Google Treads Further on Microsoft's Turf

Although it has repeatedly denied it has any intention of taking on Microsoft Office, Google on Thursday introduced Google Apps Premier Edition, a fee-based version of its free Web-based word processing and spreadsheet applications for businesses.

For a $50 yearly fee per account, customers will receive the entire Google Apps package with additional business centric features, plus access to APIs, conference room scheduling for calendar, 10GB of e-mail storage, extended phone support, and mobile access to e-mail on BlackBerry devices.

"Already, companies big and small are talking about how this new version of Google Apps makes it easy to offer low-cost communication and collaboration tools to all their employees so they can get on with what they do best," lead software engineer Derek Parham said.

According to Google, nearly 100,000 businesses already have signed on to Google Apps, including several big-name companies such as Procter & Gamble, General Electric Corporation and Prudential who have been testing the business edition of the software.

The continued push of Google Apps also shows a difference in philosophy between the Mountain View, Calif. company and Microsoft. Google's forays into application developed have mainly fallen into the hosted application, or "software as a service" model.

Microsoft has also dabbled in that market with its Live set of services, but those offerings do not serve as Web-based versions of its desktop products for the most part.

Not everyone seems to be impressed with Google's efforts. JupiterResearch senior analyst David Card noted that most APIs are given away for free, and that the service overall is ad-supported.

"Mediocre, Web-based, for-fee word processors and spreadsheets are pretty dull. This really feels like a premium e-mail service to me," Card lamented. "And I thought Gmail killed those off."

However, noted pundit Om Malik seemed to disagree, calling it "an interesting chess game" between the two companies. He even seemed to suggest that Google making moves into Microsoft territory may have something to do with Redmond making moves into search.

"Redmond can use OS to become a reasonable force in search, thanks to the inertia of the masses who don't change default search engines," he said. "Google knows all that, and rightfully worries about it. It counters with an equally devilish move."

"The NY Times story reports Google’s Docs and Spreadsheets had 432,000 users in December, by Nielsen/NetRatings measure. The Times also quotes Microsoft as saying that Office has 450 million to 500 million users. Even if those numbers aren't totally accurate, I don’t think the Office needs to close up and go home just yet," remarked former Jupiter Research analyst-turned Microsoft evangelist Michael Gartenberg.

"Like all good things, Office will perhaps someday be replaced by something else but this isn’t the day and these aren't the products."

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