Google's business Apps sparks debate

Analysis: The search engine company has won plaudits for spreading its wings into on-demand applications for small firms, but there are also concerns

With the launch of Google Apps for Your Domain, the online search giant hopes to cash in on the market for-on demand applications. Analysts have welcomed the move but some question the company's motives and wonder whether our personal data is safe in Google's hands.

Launched on Monday, Google Apps for Your Domain is a series of on-demand applications that individuals and companies can use to handle basic functions. It includes Gmail (Google Mail in the UK) for email, Google Calendar, Google Talk for instant messaging and Page Creator for page design. A word processor and a spreadsheet are still in beta testing.

James Governor, of analysts Red Monk, said that the current Google approach was to produce applications that were "Good enough. It's not about releasing polished applications".

But Governor took issue with the company over its motives. "Google is all about gathering information about people," he said. "It already has a lot of information about me and now [through Google Apps] it wants more. Why should I hand that to them? I don't use Gmail, for that reason."

Governor contrasted the public's reaction to Microsoft with the perception of Google. "If Microsoft tried to do this, people would be manning the barricades. But since it's Google it is different somehow. Why is that?"

Analysts at Gartner believe that Monday's launch "offers a glimpse of the scope of Google's ambition" in the enterprise sector. Gartner sees Google Apps for Your Domain as a way for the company to ease its dependence on the consumer market. But in the enterprise market, Gartner has its reservations about Google.

"If you are considering or currently using application service providers, evaluate Google's SLAs [service level agreements] carefully before seriously considering Google applications," advised the analysts in a research note. "Be sure to factor in the cost of integrating with existing business applications using Google's intended representational state transfer (REST) application programming interfaces."

Early testing of Google Apps has also raised some issues, such as the fact that Google Apps does not provide Web site registration and hosting, which Microsoft Office Live beta (currently only available in the US) does for free. Microsoft's online small-business tools also enable users to pay more for a total of 20 business applications in addition to a Web page design tool.

Also, as a hosted business suite, Google is "missing a few big elements", warned an article on ZDNet Reviews. "There's no word processor, spreadsheet or presentation program, although Google does have both a word processor (Writely) and a spreadsheet in beta."

Another possible problem could be security, in the aftermath of the row surrounding the release of hundreds of thousands of AOL's users' search queries.

David Karp, director of product marketing at IPSwitch, pointed out that some businesses might not be happy with their emails being stored across Google's massively distributed systems.

And Yankee Group analyst Gary Chen told internetnews.com that Google is planning to target the top end of the small-business market with a premium product offering more services.

"If they're calling this version the standard edition, the premium edition will clearly have more functionality to appeal to the higher end of the SMB market," Chen said.

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