Living with Google Apps--at Google

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If Google executives sound confident that companies will take to the Google Apps Premier Edition package announced this week, it may be because they have been using the applications themselves since at least last October.

Matthew Glotzbach, head of products for Google Enterprise, told attendees at the Network World IT Roadmap last fall how Google Apps are helping the company maintain a collaborative environment even as it has grown to more than 10,000 employees in 20 countries.

While Google has always used its own products to some extent, last October it embarked on the "Dog Food Initiative," which involved migrating the entire company onto the Google Apps platform, Glotzbach said. Those applications include Google Calendar, the Google Talk client for e-mail, voice and instant messaging, and Docs & Spreadsheets. (Harry McCracken, PC World's editor in chief, blogs on the pros and cons in his entry: Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office.)

All of the applications "were really built from the ground up to focus on collaboration," Glotzbach said in a follow-up interview. "Using them ourselves has really helped us expand on how we work with one another, making [communications] more real time, making it easier to collaborate when we're traveling, when we're on the road, from a mobile device, from any PC or workstation inside the company." Information on Google Apps

Google Apps in Practice

One simple example is a document Glotzbach was working on for some marketing literature. Previously, he would have written a draft of the document, sent it out for review, then collected all the feedback and tried to merged it into one document. Using Google Docs, he could invite the people to review it while it was being created, simply by adding their names under the Collaborate tab. The document resides on a server, where all authorized users access it.

After working for 10 minutes to create a rough outline, he asked certain colleagues for feedback. One colleague inserted a suggestion into the document that shifted Glotzbach's thinking on how to position a particular topic. "In the traditional process, that would've happened much later in the game, which would've caused me a significant amount of rework and rethinking," he said. Or, potentially the reviewer wouldn't have made the suggestion, because of the magnitude of the change.

Colleagues are notified of review requests via an e-mail that includes a note from the document creator and a link to the document, which sits on a Google server. This adds the document to each reviewer's active document list. "The ease of collaboration just makes it sort of seamless and transparent," Glotzbach said.

The collaborative applications also are fostering more face-to-face and voice conversations, he notes, due to their presence capabilities. Each person working on a document can see who else is working on it at the same time. Often, that will prompt a chat session in the embedded browser pane, a VoIP conversation via Google Talk or an in-person conversation if the parties are in nearby rooms.

The server-based applications also are portable. "I can walk into a conference room and if I don't have my PC or my Mac, I can just pull up documents in a browser and go from there," Glotzbach said.

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