Google Sites Launch and Microsoft SharePoint Available via SaaS
The gloves are officially off. Last week, Google announced that it was launching Google Sites to supplement its growing Google Apps product suite (www.google.com/enterprise/apps). Google Sites (www.google.com/a/help/intl/en/users/sites.html) is the integration of JotSpot, a web-based wiki provider that Google purchased more than a year and a half ago. The not-so-subtle goal of Google Sites is to move document creation and collaboration into Google’s ever-growing infrastructure. Not to be outdone, Microsoft’s own Bill Gates announced at the SharePoint Conference this week that it would offer hosted versions of SharePoint (www.microsoft.com/sharepoint) in the second half of this year. This announcement is undoubtedly an effort to halt the momentum of Google Apps in the marketplace.
Google says that more than 500,000 businesses use Google Apps with more than 2,000 new ones signing up every day—impressive numbers to say the least. Microsoft, on its end, boasts that SharePoint will garner more than $1 billion in sales in 2008. The battle for document creation and collaboration is not for small stakes.
While it is hard to see what remains of JotSpot from a look-and-feel standpoint, Google Sites continues the JotSpot tradition of making it easy to collaborate and share information on a webpage. Once the domain of the programmers, wikis allow anyone to post information on a particular topic. Wikis are a great way to manage projects and share information with co-workers (much better than emailing information around that gets forgotten).
According to Dave Girouard, vice president and general manager of enterprise at Google, "Creating a team web site has always been too complicated, requiring dedicated hardware and software as well as programming skills. Now with Google Sites, anyone can create an entirely customized site in minutes and invite others to contribute. We are literally adding an edit button to the web."
Google promotes Google Sites as "one stop for information sharing" with example applications of project management, team websites, and fully hosted intranets. Google Sites integrates nicely with the other Google Apps products, which include email, calendar, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and chat.
Taken as a whole, for the first time, it is possible for an organization to outsource its entire "Office" for $50 per user per year. Google Apps is free to try as a standard edition, but most businesses willing to make the leap to a software as a service (SaaS) intranet will want the premier edition that includes Postini, the high-end email security solution that Google bundles for free.
In Michael Arrington’s blog post (www.techcrunch.com/2008/02/27/it-took-16-months-but-google-relaunches-jotspot), Google’s management director of enterprise Matthew Glotzbach called Google Apps a "Microsoft Sharepoint killer." Google Sites is the glue that will allow users to find and collaborate on documents contained in the Google Apps product suite.
According to Ed Laczynski of LTech Consulting (www.ltech.com), a Google Enterprise Professional, "Google Sites makes Apps a clear alternative to SharePoint for small and medium sized businesses. It is a very easy economic decision for companies. Google Apps is a holistic alternative to Microsoft for collaboration that no other vendor to date has been able to present."
SaaS Finally Comes to SharePoint
Gates announced this week that online versions of Exchange and SharePoint will be available in the second half of 2008. Prices were not disclosed, but Microsoft will offer credit toward the cost of subscribing to the online service edition. In parallel, Microsoft chairman Steve Ballmer announced at the CeBIT conference in Germany that the company will offer applications as online services to businesses.
Microsoft Office SharePoint 2007 Server helps to "connect people, processes, and information." Within one product suite, businesses have the following enterprise services: collaboration, portals, enterprise search, enterprise content management, and business intelligence. SharePoint is a successful product with a heavy marketing penetration and more than $1 billion in sales.
Microsoft will host SharePoint services in Microsoft data centers, which is a major departure from Microsoft’s business model of working with its channel partners to provide services to its customers. Gates also boasted that Microsoft now has more than 2,000 SharePoint integration partners.
In one corner, there is the "upstart" Google Apps that believes in a 100% web-enabled collaboration environment (and in fact, uses it). Google’s DNA forces it to produce services that are web-based, low-cost, rapidly deployed, and advertising-supported. In the other corner, there is Microsoft that has developed the biggest business over the last 20 years selling software that sits inside companies while relying on partners to manage the implementation.
According to Tony Safoian, president of SADA systems (www.sadasystems.com) and a Google Enterprise Partner as well as a certified SharePoint integrator, "Microsoft has finally decided to take SaaS service delivery in its own hands." He feels that the channel conflict problems have handcuffed Microsoft’s entry into the space as in the past, Microsoft would allow partners to host applications if they so chose. He states that its decision to host the applications is a potential major disruption to its basic business model.
According to Steve Arnold, author of Beyond Search (http://arnoldit.com/wordpress), "Google Sites is definitely not SharePoint, nor is it a SharePoint killer. SharePoint has upwards of 65 million users, and it is—whether the users like it or not—going to be with us for long time. SharePoint is complex, requires care and feeding by Microsoft Certified Professionals, and requires a number of other Microsoft server products before it hums."
Microsoft has a major channel problem on its hands that Google does not.
Writing on the Wall
The writing is on the wall concerning the impending switch from enterprise software to SaaS. According to Safoian, recent SharePoint customers who have gone through the process of updating their hardware and software and have paid for the services tell him that they will not go through it again.
While organizations may not be ready to commit to moving all of their business processes outside their organizations now, they are aware of Google Apps and other SaaS solutions. In a down economy, it seems hard to justify the cost, time, and expense (or "footprint") of enterprise software systems.
In-house solutions do not fully acknowledge a distributed and collaborative world. Safoian spoke about the multistep process for an engineer to enable someone outside of an organization to collaborate in the SharePoint environment. Collaboration outside of the organization is handled through a click of the mouse in Google Apps. Microsoft’s announcement is an acknowledgement of this reality.
In just a few years, we will all create documents online that are shareable and collaborative. Whether the winner will be the upstart Google, with hosted applications in its DNA, or Microsoft, with its large, installed base and savvy management, remains to be seen.
For the first time, Microsoft has a serious threat to its multibillion dollar Office business, but it will not go down without a fight. The fight will be long and hard, but it should prove helpful (to consumers who use these tools in their every day lives) and entertaining.
According to Arnold, "I think the real significance of Google Sites is that Google is edging ever closer to getting authors to create information for Google." We shall all see soon enough how these technologies evolve during the upcoming battle.