It looks like the big news this morning is that Google just announed Google Apps for your Domain. From the press release Google Launches Hosted Communications Services we learn
Google Apps for Your Domain, an expansion of the
Gmail for Your Domain service that launched in February 2006, currently
includes Gmail web email, the Google Talk instant messaging and voice
calling service, collaborative calendaring through Google Calendar, and
web page design, publishing and hosting via Google Page Creator. Domain
administrators use a simple web-based control panel to manage their
user account list, set up aliases and distribution lists, and enable
the services they want for their domain. End users with accounts that
have been set up by their administrator simply browse to customized
login pages on any web-connected computer. The service scales easily to
accommodate growing user bases and storage needs while drastically
reducing maintenance costs.
Google will provide organizations with two choices of service.
A standard edition of Google Apps for Your Domain is available today as
a beta product without cost to domain administrators or end users. Key
features include 2 gigabytes of email storage for each user, easy to
use customization tools, and help for administrators via email or an
online help center. Furthermore, organizations that sign up during the
beta period will not ever have to pay for users accepted during that
period (provided Google continues to offer the service).
A premium version of the product is being developed for organizations
with more advanced needs. More information, including details on
pricing, will be available soon.
If this sounds familiar to you, that's because it is. This is pretty much the same sales pitch as Microsoft's Office Live. Right down to having tiered versions that range from free (i.e. Office Live Basics) to paid SKUs for businesses with more 'advanced' needs (i.e. Office Live Essentials). With Google officially entering this space, I expect that the Office Live team will now have some pressure on their pricing model as well as an incentive to reduce or remove some of the limitations in the services they offer (e.g. the fairly low limits on the amount of email addresses one can create per domain).
As usual, the technology blogs are full of the Microsoft vs. Google double standard. When Microsoft announced Office Live earlier this year, the response was either muted or downright disappointed because it wasn't a Web-based version of Microsoft Office. An example of such responses is Mike Arrington's post entitled Microsoft Office Live goes into Beta. On the flip side, the announcement of Google Apps for your Domain which is basically a "me too" offering from Google is heralded by Mike Arrington in his post Google Makes Its Move: Office 2.0 as the second coming of the office suite. The difference in the responses to what are almost identical product announcements is an obvious indication at how both companies are perceived by the technology press and punditry.
I personally prefer Om Malik's take in his post Web Office Vs Microsoft Office where he states
"Web Office should not be about replacing the old, but inventing the new web apps that solve some specific problems".
This is pretty much the same thing I heard Ray Ozzie and Sergey Brin say at last years Web 2.0 conference when they were both asked [on different occassions] about the possibility of replacing desktop office suites with Web-based software. Enabling people in disparate locations to collaborate and communicate is the next major step for office productivity suites. One approach could be replacing everything we have today with Web-based alternatives, the other could be making the desktop software we have today more Web savvy (or "live" if you prefer the Microsoft lingo). I know which one I think is more realistic and more likely to be acceptable to businesses today. What do you think?
My next question is whether Google is going to ship consumer targetted offerings as Microsoft has done with Windows Live Custom Domains or is the free version of Google Apps for your Domain expected to be the consumer version?
Disclaimer: The above statements are my opinions and do not in any way reflect the plans, thoughts, intentions or strategies of my employer.