Editorial comment – Diversity Blogs is a proponent of the move to SaaS and in-the-clouds software provision. Daniel Fowlie has a business implementing some of these services and to this and we asked him to write about Google apps deployment. While Daniel provides the service and his post can be seen as something advertorial – it’s worthwhile to give readers an idea of what is available out there. That disclaimer made, read on…

When Google announced Gmail on April 1 2004 many thought it to be an April Fools joke. The web based email service offered a whopping 1 gigabyte of storage while competitors like Yahoo and Microsoft’s Hotmail offered just a few megabytes. However it was no joke and through acquisitions and inhouse development Google has built up a suite a products that make for an attractive SaaS offering to SME’s.

The offering now consists of email, calendar, instant messaging, word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. The suite offers all the classic SaaS advantages, no upfront costs, no hardware to purchase and maintain, and a free or low cost subscription model that can be cancelled at anytime.

The obvious comparison is Microsoft Office. Google’s email and calendar product does not lag too far behind those of Microsoft’s Exhange Server and Outlook client and has the advantages of Gmail’s innovative interface and removing the need for an inhouse server. Google’s productivity tools are still well behind the feature rich Office tools of Word, Excel and Powerpoint, however for small businesses whose needs are simple Google’s trio offers a cheaper alternative to Microsoft’s cash cow.

Users can take up the Google offering through a variety of editions.

Standard Google Account
Signing up for a standard Gmail account gives access to all of the mentioned services plus many more like Google Reader, Picasa Web Albums and iGoogle. The services are free but with your email on the gmail domain this is a service for individuals not businesses.

Google Apps Standard Edition
Googles move into the business allows you to use your own domain ([email protected]) with the suite of products mentioned. The service allows you to setup up to 100 users and is free. The only cost is that of the domain name. Some technical knowhow is required to direct mail for your domain to Google’s servers.

Google Apps Team Edition
Released just last week Team Edition assumes you’ve already got your inhouse email solution sorted out. It allows you to create accounts with business email address and use Google’s productivity tools to collaborate with other members from your team. It’s free and requires no help from the IT department.

Google Apps Premier Edition
An enhanced version of Standard Edition that attracts an annual fee of US$50 per user which is nothing if you look at it as roughly $1 per week. For the cost users get 25 Gb of storage, API access for features like Single Sign On, advanced message routing and security, plus a 99.9% uptime guarantee.

Google Apps is a very attractive offering for any new business which provides a very robust email and calendar solution. For productivity it provides a no risk alternative which businesses can trial and later move to MS Office should they require more features. Expect to see Google continue to add more and more features over the coming months and years. Within 2-3 years I expect we’ll be at an interesting convergence where Google has enhanced it’s offering to be a viable replacement and Microsoft will have created a decent SaaS version of Office. An interesting battle lies ahead.

Daniel’s company Trineo Ltd offer help to businesses looking to get setup with Google Apps. Find out more here.

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