The Oregon Department of Education today will begin offering Google Apps to all public school districts in the state. The move will save the cash-strapped Oregon schools $1.5 million per year, according to a Wednesday blog post by Google Apps Education Manager Jaime Casap.
Google Apps Education Edition is a cloud-based suite of apps. It includes Gmail and Google Docs, the latter of which offers real-time user collaboration for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. The school-oriented suite also includes calendaring, messaging, and video-hosting tools. Even better, it's free.
Casap provides an example of how cloud computing might aid teachers and students alike: "Their documents and email will live online in the cloud - so they'll be able to work from a classroom or a computer lab, at home or at the city (or county) library," writes Casap.
It remains to be seen, however, if Google Apps is the right fit for school districts in Oregon or elsewhere. While there are real advantages to the suite's Web-based, collaborative tools, there are potential drawbacks too, including power outages and server failures that could make teacher and student data inaccessible.
Trouble for Microsoft
Microsoft is no doubt watching the developments in Oregon closely. The company is gearing up to launch Office 2010, the latest version of its ubiquitous office suite that has long had a strong presence in the education market.
Google Apps not only threatens Redmond's Office franchise--one of the company's two cash cows, along with Windows--but also Microsoft Exchange (hosted email) and SharePoint (collaboration), according to a September 2009 study by IDC analyst Melissa Webster.
"The growth in adoption of Google Docs should worry Microsoft. Google's momentum could indirectly threaten some of Microsoft's Office 2010 upgrade revenue by providing buyers some negotiating leverage. And longer term, the two are on a collision course," Webster writes.
Oregon's Department of Education isn't Google Apps' only high-profile victory. The City of Los Angeles recently announced plans to migrate its 30,000 employees from Novell GroupWise to Google's collaborative suite.
Currently, Microsoft Office isn't losing market share among enterprise users, according to IDC estimates. Rather, it co-exists with Google Docs in some organizations.
That may change soon, however.
"As Google adds more functionality to Google Docs, and Microsoft takes the Office experience to the Web, they will begin to compete for the same use cases," Webster writes. "And then the question becomes: What do users really need, and how much are they willing to pay? Do they need power tools, or can they make do with tools that are just 'good enough?'"