Google Opens Collaboration Cloud to Teams

Google nuzzles up to team collaboration with a version of Google Apps that competes with Microsoft Live Workspace and IBM's Lotus Quickr suites.

Sharing documents and files with coworkers through Google Apps may be a fine alternative to collaboration software from Microsoft and IBM. But IT departments have still had to configure the apps so groups of users can share them more easily.

Google is changing that to enable easier team collaboration in the cloud by releasing Google Apps Team Edition Feb. 7.

The software lets users share Google Docs word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, Calendars, and Talk instant messaging and VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) without requiring IT staffs to verify valid domains, Google Enterprise Senior Product Manager Rajen Seth told eWEEK.

Previously, if multiple groups within a company were using Docs, it was difficult for them to discover each other. Apps Team Edition breaks down these barriers, Seth said.

Apps Team Edition lets users go to their start page and use their e-mail address to validate their business or school, similar to the way users would log on to Facebook or another social network. The software keeps track of employees' work e-mail addresses, informs workers about who else from that domain is also enrolled, and then lets workers share based on their work domain.

"For example, if I want to go and share a document with you, I can see all of the people within my company that have Google Docs and can easily find out if I can share a document with you," Seth said.

Coworkers or classmates can then work on the same document, spreadsheet or presentation instead of e-mailing changes in multiple copies of the same attachment; publish documents and calendars for the team to access; and access information from any computer or Web-based mobile phone.

IDC analyst Melissa Webster said Apps Team Edition extends the value of Apps beyond the Standard consumer edition, which requires users who want to share documents to indicate who they're sharing with and how for each document. It's also an alternative to Google Apps for Your Domain, in which teams can collaborate once IT migrates company e-mail to Google's servers.

"What if you don't want to change e-mail servers [and move to Google's e-mail]?" Webster asked eWEEK. "That's a bit cumbersome when you want to collaborate with a more routine group, as on team projects."

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With Apps Team Edition, Google is also getting up to speed with suites from rivals Microsoft and IBM. All three vendors are slugging it out for share in the multibillion-dollar collaboration software market.

Forrester Research analyst Erica Driver said the move helps Google provide team collaboration on par with Microsoft's Live WorkSpace and IBM's Lotus Quickr suites.

"This is something that's really important for teams and productivity, and it was missing, so it's great to have this as part of the suite," Driver said.

Like Google Apps Standard and Apps Education Edition, Apps Team Edition is free, though businesses and universities can switch to the Standard and Education editions, or even the $50-per-user-per-year Premier paid edition, if they desire.

Full administrative control is offered for those editions, including the ability for IT managers to set default sharing options, pick which applications are available on the network or decide who has access.