Feb 23, 2007 (07:02 PM EST)
Google Business Apps Shows The Changing Battle For Workers' Desktops
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
With the launch of a more business-friendly version of its online productivity applications last week, Google joins Microsoft and IBM in a newly energized competition for office workers' attention.
Google's new offering--Google Apps Premier Edition--features online e-mail, calendaring, messaging, and voice applications, as well as a word processor and spreadsheet. It includes APIs to facilitate integration with a business' other applications, and it lets businesses create a customized home page for single sign-on to all apps. Google's charging $50 a year per employee for the service, including 10 Gbytes of storage for ad-free Gmail, service-level agreements for 99.9% uptime, and 24/7 tech support.
To see why Google has a chance in this market--as well as problems still to solve--look no further than SF Bay Pediatrics, a San Francisco clinic operator. Its staffers tend to share documents using mailboxes, of the wooden and plastic variety. They communicate with physicians outside the clinic by fax. But in December, CIO Andrew Johnson signed up for a trial of Google's online productivity and collaboration tools, and workers dived right in. Among other things, physicians affiliated with the clinic are using the online Google Docs in wiki-like fashion--posting data about new flu vaccines and the like that can be revised and updated by colleagues. "I was surprised at how quickly everyone picked up on this," says Johnson, speaking over the din of screaming babies.
However, there's a big exception when it comes to sensitive information. Because Google's is a hosted service, SF Bay Pediatrics doesn't plan to use it to transmit any documents with patient information governed by HIPAA regulations. In those cases, it'll continue using faxes and other means.
The 2.0 Effect
Microsoft and IBM are attacking this applications market in different ways. Earlier this month, IBM launched Open Client Solution, a hodgepodge of software programs assembled into a desktop suite that can run atop Linux, Windows, or Mac OS. It can include most Lotus Notes and Domino offerings, a free word processor based on the OpenDocument Format, the Firefox Web browser, and Red Hat or Novell Linux operating systems. IBM says it's a response to demand for new desktop options. "Organizations are pulling for this kind of technology; it's not a push on our part," says Ken Bisconti, VP of Lotus products.
Microsoft unveiled Office 2007 in January, placing more emphasis on integration with frequently used business applications such as Siebel CRM. It has enhanced its SharePoint collaboration tools. The upgrades were meant to let companies "create a familiar interface to end users that's a gateway to the back-end infrastructure," says Kirk Gregersen, director of Microsoft's Office team.
Far less convincing as a business option is Microsoft's Office Live Web software. Products available under Office Live include Web design tools; a Web hosting service; e-mail, calendaring, and online collaboration tools; and a contact manager. "We're enhancing its capabilities every day and always looking at new tools we can introduce," Gregersen says. But at $39.95 per month, the premium Office Live edition is considerably pricier than the Premier Edition of Google Apps. And it lacks Google Apps' all-in-one packaging. Microsoft "has yet to make clear to the business audience what it's doing" with Office and the related Windows Live, says Nucleus Research analyst Rebecca Wettemann. "Until then, companies are not going to look seriously at that."
Price will be the biggest selling point of the Google Apps released last week. Microsoft doesn't publish volume licensing prices for the Enterprise Edition of Office 2007, but the price of a standalone copy of the Professional Edition is $499. Because Google's apps are Web-based, companies also can save on support, Wettemann says. At $50 a license, she notes, "you could buy 1,600 Google Apps licenses for the cost of one IT worker."
For GE, the appeal is less about cost and more about easy access to a suite of Web applications, CTO Gregory Simpson said in a statement. P&G, which is also testing Google Apps, is one of the biggest customers of Microsoft's collaborative apps, with a planned rollout to more than 100,000 employees that includes Office, Outlook, and the SharePoint collaboration portal. These aren't companies looking to skimp on functions to save a few dollars. But both would surely welcome another legitimate rival when it comes time to renegotiate contracts.
Google Apps looks like "a great bargain" to Camden Daily, technology director at Prudential Preferred Properties, a Chicago real estate agency affiliated with Prudential Insurance. Staffers and dozens of affiliated agents are using the Google productivity software. "Most agents aren't in the office a lot, so Web-based tools are the perfect way to go," Daily says.
But Google's success in the business productivity software market isn't a lock. Sun's StarOffice and other low-cost office suites with well-heeled backers were touted as Microsoft killers, only to fade. For one thing, Microsoft's Excel is entrenched. Even though Google promises that its Spreadsheet is compatible with Excel files, even converts like Daily aren't about to mess with their Excel backbone. "We have so many Excel documents we'd have concerns about how well things would translate," he says. And most Google apps, including Spreadsheet, can't be used offline unless the data is downloaded to a third-party program, such as Excel or an open source offering.
Google also isn't immune to the security flaws that drive Microsoft users batty. Last week, it came to light that Google Desktop--a collection of downloadable search software and gadgets--is vulnerable to remote attacks that give hackers control of a user's computer. Google issued a patch, but a major security breach in Google Apps could shake the faith of early adopters.
To address some of its shortfalls, Google is partnering with other companies. For $9.95 more per user a year, Postini will provide SEC-friendly e-mail filtering and archiving services. Avaya plans to layer its enterprise-class voice-over-IP tools over Google Apps to create an integrated data and communications offering. "We're giving that a close look," Daily says.
Still, a Web architecture may not work for large, highly regulated companies that require tight control over data, even with partnerships with the likes of Postini, says Wettemann. At SF Bay Pediatrics, CIO Johnson says he's working with Google to address the clinic's regulatory concerns about the online productivity applications.
Google has its problems to solve. But it's also likely to have created a few new ones for the likes of Microsoft and IBM as they all jostle for center stage on workers' desktops.
Illustration by Ryan Etter