I have been using Google Apps since August now … and I think its very cool. But the best thing is the Google API. For example we are developing a FREE open source "business application platform" (think salesforce.com). Our first application is working tightly integrated with GOOGLE APPS. http://www.applicationexchange.com.
More Online Collaboration Less Microsoft Office: Google Apps Premier Edition
Small Business Rejoyce! More Online Collaboration + Less Microsoft Office = Google Apps Premier Edition. As the leading alternative to Microsoft Office the new Google Apps Premier has the keys to open up the gates to organization-wide online collaboration.
Google announced yesterday the release of new premier edition of its Google Apps online collaboration suite, combining GMail, Google Talk, Google Calendar. Google Page Creator, Google Startpage and Google Docs and Spreadsheets into a hosted subscription service. With 10GB of webmail storage, 24/7 tech support and a promise of 99.9% uptime, this looks set to be a valuable tool for those looking for a reliable online collaboration solution.
While the service doesn't as yet feature a PowerPoint presentation style application, Google Apps Premier edition may well pose a challenge to Microsoft's Office suite, and will be sure to have shaken up the people behind the similarly featured Zoho Office. Given that a years subscription to the service costs a mere $50.00 per user, and features the capability to use your own custom domain, with connected user accounts, this is certainly an affordable alternative to existing office collaboration and communications tools.
Being able to store your documents online, and collaborate in real time with colleagues regardless of location are just two of the benefits of switching to a web based office solution, and while until now reliability has been one source of concern, the promise of 99.9% uptime and solid tech-support will be richly appreciated by enterprise users. This alone could be enough to convert those companies that were previously sitting on the fence, bringing them over to a web-based approach to getting problems solved and tasks completed.
But what are the other features that make this premier edition different from the already available free standard edition, and how does Google Apps hold up against the competition?
In this overview of Google Premier I give you a full rundown of the new service characteristics and key differences with the basic edition.
Google Apps has expanded its offering since its earlier incarnation, rolling several of Google's newer services together with its already established line-up. The applications you get when you sign up for either the Premier or Standard accounts are fundamentally the same, although there are some differences, as discussed below.
When you log into Google Apps, you now have access to:
- Gmail - Google's popular online email client offers 2GB of storage in its Standard edition, and in the new Premier edition now offers 10GB. The application can be run from mobile phones and has the capability to aggregate mail from your other non-Google mail accounts.
As you would expect, your Google e-mail is fully searchable. Google's innovative approach to gathering mail exchanges into 'conversations' also makes finding and piecing together discussions a simple prospect.
While ad-supported in its Standard edition, ads are optional in the Premier.
- Google Talk allows for both IM, file-sharing and voice calls. You need to download a simple desktop client to use it, although IM capabilities are now built into the Gmail app too, and can be used without the GTalk client.
While the service usually requires you to login with a Gmail or Google account ID, the Premier edition allows you to use your own domain in the creation of user IDs, further customizing and branding the end-user experience.
- Google Calendar allows you to create online, shareable calendars that can be worked on by a number of users simultaneously for project and time management. Its features include the ability to send reminders of events to your mobile phone, quick calendar sharing with other users (as viewers or collaborators), commenting and discussion on events and full Gmail integration.
The Premier edition offers shared calendar resources.
- Google Page Creator is an online website builder that doesn't require the user to have any knowledge of HTML. Web pages are created using a simple drag and drop interface right from your browser, and then published out to the web.
Both Premier and Standard editions allow access to this service from their administrative control panel, so that web pages can be published directly to your own company registered domain
- Google Start Page allows you to create your own start page, replete with company branding. Selecting from Google's vast range of widgets (known as Google Gadgets it is possible to easily customize functionality to your individual needs.
The Premier and Standard editions give access to your Google Start Page from the administrative control panel, so that company administrators can configure and manage a standardized "start page" for all of their team.
- Google Docs and Spreadsheets comprises of a fully featured spreadsheet and word processor, which add to their typical feature-set the ability to collaborate on documents, in real-time, through your browser. Changes made by collaborators can be seen taking place in real time, and there is also a built in chat applet which allows for quick discussion among team-members.
Team-members can be invited to work together with other staff on selected spreadsheets or text documents. To invite them bulk invitations can be created that can draw directly on your Gmail address book. Should you wish to offer to some team members only the ability to view rather than participate in collaborative document development, there is also the option to invite other users in a "read" rather than a "read / write" capacity.
Beyond the applications themselves, which retain much of their original functionality, whether using a Standard or Premier account, there are a number of unique extra features specific to new type of Premier accounts.
- 99.9% uptime guaranteed for email
- 10GB email storage per premier account user
- The option to remove text-ads from Gmail
- Share calendar resources
- APIs to integrate with your existing infrastructure - which include single sign-on, user provisioning and management and support for your email gateway
- Limited release email migration tools
- 24/7 technical support, including telephone support
- Third-party applications and services
In short, what you pay for is the ability to integrate your existing IT infrastructure with that of the Google Apps suite, alongside the safety net of 24/7 tech support, reliable email uptime and larger storage capacity.
