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Google Apps: Killer software or killer decision?

Pc World.ca Forums
Lee Rickwood
March 23, 2007
Google Apps provides great free or cheap applications, but implementing these in your home or your network can also come at a price.

Free software seems like an easy choice, but a decision to use Google Apps may bring tough consequences.

Google has recently added a Premium Edition to its suite of online applications, known as Google Apps. The basic Google Apps are free, the new Premium version will have a $50 ---per account, per year--- price tag attached.

Basic e-mail, calendaring, spreadsheets and document creation tools are included in the free package, making it popular with budget-conscious home users and the small business community.

As such, the package may not be seen as a major threat to other software providers, especially Microsoft and its established business user base. (For more on Google Apps, read Living with Google Apps...at Google.)

But, with the new release, Google is moving up-market. Its aim is beyond the desktop, targeting enterprise-level customers with a new version of the 'the killer app'.

Many PC users and IT managers will face a killer choice as a result.

A tough decision
Google says it wants to empower consumers and small business to collaborate and share in a more productive manner. It also says it will profit at a $50 price point for its enhanced offering, and it will still benefit from its free tools and the traffic, exposure and user connectivity they bring.

The decision to offer the next level of service was not a hard one for Google; the tough choice is on the user end, and it's not just between product price points.

For companies with an established IT department, staff and operational protocol, Google Apps could cause conflicts and raise concerns over IT control practices, and management of mission critical data. There are possible related privacy and security issues, as well. (For more on Google and privacy, read Google to make search logs anonymous.)

On the other hand, highly centralized structures for corporate IT and computer data activities are fast becoming the dinosaur of our age. Mobile users, home-based workers, telecommuters and per-project contractors need to have access to IT resources on an 'anywhere, anytime, any platform' basis.

The development of comprehensive remote access and external control to IT systems is becoming more and more common, both for enterprise infrastructure users and the tech savvy sole proprietor.

For home users, the attraction of Google's free applications may be counter-balanced by a lack of full software features, functions and capabilities in the free package.

On the other hand, many users never embrace or utilize the complete set of functions in the application they currently use. Some analysts say as much as 80 percent of a software's functionality is never accessed, or at least never fully utilized in the proper manner.

So a scaled-back version of basic communication and connectivity tools is not a bad thing in many cases.

With the new enhanced version, users get many new business-oriented features, including API and partner solutions access for better integration and compatibility, a new conference scheduling room feature with the calendaring tools and 10 GB of inbox storage. Mobile users get access via BlackBerry devices and business users have extended phone support options.

By the way, the Premium version can be tried for free, until the end of April, 2007.

Northern exposure
Lakehead University, located in Thunder Bay, Ontario, serves as an example of one of the largest implementations of Google Apps so far.

More than 38,000 users were recently migrated to the Education Edition, and they now have Gmail and in-browser IM capabilities as a result.

Google Apps replaced Lakehead's legacy enterprise e-mail solution and related functions, and also provides shred calendaring and other supports for students, faculty and staff.

"Google is already a step ahead of its competition in converting e-mail from being a conventional communication tool to being a robust, collaborative discussion tool. Other companies require purchasing and deploying three or more products just to do what Google Apps's e-mail program, Gmail, can do," says Lakehead CIO Shahzad Jafri, in a release announcing the implementation.

In its selection criteria, Lakehead also wanted to ensure that Google Apps would be able to provide:
  • High availability and up-time
  • Scalability to grow with student enrollment
  • Full security
  • Similar, or increased, storage capacity, and
  • E-mail for life for Lakehead alumni
Lakehead's initial implementation and installation went smoothly by most reports.

However, LUFA, the Lakehead University Faculty Association, has filed a grievance regarding the University's use of Google as e-mail service provider.

While the proceedings are underway, legal considerations do impact on the grievance itself, as well as any discussion of it.B However, in phone (and e-mail) communications with Dr. Tom Puk, LUFA President, it became apparent that a number of general and specific concerns with the new applications and services are driving the grievance.

As many observers have noted, working with the Google service can expose individual users, and their communications and their data, to the laws of other jurisdictions. As just one example, concerns with Google products or disputes with its service could result in court proceedings in California, not the user's home jurisdiction.

Arbitration on the Lakehead grievance continues.

Related content:
Google to make search logs anonymous
Living with Google Apps, at Google

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Google Apps: Killer software or killer decision?Reply with your commentsReport an innapropriate comment
The key issue to be faced is the one relating to Intellectual Property protection. With Google Apps you have NO RIGHTS to the content (your IP) once posted via the apps for collaboration over the web. See the feature article we wrote at http://www.pcprofile.com/Office_Collaboration.pdf which outlines significant risks if not used wisely and judiciously. The bkiller aspectb may well be applied to the IT Manager career who initiated the apps in the organisation without using appropriate risk mitigation measures to ensure users donbt give away your IP. The risks are a lot higher than many would believe. Use only with extreme caution!.
Written by: Rob Harmer, from Adelaide Sth Australia
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