While Google is often cited as having a golden touch, the company's productivity application suite is still a mere bronze competitor to Microsoft's Office and collaboration tools despite upgrades over the past year that focused on evolving and securing the online tools for corporate users.
Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE), the vendor's $50 per user productivity suite targeted at businesses, has proven worthy in certain situations, most involving universities or small and midsize businesses (SMB) looking to cut costs.
The platform, however, still lacks some key features for large companies that build applications around productivity tools and demand tight integration and security, along with administrative controls.
GAPE is made up of messaging, including Google Gmail, Calendars and Talk; collaboration including Google Docs, Video and Sites; and e-mail security and compliance.
Over the past year, Google has been adding tools and APIs to satisfy customer demands, as well as Web 2.0 tools such as video that put a new twist on collaboration. But the work is far from over.
Model for Success
Even critics, however, believe Google has the right model to succeed -- delivering the software as a service to corporate users.
Microsoft, whose Office suite boasts more than a 90% share of the market, is among those critics.
It endorsed the online model in October when it introduced the first online versions of fully functional Office applications available via a browser. Office Web Applications are in private testing and are slated for inclusion with Office 14. Microsoft already has its toe in the water with Office Live Workspaces and with Exchange and SharePoint Online Services.
While the future may hold promise, the current position for GAPE is the role of worthy alternative and not as serious contender to replace Office or other collaboration platforms.
Google, however, may make its mark not by rising to the top of the heap, but by redefining collaboration and carving the most innovative turns around Web 2.0.
"The Google model is not wrong, it is just immature," says Guy Creese, a Burton Group analyst who for years has been tracking Google's efforts to produce online productivity tools. This month he is releasing a report entitled: "Is It Time to Ditch Microsoft Office?"
It is an interesting question because Google isn't lagging for lack of trying.
The company is refining its platform to include new features and controls that appeal to -- and are required by -- corporate users. And it is adding Web 2.0 twists and integrating social software.
In July 2007, Google made its biggest investment yet toward satisfying corporate users when it laid out $625 million for e-mail hygiene vendor Postini, which provided the compliance, archiving and e-mail protection GAPE lacked.
The Postini service provides security for e-mail, instant messaging and the Web; archiving; message encryption; and policy enforcement of Transport Layer Security.
And because Postini's archiving and compliance only covers e-mail, Google last month released an API to address documents.
"We let you connect your Google Docs with the others systems you use for compliance," says Rajen Sheth, senior product manager for Google Apps. "We continue to mature the product set."
To further back that claim, Sheth also cites the addition of Google Sites, a wiki-based team sharing tool, and Google Video, based on capabilities inherited from its YouTube division.
Google also has added an service-level agreement and is working on an administrative dashboard that shows how its systems are running and their health. The tool comes after a string of outages that crippled GAPE in the past months.
And in November, Google earned its SAS-70 Type II certification, which public companies under the Sarbanes Oxley Act require from their hosting providers.
In addition, Google and its partners are busy ratcheting up the feature set, such as Panorama Software, which has developed a slick -- and free -- business intelligence tool called Analytics for Google Spreadsheets.
"This is not about replacing, it is about solving old problems in new ways with Google Docs," says Oudi Antebi, vice president of strategy for Panorama. Antebi, who came to Panorama after eight years at Microsoft, says one reason for lagging enterprise interest in GAPE is that many are looking at it as a replacement instead of an extension to what they already have.