Small firms offered premium Google Apps

Subscription version of Google's hosted applications product includes new services and more storage space

Google has launched a subscription-based version of its Google Apps hosted services for businesses, which offers more storage and customer support than the free, ad-supported version.

The Google Apps products, previously called Google Apps for Your Domain, now include Google Docs & Spreadsheets, which combines online word processing and spreadsheets. They also support Gmail on BlackBerry devices.

"You will be able to reach your information wherever you are in the world, with any device and at any time," Roberto Solimene, Google's European enterprise director, told ZDNet UK in an interview on Wednesday.

The new Google Apps Premier Edition costs $50 (£26) per user account a year. It includes around-the-clock telephone support, and 10GB of storage per user, compared with 2GB on the free version. The new edition also includes a guarantee of 99.9 percent uptime for Gmail and application programming interfaces that businesses can use to migrate data, enable single sign-on and do other integration.

A free version targeted at educational institutions — Google Apps Education Edition — offers the same features as the premier edition except for the storage size. There is also Google Apps Standard Edition, which is free, but lacks the features of the premier edition.

Solimene pointed out that the service would even be accessible through mobile handsets, and suggested that the package would remove the need for businesses to run their own servers. He also claimed that hosted applications would be the route of choice for most companies in two years' time, saying: "The future is definitely a centralised computing system."

Microsoft is also making a push into the realm of hosted applications, or "software as a service" (SaaS), and announced a tie-in with BT on Wednesday. Solimene welcomed this development, suggesting that it showed the market was maturing.

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