news / tech talk

Google Apps

by Lee LeClair
As seen in Inside Tucson Business

You may have heard about Microsoft’s recent attempt to acquire Yahoo! for an estimated $44 Billion. The offer included a stock purchase at well above the current stock price. Financial and media pundits speculate that MS is looking to gain on Google in whom they see their primary competitive threat. In spite of considerable investment, most market figures indicate that MS Live and other online efforts have less than 10% of the online market in terms of search, free email services, etc.

It has always been interesting to me that MS, which makes the majority of its revenue from non-network-centric products like the Windows Operating Systems and Office products, is convinced of the need to dominate in the online space as well. In that space today, Google is the clear leader, outperforming even other long-time online veterans like Yahoo!. When I heard that Google had launched an online application service, I was curious if they were staging an onslaught against the MS crown jewels (Office).

I searched for googleapps (using Google) and was soon checking out the options. One can use the service for free under a “friends and family” license or pay a license fee for business use. Under the “friends and family” service, I elected to buy a domain name ($10/year) and setup the service though one can use an existing domain name as well. Once established with a domain name, I was able to create up to 200 users accounts for my domain with email accounts (at ~6.4GB of space per account) and administer multiple functions from a dashboard page. These provide the most commonly requested services that a small business or family website would want: email accounts, web pages, file services, chat services, calendar services, file sharing services, and web-based office etc.

Of these, the web-based office is the most interesting in that Google provides applications that mirror MS Office functions like a word processor, a spreadsheet program, and a slide application. I have only tried rudimentary functions so far and I am certain that all of the features of MS suite are not present, but most of the basics are there. There is an ability to save created files in multiple formats including MS Office 2003 file formats. Of course a key feature is that all of this is possible entirely through a web interface (either Internet Explorer or Firefox) so you have access to all of these apps from virtually any PC.

Is it enough to toss out your MS software at work? I honestly do not know enough yet; certainly corporate decisions of that weight should not be made quickly. What I can say is that it’s good enough that your kids can probably use it to do most of their projects and you can meet most of your home-based office requirements easily enough. Really, it’s the combination of these office applications in a totally web-based system with email, file storage, file sharing, etc. that makes the package attractive. Google essentially takes on the role of system administrator and infrastructure provider at a basic level. It’s advisable to do your own backups but a lot of overhead and cost is assumed by Google in this model. Finally, as MS clamps down on piracy with new versions of its software, I believe these types of solutions will become more prevalent as people weigh their needs against real cost. Ease of access to bootleg software has actually assisted in proliferating MS software usage, helping to create a dependency on MS software. Once a real cost is attached to use of the software, there is a lot more incentive to “re-evaluate” one’s real business needs even if it means foregoing some familiarity or features.

Lee Le Clair is the CTO at Ephibian. His Tech Talk column appears the third week of each month in Inside Tucson Business