Google continues its quest to expand the Google Apps universe with a new Team Edition that makes it easy for workgroups to sign up for Google Apps without burdening IT departments or the lone IT support person.
"In previous versions of Google Apps, Standard and Premier, the IT department had to get involved in verifying domains and centrally managing users. With the Team Edition a project group can use Google Docs on a project or the Calendar, and individuals on a team can sign up just using their email address," said Rajen Sheth, senior product manager for Google Apps.
A Start Page (below) allows user to access the Google Apps services and content.
Team Edition also lets people discover other groups in organization that are using Google Apps. If IT decide to centrally manage Google Apps, the upgrade to Standard or Premier Edition (which adds disk space, support, integration and the Postini email services) is easily done, Sheth said.
I asked about Google Gears, which would provide Google Apps with offline capabilities. Sheth responded, "Offline is something we are working on, but I have no specific timeframes."
I also asked him whether Google Apps would include more social networking features, such as finding people in a workgroup or company with certain expertise based on what kinds of projects they collaborated on. Basically, the answer is not at this time.
"We think all of these Google Apps as social apps," Sheth said. "Everything shared in a document or a calendar event is forming a connection. By bringing communities together we are forming the ability for people to build social connections. With OpenSocial [APIs for tapping into a social graph] it takes it to a whole other level to users connecting in different ways in a variety of contexts. We don't have anything built on top right now, but it is something we think is promising in general."
Team Edition is a smart way to get Google Apps into business environments. "Appealing to teams of business users is a great penetration strategy, as we see more teams of users looking for wikis and other collaboration spaces they can rapidly build and use to meet tactical needs without waiting for IT," Rebecca Wettemann of Nucleus Research told me. "However, Google will still have to convince companies that their data is secure and--even more important--for their users' eyes only. Time will tell if businesses are comfortable trusting their sensitive internal information to Google. While we haven't seen corporations move wholeheartedly from Office to GoogleApps, we've seen more and more companies evaluating where such a move--for some users--might make sense."
Sheth said the about 2,000 businesses have signed up for daily for Google Apps over course of the last year, with over 500,000 organization activated to date. "The majority are Standard Edition, but now seeing traction across the board on Premier Edition in small, medium and large business.
Last week Google announced enterprise-wide deployment of Google Apps at Genentech. It might not be a coincidence that Arthur Levinson, chairman and CEO of Genentech, is on Google's board of directors.
Nor are Google Apps users, including Google, throwing out Microsoft Office. "We are finding that this complements traditional productivity tools quite well and brings in a variety of collaboration tools," Sheth said. "Some things we do are unique, such as multiple people working on documents at same time and making changes in real time." It also helps that it is free or $50 per user per year for the Premier Edition.