I’m starting to see a lot more coverage of Google Apps in the press and blogs now that it has been open to the public for several months. In the spirit of sharing, I thought I would offer up my own experience with the software suite. I am currently using the free Small Business edition to handle a lot of the IT administration for our company, but I’ll get into my personal experience in more detail later.
For the uninformed, Google Apps is a suite of Google products bundled for easy integration and migration from old systems. Currently, there are four separate offerings packaged and pitched to four different markets: Small Businesses, Schools, Enterprise businesses, and Families/Groups. Google recently announced that registered non-profits are now able to take advantage of the Schools version. These services are offered for free, or you can pay about $50 per user per year for the Premium version which includes: 24/7 tech support, 99.9% guaranteed email uptime and 10GB of email storage instead of the already-cavernous 2GB. Other premium features would be very attractive to larger organizations but the free Small Business package has everything I need for now.
All four packages are comprised of the same set of tools:
- Gmail for email
- Google Talk for chat/IM
- Google Calendar for scheduling
- Start Page – basically a stripped-down iGoogle
- Docs & Spreadsheets for online word processing and spreadsheet functions
- Page Creator for WYSIWYG website construction
- Control, administration and support tools
The promise of “simple, powerful communication and collaboration tools…without the usual hassle and cost” sounds almost too good to be true. Reading through some of the customer testimonials is almost enough to convince any CTO that this is worth investigating.
The decision to use Google Apps when starting a small business was almost a no-brainer for me. Any small business owner with a limited IT budget can be up and running in minutes, which I was. Google does a nice job providing detailed instructions for those with existing IT infrastructure and email systems that need to be migrated. I had a utopian dream of being able to access everything my business needs from any computer or my PDA. Complete portability of all my emails, documents, schedules, and communication tools sounded great. I also dreamed of consolidating all of my previous Google accounts (Adwords, Gmail, Analytics, Reader, Base, etc) to one account instead of maintaining two.
However, after I had everything up and running I ran into two problems that squashed my dreams on the spot.
Problem #1: I couldn’t make the leap of faith and entrust all of my personal files and business files to somebody else’s central server. Yes, I would love to get rid of Microsoft Office and I trust Google with my information, but emails are one thing. Several years’ worth of sensitive documents are another, especially when it is clients’ data, not mine. I had previously used Google Docs & Spreadsheets for personal to-do lists and fantasy sports tracking, but so far I have yet to use my Apps Docs & Spreadsheets for anything other than lists of tasks and notes. Maybe once Google has implemented some of their recently-acquired Postini security technologies I’ll feel better about it. Also, I have encountered some formatting issues when downloading Google Docs & Spreadsheets files to Word and Excel. Nothing critical, but I can’t risk sending a Google Doc in .doc format at have it arrive with slight formatting inconsistencies.
Problem #2: Even though signing up for Google Apps technically gives you another Google Account, you can’t access anything other than the services listed above with it. I was disappointed to learn that I will still have to use two separate Google accounts. Luckily, it is possible to be logged in to both simultaneously so it’s just a matter of keeping multiple browser tabs open at all times.
Both of my reservations have very simple workarounds and neither are deal-breakers for my adamant support of Google Apps. As an eternal optimist, I expect they will resolve one or both of these problems in the near future. If their claims are correct and over 1,000 businesses are signing up every day, it’s only a matter of time before I can start sending Docs & Spreadsheets files without having to worry about what they will look like in Microsoft Word.
Feel free to leave a comment with any questions or feedback on your experiences with Google Apps. If I don’t already know the answer I’ll try to track it down for you.