Despite Google Sites, Apps Lags IBM, Microsoft

News analysis: Google Sites will raise Apps' profile, but the suite needs key ingredients, such as offline access and workflow capabilities, analysts say.

By most analyst accounts, Google Sites is quite the product for building Web sites. Nucleus Research analyst Rebecca Wettemann said she built a Web site in a half hour using the new publishing tool.

Google Sites is the JotSpot wiki application overhauled and Googleized for our Web-site building pleasure.

Google Sites Product Manager Scott Johnston, who helped build JotSpot, told eWEEK that Sites barely resembles the JotSpot wiki application it is built on because it has been rewritten from the ground up with Google components to look like a Google App.

However, while the application may raise Google Apps' profile as a collaboration software suite, Google Apps still lags behind rivals Microsoft and IBM in some key ways.

Forrester Research analyst Erica Driver told eWEEK that even with Google Sites, Google Apps is still limited compared to IBM Lotus Quickr and Microsoft SharePoint platforms.

Driver said these other suites include an abundance of functionality in key areas such as basic content services, collaboration, communication, social computing tools, portal services, office productivity tools, and what we think of as "business intelligence for the masses."

Moreover, Apps lacks secondary functionality such as search, information rights management, business process management and informal learning, she said.

AMR Research analyst Jim Murphy agreed, and made the case that the evolution of Google Apps, particularly with Sites, is not unlike the bridge between the functionality in Microsoft Office and SharePoint.

"In Office, [Microsoft] had developed personal productivity capabilities in separate standby applications (basically word processing, spreadsheets, presentation) plus e-mail and messaging," Murphy told eWEEK. "SharePoint ties everything together and makes Office more of a group or even enterprise productivity application by enabling collaboration."

He also said there's still a question of whether Google Apps can act as a true platform for companies because of certain hindrances to adopting across the enterprise. Specifically, he said that while Google is working to usher in offline support for Apps, it might be difficult to do for every function that they're introducing.

Moreover, if Apps is to become a true platform, it has to be easier to customize or integrate to suit specific company and partner needs, such as enterprise applications like ERP and CRM, he said.

The final blow, in Murphy's opinion? Google Sites has no workflow. "They're going to have to find a simple way to introduce that. But it's a challenge to keep a concept like workflow simple."

Regardless of the holes that need filling, Driver said Google Sites will increase the attractiveness of Google Apps to individuals and project teams, or people who need access to such functionality and aren't getting it from their corporate IT departments.

"In 2008, we will probably start to see some large organizations adopt Google Apps for some subset of their work-force population," Driver said. "And Google's presence in the enterprise will grow from there through viral adoption."

Murphy said Google has an advantage over IBM and Microsoft in providing Apps as a platform native to the Web.

His argument is that by starting on the Web, Apps had a sort of collaborative appeal in the first place, so features like shared calendars, wikis and document collaboration are part of the initial value proposition, whereas most of the Microsoft and IBM customer have to grow into that way of thinking.