Google Launches Communications Bundle for SMBs

Taking another step intoMicrosoft territory,Google on Monday launched Google Apps for Your Domain, a set of free hosted applications targeting small- to mid-sized businesses.

The software allows users to send e-mail through Google’s Web-based Gmail service that displays the company’s domain name. The communications bundle also includes Calendar, an online collaborative calendar tool; Talk, Google’s instant messaging software; and Page Creator, a Web page-building application.

Customizing for Convenience

Google is hoping the lure of no installation and no maintenance will be attractive to small businesses.

Information technology managers can customize the Google Apps for Your Domain interface with their own branding and color scheme and tailor the service to their needs by mixing and matching the e-mail, messaging, calendaring and other tools.

Domain administrators use a simple Web-based control panel to manage their user account list, set up aliases and distribution lists, and enable the services they want for their domain. End users with accounts that have been set up by their administrator browse to customized log-in pages on any Web-connected computer.

The service is scalable, but the control panel is currently available only in English. Google said it is currently working to make the service available to administrators in additional languages.

The Microsoft Question

“This is another Google software initiative which appears to be competitive with Microsoft,” Sterling Marketing Intelligence Principal Analyst Greg Sterling told TechNewsWorld. “It’s really unclear how deeply this will penetrate into the enterprise because of IT security concerns with externally hosted applications.”

Sterling, for one, sees any comparison to Microsoft Office at this stage as premature. Neither Google’s spreadsheet software nor its Writely word processor software is part of the new bundle.

“It’s hard to imagine that ultimately Google won’t put together some sort of Office-like bundle of tools, but how far off that is, and how robust those tools are, and how well it competes with Microsoft is not apparent,” Sterling noted.

Building Relationships

Google could, however, make headway in the small business market. Creating some marketing buzz around these preexisting tools is a low-cost way to introduce small business users to Google’s non-search services. That could lead to greater use of the search engine and its AdWords program.

“The more you use Google, the more you use Google,” Sterling remarked. “If you are tied into Calendar, and if you are using Talk, then that’s going to reinforce the likelihood that you are going to use Google as a search engine.”

Long-Term Plans

Over time, Google said it will offer versions of Google Apps for Your Domain that are oriented toward the needs of a variety of organizations, from family Web sites and community groups to nonprofits and small businesses, as well as universities, large enterprises and ISPs.

While the standard edition is free as a beta product — complete with 2 gigabytes of e-mail storage for each user — Google is also developing a premium version of the product with more advanced features. The firm promised that additional details and pricing information would be available soon.

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