At first glance, Google Apps appears to be nothing too revolutionary.
The product, which won Datamation’s Product of the Year award in the Enterprise Email category, is a grab bag of personal productivity software. It includes the popular Gmail email service, a calendar tool, an instant messaging feature, word processing and office apps, and Web design software.
Take a closer at this package, however, and you realize it has real rock-the-boat potential.
Google Apps is completely Web-based. Unlike the “old days” (which we’re actually still living in), when most software was installed on your hard drive, this package is hosted remotely. Users log in to their programs over the Internet, so the software is maintained and upgraded by someone else (in this case, Google). No fuss, no muss. No need to go out and buy next year’s release.
In other words, Google Apps brings software-as-a-service (SaaS) to the desktop. SaaS, that much ballyhooed trend that promises to completely remake the software business, is now being promoted to mainstream desktop consumers. And not promoted by a small vendor who’s new to the world of SaaS, but promoted by the goliath Google, the search giant with a global footprint.
If we do indeed move to a world dominated by SaaS, software historians will look back and point to the launch of Google Apps as a key turning points.
One of the companies using Google Apps is Rock Kitchen Harris, a UK-based advertising and Web design agency.
Prior to using Apps, “We had a Windows 2000 box stashed away under a desk running a mail server,” says Paul Sculthorpe, the company’s senior Web developer.
“The server died. Luckily, we had already tired of our bloated server and bloated backup files, and our Google Apps Beta invite arrived the same week the server died. It was a sign to change!”
The switch to Apps has been a good one, he tells Datamation.
“It’s taken a lot of headache and wasted time out of managing our small internal IT systems,” he says. “We have a suite of really useful tools that we can access from anywhere, that take little or no knowledge to set up, and are quick and simple to use.”
Oh, and Microsoft?
The other factor that turns Google Apps from merely an innocuous software package to a game changer is how squarely it takes aim at Microsoft. The Premier Edition of Google Apps matches Microsoft’s array of office software on an almost tool-for -tool basis. (Google Apps’ most obvious deficiency is lack of a PowerPoint-like tool.)
Any doubt that Google is gunning for Microsoft’s market share is eliminated by looking at a Google page that touts Apps’ features. “Forget Word and Excel attachments,” proclaims the product literature, “Instead of emailing your colleagues a Word or Excel attachment, just invite them to view your document or spreadsheet online.”
But getting Microsoft customers to defect won’t be so easy, despite Google Apps’ modest price of $50 per year for each user account. For plenty of power users, the functionality of Google Apps isn’t yet on par with Microsoft’s flagship Office.
But that is actually part of Google’s strategy, Nucleus Research analyst Rebecca Wettemann tells Datamation.
“Rather than take the IT focus, which is where Microsoft came from, and saying ‘Let’s get as much functionality into every product as we can,’ they’re saying, ‘How do we make this as intuitive for the user as possible?’”
She notes that most users don’t use most of the advanced functionality of Excel and Word.
“Given where the culture’s going with high speed Internet access, with people actually having access to technology on a consumer basis that they didn’t have a few years ago, that’s the way the office environment should be as well – it should be as easy to use and intuitive as possible.”
Not that Google Apps, however pared down, doesn’t offer serious competition to Microsoft Office.
“This is a clear challenge to Microsoft on the desktop. And unlike the challenge to the browser that Netscape lost, Google is already on the desktop with most enterprise users today,” she says.
Regard the momentum of Google Apps, and its challenge to Microsoft, Wettemann asks, “Is this the fall of the Spanish Aramada? It may well be.”