Back to School with Google Apps

Google yesterday hosted an event on its campus to announce that a handful of universities will launch Google Apps Education Edition on their campuses.

University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Clemson University, University of Texas at San Antonio, Kennesaw State University and Arkansas State University will now be using Google's Web-based applications, including Gmail accounts for students, on their university domains.

It's only five schools in the early going. But that's still thousands of students and faculty members having the opportunity to use Google Apps.

I'm hard-pressed to find a better grassroots-ish way for Google to get more traction for its collaboration software. Most students in today's universities grew up with this new Web 2.0 way of doing word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, calendaring, etc. They are blogging and using wikis. Those students will be comfortable with Google's Web-based flavors.

With this latest play, Google is cutting in on a resource that Microsoft and even Apple used to rise to power. When I was in college, universities inked contracts with Apple for Macs, or IBM, Dell, HP and Compaq, among others, for Windows-based machines and Office software.

That's still largely the case, but now students at these five schools may choose to use Web-based applications from Google. Students can compose their papers on Google Docs instead of Microsoft Word and use Gmail instead of Microsoft Hotmail or Yahoo Mail.

That doesn't mean they will, but they have the choice. That's good for Google.

Google's move into colleges may have some residual effects, too. Some students who graduate and go on to find employment may eventually determine what productivity software their staffs use.

Google's software distribution pact with Sun may fortify its move into the enterprise now, but its infiltration into the coed and faculty ranks may pay fine dividends in the future.