Google Apps Marketplace Brings Cloud Services Together

The new Google Apps Marketplace extends the search giant's underpowered applications suite, offering a collection of other vendors' Software-as-a-Service applications that work with Google's cloud. The new online store also gives Google a new, if small for now, revenue stream that isn't driven by search-related advertising.

Google Apps, which recently crossed 25 million registered users and 2 million registered businesses, provides e-mail, calendaring, chat, word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and other applications over the Internet. It is available in multiple free and paid versions, all of which can work with applications acquired from Google's new store, the company said.

The Apps Marketplace opened Tuesday night with 50 companies participating, most offering Software-as-a-Service that integrates with Google's cloud-based applications. Most participants are names most customers won't immediately recognize, though Intuit has created a payroll system and Box.net offers a content management system, both sold through the online store.

There are also CRM, fax, ERP, and other apps available, with the most-installed apps as of early Wednesday being Manymoon, a free "social productivity, project management, and task management" application; Aviary Design Suite, a free tools and templates package that works inside Google Docs; TripIt, a travel organizer; and OffiSync, a synchronization tool that "extends the core functionality of MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint with unique Google cloud services."

In many cases, the integration is quite minimal, but still useful to frequent Google Apps users. For example, Intuit merely makes payroll stubs available to Google Apps users through their calendars.

Others expand or at least make good use of the capabilities of the anemic word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation modules that comprise Google Docs, part of the Google Apps suite.

Some applications, such as those from Atlassian Software, creator of a hosted software development suite, appear more likely to bring their own existing and future customers to Google Apps than vice versa. In this case, Google Apps are used to add chat, word processing, and calendar features inside the Atlassian suite.

Commercially, the big winners are likely to be applications that extend Gmail, calendaring, and contacts, the most widely-used Google Apps, which together can compete nicely with Microsoft Outlook and Exchange.

EchoSign, an electronic signature service, integrates with Google apps to provide document review, approval, and signature. eFax, meanwhile, offers a version of its online faxing service, but appears to offer only minimal integration with Google Docs.

While Google does not release specific usage figures, beyond admitting that "two million" businesses actually translates into only 200,000-300,000 daily users, ad-free Gmail is the clear draw for companies considering the paid Google Apps Premier Edition.

If your company is using or considering Google Apps, the new online store is an interesting development. But, because Google's suite is fairly uneven, with some elements much more fully-featured than others, some of the add-ons will be much more interesting and useful than others.

In general, the items in the Apps Marketplace appear to bring more functionality to Google Apps than Google brings to them.

Google previously had an online solutions marketplace for Google Apps, but it did not support online purchasing. The new Google Apps Marketplace charges developers $100 to add an application and then collects a service fee of 20 percent of online purchases.

How does this change things?

Google Apps Marketplace will not be a huge overnight success and does not reduce the need for Google to get serious about improving the features and functionality of Google Docs. Its word processor is more of a glorified HTML editor than it is Microsoft Word and nobody is likely to confuse Google's spreadsheet features with those of Microsoft Excel.

While Google doesn't need to match Microsoft feature-for-feature, its current apps are light by any reasonable measure.

My guess is that some of the add-ons will develop a following and may expand Google Apps usage into new niche market segments, where Google Apps provide useful added functionality not already included in the add-ons.

Less clear is how many customers will choose Google Apps initially because of the availability of specific add-ons. I think this will happen in some cases, but how often remains to be seen. On a scale of 25 million users, this may be tiny, but compared to perhaps 300,000 paid Google Apps users, it could provide, over time, a significant boost.

Despite what I admit is my often negative tone, I really do like Google Apps and recommend it in specific circumstances. Gmail, for example, is first-class, and its calendar and contacts components are quite credible. Google Docs also can be an excellent collaboration tool, if not the best word processor or spreadsheet you've ever used.

The ability to easily access e-mail, calendar, contacts, documents, and files from any browser or smartphone makes my life easier. I am regularly working on collaborative documents that are then imported into Word for final formatting and printing.

I am already testing some of the add-ons and plan to report back on how much more useful they help Google Apps become. I'd love to hear your comments, especially if you are a paid Google Apps customer.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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