How many people really use Google Apps and how many of them are paying customers? That's a question Google has never quite answered, having touted a "20 million users" and "2 million companies" figure that is almost meaningless.
Here is what we want to know: How many companies actually pay for Google Apps and how many users are they paying for? Lately, Google has been trumpeting its win with the City of Los Angeles, which is dumping Novell GroupWise for Google. (Did you see Novell's snarky blog post about L.A.'s decision?)
The company has recently taken its "Gone Google" offline advertising campaign worldwide, giving it reason to pump up its user figures as much as possible. The company charges $50-per-user-per-year for a corporate Google Apps subscription.
CNET is saying Microsoft doesn't believe Google's numbers, though not actually quoting someone at Microsoft saying that.
I can do one better: I don't believe Google's numbers. Or at least not the conclusion Google wants us to draw from them. Sure, there may be 20 million Google Apps accounts that represent 2 million companies.
But, how many of those are students using free accounts? People like me who have an account but us it to share a single document because Google Apps are free? How many are inactive accounts? How many people have two or three accounts?
Most importantly: How many companies are actually paying for Google Apps and how many users are they paying for?
Google is promoting its online apps as though many people are really using them and paying to do so. I don't believe it.
I am going to out on a limb and suggest that Google has fewer than 1 million paid Google Apps users, a number which I'd consider to be a smashing success.
So, Google, what is the real number of users who access a paid version of Google Apps each day? Inquiring minds--not to mention Microsoft and CNET--want to know!
(P.S. Here is a fun article about how half of Google's products--including things like Gmail--are still listed as being "in beta." Obviously, Google uses the b-word differently than the rest of us).