Billboards Or Not, Google Apps Are A Tough Sell

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What should a billboard about Google Apps say? That they go away when users lose their Internet connections? Or that the $50-a-year "Premier Edition" has never really caught on?

Update: Readers have noted that a Google product called "Gears" provides off-line Google Apps support, however, it is not promoted on the Google Apps site and doesn't work with my Safari 4.0.2 brower. I regret the error.

The giant ads probably will neither of those things, though beginning today they go up in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. The billboards mark the search giant's latest attempt to turn up the heat on Microsoft Office.

More likely, the ads will focus on the company’s claim that Google Apps are one-third the "total cost of competing solutions" or that they can offer "better reliability than on-premises solutions," repeating claims from Google's Web site. The billboards are supposed to change daily during August, each highlighting the supposed joy of "Going Google."

Google Apps offer online versions of a desktop applications suite, including a word processor, spreadsheet, e-mail, calendar, and other features.

Customers have been reluctant to switch from Microsoft Office to the cloud-based Google Apps suite, even for free, though Google claims 1.75 million businesses use the service. That a paid option even exists will come as news to many of them. (My guess is the number of daily users, the real test of an apps suite, is much, much smaller).

Differences between the free and paid versions of Google Apps include the advertising being turned off in the latter by default as well as use of a customer-provided domain name, domain-wide sharing policies, and APIs for account provisioning and reporting.

Not known for advertising, the billboards are a departure for Google, which previously has held itself a bit above the fray of the marketplace. Google Apps are a way for the company to both hit a Microsoft cash cow and attempt to diversify its own revenue stream.

The advertising is being released as Microsoft prepares to launch Office 2010, which includes a cloud-based option of its own, Office Web apps.

The downside of cloud-based apps is that losing Internet access also means losing access not just to stored information but also to the applications themselves. This has proven a major stumbling block to their acceptance, although Microsoft will offer its traditional Office Suite alongside the cloud option.

While cloud-based applications offer many attractive features, including lower cost and especially reducing the need for in-house IT support, they are still too exotic for many companies to even consider.

Industry veteran David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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