over. With its just released Google Apps Premier and Standard editions, Google is taking a swing at its high-technology roommate.
Specifically, Google is offering everyone from families to enterprises a bundle of its Google Docs and Spreadsheets; Google Calendar; Gmail; Google Talk; Google Page Creator, a simple Web page authoring tool; and a Start Page to bring all these applications together. Individually, theres nothing new here.
All of these Google applications have been around for more than a year now. Each of them brings at least basic office functionality to its particular area. Thus, Google Talk is an excellent IM (instant message) and VOIP (voice over IP) client. Google Docs and Spreadsheets combines basic word processor and spreadsheet functionality with the ability for multiple users to work on a single document. Between them, Gmail and Google Calendar duplicate much of Microsoft Outlooks features and so on.
When you put all these applications together, it looks like an attempt to give Microsoft, specifically Microsoft Office 2007, a black eye.
Collectively, Google is offering businesses a 99.9 percent update SLA (service-level agreement) in which customers will receive credits for downtime, a one-stop user interface to all of its functionality and centralized management. On top of this, with the $50-per-user-a-year Premium Edition, enterprises get 10GB of e-mail storage per user, as well as API (application programming interfaces) to enable data migration, mail gateways, user provisioning and single sign-on to enable businesses to customize their Google services.
Let me cut to the chase: This is Googles long-awaited Microsoft Office killer. I had my doubts early on about Google going after Microsoft Office. At the time, I said, Google needed to throw Docs, then known as Writely, and Spreadsheets into the mix, to make a go of the business market. So, thats exactly what Google did.
I also thought that while that would be enough to get the foot in the door of SMBs (small and midsize businesses), it wouldnt be enough for the enterprise. The enterprise needs SLAs, it needs a way to integrate the Google applications into its existing IT infrastructure, and it needs good user management tools. Well ... hmmm ... yes, Google is delivering all that.
Oh, I know, that Dave Girouard, VP and general manager of Googles enterprise group, has said that Google Apps isnt going to make corporate IT buyers "buy any less Microsoft products." Yeah. Right. That black eye? "I didnt mean to hit you with my elbow!"
Heres what I think is really going on. Google has a good software-as-a-service offering in Google Apps. Google knows it. You know it. Microsoft knows it. Google isnt going to take Microsoft Office head on, but it will be happy to nick Microsoft from all sides.
No, Google Apps doesnt have anything like the full functionality of Microsoft Office. In particular, it has no answer to PowerPoint. But, as for the rest, for the bread and butter of day-to-day business life, Google Apps does give most users all the functionality they need.
Can you do advanced spreadsheets with multiple macros with Google Spreadsheets? Nope. Can you put together an employee expense report? A time sheet? A departmental budget? Yes, yes and yes.
Now consider the cost. Google Apps is $50 per user per year. An upgrade to Microsoft Office Professional 2007 starts at $329.95. Of course, there are multiple discounts, but youre not likely to get a legal copy for anything close to $50.
With Office, especially Office 2007, the upfront price is only the tip of the iceberg. For Outlook to really work, you need Exchange. For IM, you need Live Communication Server, and so on. The bottom line is that sticking with Microsoft is expensive, and its only getting more so.
Of course, there are even cheaper options than Google Apps. I favor OpenOffice 2.x myself. No, it doesnt have all the features of Office 2007 either. As Alan Yates, general manager of business strategy for Microsofts information worker group, said awhile back, OpenOffice.org is about where MS-Office was 10 years ago. My response then, and now, was: "And whats wrong with that?"
However, you will need to install OpenOffice on your PCs. With Google Apps, all you need to do is give users the URL of their new office suite.
If Google Apps were coming out at another time, Id think the best it could do would be to chip away at Office. There are just too many users who know Office and nothing but Office. However, Microsoft is helping out Google Apps, OpenOffice and all the other Microsoft Office alternatives with Office 2007s new interface.
Office 2007, and its new Ribbon interface, is going to be much, much harder to pick up for Microsoft Office users than either Google Apps or OpenOffice. The knee-jerk argument for Microsoft Office has always been, "Its what the users already know."
Well, now they dont. So if I were a CIO, or just the guy who knows computers in a five-person office, even if I couldnt imagine using Linux or Mac OS, I can certainly see giving Google Apps a try. Its cheap, its easy and its good. Microsoft is finally in a fight for the office application market.
Heck, who knows. Anyone want to bet me that Google Apps will own the same share of the office suite market next year at this time that Firefox now owns of the Web browser market? According to Net Applications, the Web-site traffic analysis company, that was 13.7 percent in January 2007. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible ... I dont think so.