Last week, while in California, I had an opportunity to sit down with Rajen Sheth -- the man at Google who is credited with coming up with the idea of Google Apps. That interview, along with a demo of some of Google Apps' more novel features, can be viewed in the attached video.
When most people hear the phrase Google Apps, they see it as a colloquial reference to some of the browser-based applications that Google serves up through the Web such as Google Documents and Google Spreadsheets. However, that's not really what Google Apps is.
Yes, Google Apps involves Google's browser-based productivity applications such as Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, and Gmail. But, more than that, Google Apps is a branded bundle of those and other applications (Page Creator, Web site hosting, calendaring, Google Talk, etc.) that Google targets at organizations. When accessed via Google Apps, that bundle of applications behaves in more of an organizational context than do Google's applications on the standalone basis that the general public has access to. For example, the apps can be accessed directly through an organization's Internet domain (eg: http://mail.yourdomain.com or http://docs.yourdomain.com) and, for every such domain, certain users get administrative privileges to globally configure most of Google Apps' options for all of an organization's users.
Google Apps is available in two flavors. First, the Standard Edition (GASE) : a version of Google Apps that's free, but that bears advertising in the Gmail portion and that limits the e-mail storage to 5GB per user. Second, the Premier Edition (GAPE): a far more functional $50 per user per year version with no ads, 25GB of storage per user, 24x7 telephone support, a 99.9 percent uptime service level agreement for e-mail, access to plug-in software from third parties, and more.
In the big picture of the industry, Google Apps is viewed by many as the only suite of productivity software with a real shot at cutting Microsoft Office's dominant market position down to size. Yes, Google Apps does some things more efficiently than does Microsoft Office. For example, as opposed to the downloads required by Microsoft Office, almost all updates to the service involve little more than pressing the refresh button on a browser (the downloadable Google Talk application is one exception). But even though Google Apps has loads of compelling features, most view its ability to compete with Microsoft Office as having more to with Google's powerful brand name and its virtually unlimited warchest (a luxury that none of Microsoft Office's competitors has had).
The result of that warchest is a value that makes it difficult for organizations not to try it out. With GASE being free and GAPE costing only $50 per user per year, just use of the e-mail service alone could end up yielding savings. The availability of GAPE's 24x7 phone support is reminiscent of the free support provided in the 1980's by Wordperfect to users of its namesake word processing software -- free offering that Wordperfect was eventually forced to abandon in favor of a more expensive paid service. With its deep pockets, Google can much afford to offer Google Apps at any price and, according to Sheth, more than 500,000 organizations are currently using it.
In the interview, we cover a wide range of questions -- everything from how Google manages to offer GAPE users a whopping 25GB of storage when most corporations can only offer their own users a fraction of that to questions regarding the potential consolidation of currently bifurcated functionality (for example, tagging taxonomies and HTML authoring). Along the way, Sheth shows me some really interesting functionality including an autofill feature in the spreadsheet that draws upon Google's experimental Google Sets functionality. In the interview, Sheth says that Google uses code to dialog with its users. Updates to the service are very frequent and sometimes significant.
Sheth also shows off how Google has made Google Calendar extensible with Gadgets. In the example he shows, a Google Gadget automatically populates the calendar with new movie openings and locations. The idea, according to Sheth, is to offer the right extensibility in the right context. It made me think a bit about how FaceBook is in many cases a collection of functionality, a lot of it without context.
Check out the video, and let me know what you think.