Will the Enterprise Go for Googles Apps?

Technology executives are lukewarm on Google's chances to upend Microsoft's Office and Live products.

Googles plan to offer a bundle of hosted office applications sparks a lot of talk about the search giants chances of upending Microsofts Office juggernaut, but leaves one question unanswered: Will enterprise customers give Google a chance?

On Monday, Google announced Google Apps for Your Domain, a set of ad-supported communications tools such as Google Talk, Calendar and Gmail, to target small businesses that dont want to install and maintain software.

This initial volley, which analysts say is targeted more at upending Microsofts Windows Live plans, is expected to become part of an escalating battle between Google and Microsoft.

But if Google is really going to make a dent in Microsofts Office, it will need to win the medium to large-sized enterprises.

How the company plans to do that remains to be seen. In a statement, Google says its target market was everything from family Web sites and community groups to nonprofits and small businesses to universities and large enterprises.

As for the latter, Google says it will create a premium ad-free version "for organizations with more advanced needs" with details on features and functionality "coming soon."

Technology executives say Google may be onto something, but they note it will take a lot to get them to move away from Office. Among the questions that need to be resolved:

  • Will large companies trust Google with their data? Answer: Some technology executives raised privacy concerns, but most, like Mike Doan, Webmaster at Red Octane, a game developer, say worries are overblown.
  • What are the costs to migrate users, say 5,000 of them, to a new platform? Answer: Unknown, but executives worry about migration, integration and training costs involved with ditching Microsofts Office.
  • How reliable will Googles service be in terms of uptime? Some executives said offline access is a concern as it is with many software as a service models.

"I just dont see a major move away from Office to save a few bucks," says John Webster, Chief Strategy Officer for Certus Managed Hosting Solutions.

Part of the challenge for Google is that Microsofts Office suite works well as it is, said Webster.

"To make a switch, youd need a business case and youd have to consider retraining, migrating to a hosted environment and stability levels," says Webster.

According to Webster, Google faces the same inertia challenge as Sun Microsystems StarOffice effort—or any other rival—when it comes to upending Microsoft Office, a standard that technology managers are generally comfortable with.

"Ask Sun Micro how it is to take on Windows Office. Office is the default standard," says Webster.

That take wasnt hard to find. "We wouldnt be interested in Googles plan for the same reason we dont buy in to Microsofts Web app plan," says Marc Cote, a network manager for Terracon, a engineering firm based in Lenexa, Kan. "Productivity software needs to work even when you dont have connectivity."

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