The new offering may provide to be a gold opportunity for small businesses whose needs for stability and security are well below those of a large organization and the cost of entry is indeed very reasonable. In time, it it likely that also a growing number of agile and brave medium-sized organizations will seriously consider moving to Google Apps given the enormous savings in costs that this switch would represent for them.
You can view a detailed simple table of the differences Standard vs. Premier versions of Google Apps.
The control panel
Both Premier and Standard editions benefit from the addition of an administrative control panel which allows for a variety of management functions to be undertaken from any computer.
User account management features include the ability to add, modify and remove users individually or in bulk using a spreadsheet file. It is also possible to set up user-aliases and configure mailing lists from the user management section of the control panel.
As mentioned above, administrators also have the capacity to create custom "start pages" and to create web pages directly from the control panel, which can also be published to whichever corporate or commercial domain they want to.
Furthermore the control panel allows administrators to change the overall look of their Google services, with options to alter the colour scheme, to implement a company logo for branding purposes, and even to customize the web addresses that users will go to when signing in.
Offline, Google Apps main competition comes in the form of Microsoft Office and Open Office, but as neither offer an entirely web-based solution, it would be unfair to compare them too closely. However, Zoho offer a range of options that provide viable alternatives to those being offered by Google, in an online setting.
Zoho's Office Suite features collaborative word processing, spreadsheets, presentation authoring, a wiki and a well-featured notebook, along with their raft of productivity tools which includes also a chat application and online planner.
Zoho also offer a downloadable (WIndows and Linux only) Virtual Office which includes email, document collaboration and calendar functions. Pooled together these mostly free resources match and even exceed Google's Premier plan, but the fundamental difference is that they are not integrated with your existing infrastructure, and work largely independently of one another.
In Google Apps Premier edition's favour there is also:
a) considerably more storage,
b) the 24 /7 tech support (I bet this is going to convince a lot of the undecided to take the plunge.)
Keep in mind though that Zoho does truly offer a great office productivity toolset, and in my view it would only be fair to road-test both of them around your specific needs before taking any final decision. It is also likely that Zoho will respond to Google announcement with its own raft of new additions.
Privacy and security concerns
One of the chief concerns that will halt many of the larger organizations and companies from rushing to place their business into an entirely online environment is that of security. Web applications have progressed a lot in the last year, but there have still been more than a few examples of users private data being exposed, lost entirely, or at least being made temporarily unavailable.
Google have had their fair share of these issues, and TechCrunch compiled a list of their security mishaps late last year. And that's before you even touch on Googlephobia, the belief that Google's intentions are less than pure.
That said, issues of security are not limited to online applications, and anyone that thinks that they are entirely safe while using desktop applications is being more than a little naive.
While Google will have its work cut out to convince users that they can offer a totally secure, reliable service, this will not persuade nor resolve the issues raised by the stringent requirements and well pondered fears of many an IT department.
So, while it may not be too wise for large companies to put all of their high-sensitivity documents out there on the web, for those organizations desiring to give a strong impulse to team collaboration the Google Apps offering seems a tough one to resist.
The Standard edition of the service remains completely free, which, given the feature-set offered is very impressive.
The Premier edition costs $50.00 per year, per user. It includes 24 / 7 technical support (which by itself can cost considerably with similar products and services) and with the addition of the increased storage, guaranteed reliability and open infrastructural integration this is a price that it is very hard to beat.
You can try Google Apps Premier edition for free until April 2007 via Google's free trial. You can sign up from now.
Google has done a great job of incorporating existing services into its Google Apps suite, and tying them nicely together with administrative controls, company branding and user defined domains.
While there are other alternatives out there, most notably Zoho Virtual Office, Google pack some great features into a very affordable package.
The free Standard edition offers plenty of goods for individual users and small companies, but the lure of extra storage, 24 / 7 technical support and increased reliability will be enough to sway many such users to the new Premier edition.
It's a shame that at the time of writing there is no presentation application included, given that the creation and sharing of PowerPoint presentations plays such a prominent role in the corporate world. To truly compete with Microsoft, and fully hold their own against Zoho, this is a facility that will need to be soon integrated by Google.
Also to consider the fact that if Google can clear and quiet down all doubts about privacy, security and reliability issues connected to the use of web applications, this could well be a positive step in the migration from desk-bound workflows to on-the-move, always-on online collaboration tools and work methodologies.
Obvisouly the killer feature that will end any further discussion about web-based apps vs. desktop ones, is the introduction of the "off-line" facility. Yes, the ability for web-based applications to work also while you are offline.
Robin Good, inspired by Ross Mayfield brave announcement, has recently written that this year will be the year you will start to see such features being implemented. While some positive signs have already appeared you need to wait a bit more to judge whether I was right or not.
If you would like to learn more about Google Apps Premier and Standard editions, you might want to check out the following links:
- Google Apps FAQ
- Google Apps website
- Marshall Kirkpatrick's coverage of Google Apps at TechCrunch
- CNET news coverage of the service
- Information Week on Google Apps
- Take a tour of the service
Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media as:
More Online Collaboration Less Microsoft Office: Google Apps Premier Edition
This post try to analyze whether Google Apps can stand out of all the existing email solutions.