Down from the clouds over Google comes an apps cornucopia that stores your digital data and a whole lot more. While search remains its terrific cash cow, Google has greatly expanded its business-oriented connectivity platform. The recently announced Google Apps Marketplace is not like the army of apps developed for smartphones (www.google.com/enterprise/marketplace/home). The greatest number of those phone apps are for games and entertainment. While many smartphone apps are very useful for business support, Google apps are focused in a nonlinear, multiuser direction. These apps are connected to data created through multiple programs inside Google's cloud architecture. This linkage can be for one individual or for everyone in the company.
Cloud computing is the 21st-century version of what an earlier generation called time sharing. Using any interactive application requires a keyboard, display, and a communications connection to get through the internet to the cloud. The aforementioned time sharing did this with dumb terminals and telephone modems-and it was a whole lot slower.
People who will immediately benefit from the apps platform range from individuals to small office, home office (SOHO) and the world of small to medium-sized businesses (SMB). Starting with Google's own suite of applications, Gmail, Calendar, and Docs, 50 vendors have announced applications available in the Apps Marketplace for business-from accounting to mailing lists to task management. The applications integrate with Google Apps using open protocols. Many are well-known, such as Intuit and Survey Monkey; others are in the process of becoming known, such as MailChimp and Zoho. (See Google's blog announcement at http://googleenterprise.blogspot.com/2010/03/more-great-apps-for-google-apps.html.)
According to Google, more than 25 million customers are using Google Apps today. While some are using the systems for personal needs, there are also more than 2 million entities-companies, not-for-profits, school districts, etc. Most customers use the free standard edition. Existing Google suite users have already uploaded a lot of their files and documents to the Google cloud. This includes names, addresses, and documents created with other vendors' word processing programs, either in their original format or converted to PDF, RTF, and TXT.
In addition to the Standard edition, you can upgrade to a Premier Edition. This upgrade, at $50/year/user, provides a significant increase to storage space from 7GB to 25GB, the ability to use your own site's domain name for Gmail, and first-in-line support options. For a business, this upgrade should be an easy decision. Individual users may like some of the customizable features, and the $50/year represents just a few cups of coffee. Premier users can install tools to assist with the transfer of documents, messages, and contacts to their Google platforms.
It is clear that Google is targeting all computing platforms currently supported by stand-alone computers and companywide servers. Microsoft is not dozing while all this activity is going on at Google and Apple. Since the 1980s, Microsoft has created and expanded its own cash cow, its Office applications suite. The new, better-than-ever version, Office 2010, is due out in June 2010. Business users will be able to acquire the programs a month earlier.
A strong indicator that Microsoft is awake is its recent announcement about the all-new, completely redesigned smartphone operating system, Windows Mobile 7, which includes the Microsoft version of cloud-based Office Apps. These light versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote will be free. If the light version does not provide enough features for your use, you will have to decide whether to upgrade to the full Office 2010 suite.
The Mobile 7 operating system is completely new. Microsoft has built this platform to integrate features from its Office programs to Xbox LIVE, to Zune, and extending to an integration with social networking tools. The first phones set up with Mobile 7 are forecast to appear in fall 2010.
A key difference between Google Apps and Microsoft Office is Google's capability to access all data from any program. Google's universal navigation bar will be added to your browser to provide one-click access for login and then access to every application in your cloud.
This single-point access is called "contextual integration." When one app needs data stored elsewhere, the data can be accessed across your cloud and displayed in the correct context. A sales invoice is a simple example. Currently, with separate applications for customer relationship management (CRM) and accounting, names and addresses will have been added to each database separately. Names or addresses may not be the same from one program to the other. With contextual integration, all names and addresses reside in one database. When the sales invoice is processed, the app reaches across the cloud to pull in whatever address and coding data is needed. The result is less duplication of data entry and more cost-effective processing. (The diagram highlights the interactive flow for each Google App.)
Here are a few highlights about Google Apps:
- Accessible from any computing device-desktop, laptop, phone
- Premier users can host up to 25GB of storage per user
- Archived messages indexed to be located quickly
- Premier enables rebranding Gmail address to use your own domain name
- Calendars can be shared across the company to provide synchronization for all employees
- Ability to schedule resources and manage meeting agendas
- Company event schedules can be entered and synched with everyone
- Storing documents does not require conversion to a Google format
- Documents, spreadsheets, and presentations can be edited by simultaneous users
- Previous document versions can be retrieved when needed
- Groups can be assigned to a specific set of files and folders for collaboration
- Grouping can include project teams, departments, or the whole company
- Each group can set access rules to share lists, calendars, docs, sites, and videos
- Websites can be designed and built with templates or your own code
- Each company's intranet can set its own privacy controls
- Groups can build their own site to coordinate and share work
- Company-owned or company-created videos can be stored and are accessible
- Videos will have the same access controls available to docs
- Good way to support viewing of training videos
Should you use Google Apps and will you use Google Apps are separate questions. First and foremost on everyone's mind is that your data is somewhere outside your control. The security and backup protection available from Google or Microsoft is probably much stronger than what you currently have on your computer systems. So make your choice based on what works best for you and your organization. As you plan for your growing technology needs, Google Apps has to be part of any "cloudy" conversation.