"Google Apps for Your Domain" beta test is now taking requests for participation. Fellow ZDNet blogger Dan Farber reports on Google's latest initiaitve in "Google Office 'version 1.0' debuts":
Google doesn't yet have an Office 2.0–a full suite of hosted productivity applications aimed at the Microsoft Office crowd, especially the small- and medium-sized firms–but starting tomorrow companies or organizations can deploy Google email, calendar, chat and Web page (Page Creator) hosting for free (ad supported). The set of Google communications applications is an extension of Gmail for Your Domain, and has some limited UI customization and administration features. Later this year, Google will offer a subscription service with additional storage and support options.
Google is pitching the set of hosted services in the typical cheery "everything is good" Google fashion:
Now you can offer private-labeled email, IM and calendar tools to all of your users for free*, so they can share ideas and get things done more effectively. You can design and publish your organization's website, too. It's all hosted by Google, so there's no hardware or software for you to install or maintain.
Should organizations put their applications eggs in Google's basket? Google's Terms of Service give considerable pause.
Below are excerpts from the "Google Apps for Your Domain" TOS; My questions about the implications of the terms on users of the services are in bold:
HOSTED COMMUNICATION SERVICES
Where is a guaranteed QoS? What type of ad content will be served? Can users decline certain advertisers? What will Google do with users' information collected and stored? Will Google delete users' information from its servers at users' requests? Why no revenue sharing?
Google will use commercially reasonable efforts to provide the Hosted Communication Services to Customer during the term of this Agreement.Customeragrees that Google may serve advertisements ("Ads") in connection with the Hosted Communication Services...Information collected by Google may be stored and processed in the United States or any other country in which Google or its agents maintain facilities. By using the Hosted Communication Services, Customer consents to any such transfer, processing and storage of information...Customer agrees that any revenue generated by Google from the Ads or otherwise derived by Google from the Hosted Communication Services will be retained by Google and not be subject to any revenue sharing.
START PAGE CONTENT
Why must users ask for Google approval to place their own content? Why can Google unilaterally decide to host user chosen content, or not?
Customer may use the administrative console of the Start Page Service to add modules of Customer provided content to the Start Page ("Customer Content"). Customer Content may promote Customer products or services, but in no event will such modules promote products or services from any other third party without Google's prior written consent. Customer Content shall conform to Google's reasonable technical requirements, including but not limited to size, dimensions and language, and Google's content policies...Google reserves the right, but shall have no obligation, to pre-screen, refuse or move any Customer Content available via the Start Page Service.
DEPLOYMENT OF SERVICES
Why is Google monitoring the way users use Google Apps? Why can Google unilaterally decide to stop service at any time?
Google reserves final approval authority with respect to the means used by Customer to deploy each component of Google Apps, and in the event Google disapproves of such deployment, Google shall have the right, upon notice to Customer, to suspend any continued use of Google Apps until such time Customer implements adequate corrective modifications as reasonably required and determined by Google.
TECHNICAL SUPPORT SERVICES
Why can't every user of Google Apps contact Google for technical support? Why can't users' administrators directly contact Google at any time for support? Why is there no guaranteed service problem resolution?
Customer is responsible for responding to any questions and complaints by End Users or other third parties relating to Customer or its End Users’ use of Google Apps, with such support services to be provided at Customer's own expense. Subject to the terms and conditions of this Agreement, Google shall provide technical support services to Customer's designated administrator in accordance with Google's support guidelines then in effect for Google Apps. Prior to making any support request to Google, Customer shall first use reasonable efforts to fix any error, bug, malfunction, or network connectivity defect on its own without any escalation to Google. Thereafter, Customer's designated administrator may submit a written request for technical support through the online help center.
Why can Google stop providing Google Apps at any time? What happens to users' information in Google's possession when Google stops providing the services?
Customer agrees that Google may at any time and for any reason terminate this Agreement and/or terminate the provision of all or any portion of Google Apps.
CONCLUSION When it comes to an organization's applications hosting, Google's "free" comes at a heavy cost.