Google is removing the "beta" label from many of its key services, including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Talk, and Google Video for Business. The move is seen as a way to attract large businesses to Google Apps, its suite of messaging and productivity applications.
For most users of Gmail and Google Calendar, today's news is little more than a lifting of the "beta" label for these already-reliable Google services. But Google says removing the "beta" label is a big deal for the businesses that it hopes will switch to Web-based Google services -- and away from software-based services offered by Microsoft and IBM.
Bye Bye Beta, Hello New Features
Google says it has beefed up the Google Apps suite by adding offline access to e-mail and calendars and streamlinging access to Google Apps for BlackBerry users. Google also says that its Web-based messaging platform is now more compatible with Microsoft Outlook and it has improved contact management for Google Apps.
Google hopes large businesses will now feel more comfortable about entrusting Google with its core communications services. A Google Apps Premier Edition account, which includes Gmail, instant messaging, documents, and spreadsheets (among other apps) cost businesses $50 per user per year.
"We've come to appreciate that the beta tag just doesn't fit for large enterprises that aren't keen to run their business on software that sounds like it's still in the trial phase," wrote Rajen Sheth, senior product manager, Google Apps, in a blog post announcing the changes.
Google: The Little Guy
"No business is going to rely on a 'beta' service for something as important as e-mail," says Matt Cain, lead e-mail analyst with market research firm Gartner. But, he adds, just by lifting the beta label does not guarantee Google success.
Google may be a giant in the search engine space, but the company is only a bit player when it comes to providing e-mail to businesses. Microsoft owns about 70 percent of the e-mail market, followed by IBM with 17 percent, according to Gartner. Cain says Microsoft and IBM don't have any serious competition yet, but can expect nipping at their heels from Web-based services such as Google and a new offering from Cisco expected as a result of the company's purchase of PostPath. These services are cloud based, meaning companies don't have to host servers on site and any heavy infrastructural lifting is done by the provider offsite. Google's pitch for its communications suite also includes a claim that Google Apps can save companies 50 to 70 percent compared to "other e-mail solutions."
In recent months Google has stepped up its battle against Microsoft to win over the enterprise business market. Last month Google released a new plug-in that allows businesses to switch to Google Apps. The utility can migrate a company's e-mail, calendar, and contacts to Google's cloud while retaining the interface of Outlook.
"Google has listened to what enterprises want, and it has delivered much of that," Cain says. Google says it manage 15 million business inboxes and "tens of millions" more consumer Gmail inboxes.
Cain doesn't anticipate cloud-based e-mail management to pose a threat to offerings provided by Microsoft and IBM for another two to four years.
Bring Back the Beta!
Google representatives say by no means does the removal of the beta label mean Google will stop innovating and experimenting with new features offered through Google Labs for Gmail, Google Calendar, and other Google App services. It says existing Google Labs users can re-enable the beta label for Gmail from the Labs tab under Settings.