Google Apps still trying to win over corporate users

Strides made in past year, but work still remains

While Google is often cited as having a golden touch, the company's productivity application suite is still a mere bronze competitor to Microsoft's Office and collaboration tools despite upgrades over the past year that focused on evolving and securing the online tools for corporate users.

Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE), the vendor's US$50 per user productivity suite targeted at businesses, has proven worthy in certain situations, most involving universities or small and midsize businesses (SMB) looking to cut costs.

The platform, however, still lacks some key features for large companies that build applications around productivity tools and demand tight integration and security, along with administrative controls.

GAPE is made up of messaging, including Google Gmail, Calendars and Talk; collaboration including Google Docs, Video and Sites; and e-mail security and compliance.

Over the past year, Google has been adding tools and APIs to satisfy customer demands, as well as Web 2.0 tools such as video that put a new twist on collaboration. But the work is far from over.

Model for success

Even critics, however, believe Google has the right model to succeed -- delivering the software as a service to corporate users.

Microsoft, whose Office suite boasts more than a 90 percent share of the market, is among those critics.

It endorsed the online model in October when it introduced the first online versions of fully functional Office applications available via a browser. Office Web Applications are in private testing and are slated for inclusion with Office 14. Microsoft already has its toe in the water with Office Live Workspaces and with Exchange and SharePoint Online Services.

While the future may hold promise, the current position for GAPE is the role of worthy alternative and not as serious contender to replace Office or other collaboration platforms.

Google, however, may make its mark not by rising to the top of the heap, but by redefining collaboration and carving the most innovative turns around Web 2.0.

Growing up

"The Google model is not wrong, it is just immature," says Guy Creese, a Burton Group analyst who for years has been tracking Google's efforts to produce online productivity tools. This month he is releasing a report entitled: "Is It Time to Ditch Microsoft Office?"

It is an interesting question because Google isn't lagging for lack of trying.

The company is refining its platform to include new features and controls that appeal to -- and are required by -- corporate users. And it is adding Web 2.0 twists and integrating social software.

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