Of the many different ways Google CEO Eric Schmidt's turning over ultimate control to co-founder Larry Page will impact the company I believe Google Apps -- really, the company's entire enterprise business -- will be affected the most.
If I'm Google Enterprise President Dave Girouard, I'm cursing the change. With two decades at Sun Microsystems and Novell under his belt, Schmidt is a commander with deep enterprise computing chops.
Page will formally take control of Google April 4, but with the announcement Jan. 20, the perceptions of the company have already been altered.
As I wrote after a discussion with Gartner analyst Whit Andrews last Friday:
"While Andrews believes Google is well-positioned on the consumer-facing Web service and ad front, he's less sure about Google's prospects in the enterprise. As an enterprise-minded CEO, Schmidt is well-groomed for pushing Google Apps."
"But Page cut his teeth on the consumer cloth, which raises questions about the future of the company effectively marketing Google Apps for businesses. Google's slip here would make Microsoft, with its enterprise clout, the prohibitive favorite for cloud collaboration software."
Google Apps isn't struggling per se, but it's not exactly lighting up the sales charts. Girouard and his team have, quite impressively, tacked on 1 million business customers a year since the product's inception as a business platform in February 2007.
I don't care if those are two-person or 10,000-seat shops; they're businesses who have opted to go with a company that had no real enterprise track record. As in, they eschewed the Microsoft and IBM on-premise collaboration software leviathans to take a chance on the cloud.
I think Girouard has done a great job, but I'm not sold Page cares terribly how well Google Apps sells for businesses at $50 per user, per year. And I don't think Page is looking back at Microsoft; instead, he is likely to focus on Apple and especially Facebook.
I'm not saying Page will blow up Google Apps, but I believe that Google Apps is, more than ever, susceptible to market- and mind-share loss to Microsoft.
The software giant's Office 365 cloud collaboration platform is polished and is certainly attractive to businesses and government agencies, as we've seen from the recent shenanigans with the Department of Interior, which seemed to have blatantly ignored Google in favor of Microsoft.
Note to Google Apps guys: Win or lose the software discrimination lawsuit, it's never good when you have to sue the government for failing to look in your direction as an agency simply embraces Microsoft's legacy cachet.
While the experience must be harrying for Girouard and Schmidt, I'm quite sure Page isn't losing sleep over it. He probably wouldn't think it such a terrible thing if Google Apps were used only in house ad finitum.
That's got to be terrifying for a chief information officer, a CIO whose job is to evaluate computing technologies that will support his knowledge workers collaboration needs.
Sure, Google Apps is fine now. It's been evolving with several hooks into Microsoft Office to make sure users can seamlessly use their Word documents in Google's cloud and such.
But going forward, how the hell is the CIO supposed to trust a company led by a guy who clearly disdains business meetings?
I'm not saying existing paid customers are polishing the deck chairs on the Titanic, but if I'm mulling whether to go with Google Apps over Office 365, I'm thinking Office 365 is looking mighty good right now.