Google's Unified Communications Play Starts with Gmail

Google Apps Product Manager Rajen Sheth denies any clandestine strategy to help Google Apps steal share from messaging and collaboration software rivals Microsoft, IBM and Cisco. But new voice and video chat in Gmail say otherwise and position Google Apps as a serious unified communications and collaboration suite for cloud computing in the enterprise.

When Google launched voice and video chat for Gmail Nov. 11 it threw a new dimension into the Web mail application used by more than 50 million users.
What started as a basic compose/send/receive Web mail application in 2004 is looking more like Microsoft SharePoint than it is Microsoft Outlook or Windows Live Hotmail.
Microsoft loyalists will laugh at this proposition and for good reason. By Google's own admission, Gmail lacks the bells and whistles of SharePoint, that granular functionality that makes the application so endearing to CIOs who have to satiate the appetites of collaboration-hungry knowledge workers.
But adding voice and video chat to Gmail, effectively dropping its own lightweight version of Skype into a Web-based messaging system, is sure to fill the tanks of some businesses, even if they are smaller than the multi-thousand tenant SharePoint or IBM Lotus shops.
eWEEK pointed out as much to Rajen Sheth, senior product manager for Google Apps, during an interview about Gmail voice and video chat recently. Web mail is changing, evolving, and Google appears to be driving it.
However, Sheth also denied Google is going after IBM Lotus Sametime, SharePoint or Cisco WebEx Connect, and is really just trying to upgrade the messaging capabilities in its mail platform.
The key difference, Sheth noted, is that Google is delivering its brand of unified communications through a Web browser, which he said hasn't been done well at all in the industry yet. Voice and video chat in Gmail signals Google Apps, with Gmail at its core, as the new unified communications and collaboration rival.
But is there some grandmaster plan to sneak in through the backdoor of IT shops and poach SharePoint, Lotus and Cisco customers with Google Apps? Sheth, like other Google Apps executives in his group, denied this. Sheth explained:

One of the hallmarks of Google is the concept of incremental delivery and not necessarily trying to anticipate three years in advance what a consumer or an enterprise customer would want, but develop as if we're having a dialog with our end user. A lot of this came out of that.