SLIDESHOW

Take a Tour of Google's Business Apps

Google wants your business to run on its cloud; here's what its apps promise to do for you.

A tour of Google's business apps

Google's billions come from selling ads on search results, but the company's ambitions are no less than to provide the universal platform in the cloud on which everything runs. The company's latest entry in that mission is the Chrome OS, which is meant to enable browsers-in-a-box netbook-like appliances. (See InfoWorld's visual tour of the Chrome OS.)

So what exactly does Google offer businesses? InfoWorld put together this tour of its services aimed at business users, IT, and developers to help you decide what of Google's cloud promise you should consider taking advantage of. You'll notice quickly that collaboration is a common theme across most of Google's offerings. Discover each one in this slideshow.

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This slideshow, "A tour of Google's business apps," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments on Google and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

Google Apps: Gmail

Long available as a free e-mail service for individuals, à la Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, Google recently began offering an enterprise-class version of Gmail, aimed at attracting businesses fed up trying to manage their Microsoft Exchange, Novell Groupwise, or IBM Lotus Notes servers. The City of Los Angeles is one organization that is making the enterprise Gmail leap, after getting privacy, security, and performance guarantees from Google.

Gmail is part of a suite of apps, called Google Apps, that Google hopes businesses will use to largely replace Microsoft server and desktop technologies.

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Postini

Rather than rely only on businesses using Gmail as an e-mail server and client, Google bought Postini in 2007 to offer companies an anti-virus and e-mail security service in the cloud for use with their existing e-mail systems. Google is now working to add those business-class capabilities to Gmail and Google Apps, to help overcome some of the objections that businesses have to what started as a consumer-oriented cloud offering.

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Google Apps: Google Calendar

Many organizations use one or more of the Google Apps, typically as a personal or departmental supplement to their official productivity tools. One example: Google Calendar, which allows for shared calendars across workgroups, with external contractors, and so on -- no IT setup needed.

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Google Apps: Google Docs

No one will confuse Google Docs with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Excel; Google Docs has nowhere near the sophisticated capabilities of Office, but it does the basic job well -- if you have a live Internet connection. A common use of Google Docs is for collaborative document work, such as a group idea list or commenting on a draft, where being in the cloud and accessible from almost any browser make remote teamwork easy.

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Google Sites

Small businesses may be attracted to a Web-based tool to create and manage their Web sites. That's what Google Sites is, with a collaboration twist. It lets you set up Web sites with sharable aspects, such as for distributed-workforce collaboration and client interaction. And it lets you create and manage wikis, for more tracker-style collaboration. (Google Sites is a revamped version of the JotSpot service that Google bought in 2007.)

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Google Wave

The new Google Wave, which is still in limited release, is a shot across the Microsoft's SharePoint bow. The collaboration environment is meant to appeal to the same user-manageable distributed collaboration and project management strengths that SharePoint has, without requiring the investment in the server and network management that SharePoint brings. Where Wave is pushing past SharePoint is in its more instant-messaging approach to communication with the Wave collaboration environment you set up, for more discussion-like interaction.

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Google Android OS

For developers, Google also has lots of technology. One is the Android mobile OS, meant to be an open source competitor that takes on the iPhone and Palm WebOS for a rich mobile experience. The opportunity for developers is around Android mobile apps. Given Android's heritage, it is no surprise that it is optimized for Google's cloud services, which may limit its initial utility in many businesses. Lack of enterprise e-mail support and manageability also restrict its business reach -- for now.

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Google Chrome OS

Slated for a December 2010 debut, the Chrome OS is all about Web access via a portable, netbook-like appliance. It's no PC operating system, and so its attraction to developers is to provide anytime Internet access to Web-based apps that you're likely already creating. If it succeeds, however, the more casual profile of a consumer audience could open up greater distribution potential for games, e-books, and other media services that need just a lightweight client layer to run on. (See InfoWorld's visual tour of the Chrome OS.)

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Google Gears

One issue with cloud-based services is that you need a live Internet connection to use them. And that's a real barrier in many situations. When it debuted in 2007, Google Gears was meant to address that issue by providing local capabilities in the browser, so apps could run some services when not connected to the Internet.

Google Gears also provides a plug-in architecture for several browsers, so developers could create both online and offline plug-ins just once -- sort of like a thin Java client. Google Reader and Zoho Office both use Google Gears, but the technology has not seen wide adoption so far.

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Google App Engine

Thanks to Salesforce.com's noise around Force.com, 2008 saw a lot of noise around cloud-based development environments. Google App Engine is Google's version, an IDE that resides in the cloud and also provisions apps to your users. So far, none of these offerings has attracted lots of developers, but Google continues to hope its cloud focus will exert the greatest gravity in developers if and when they are ready.

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