Can your business run completely online?

Google says Apps powers many small businesses

The world's richest and most powerful 10-year-old says it can handle far more of your technology needs than you think. Google started almost exactly 10 years ago, and it is making big noise about invigorated Apps and some Googlers called to tell me about the improvements.

If you haven't checked out the collection of applications Google has now, go to Google Apps and see what you've been missing. Everyone knows about search, of course, and most everyone knows about Gmail and Blogger. While fun, Blogger hasn't yet become mission critical for small businesses, but many other Google Apps have.

Gmail certainly falls into the realm of critical business applications, and Gmail works fine for individuals or entire companies that let Google handle mail hosting. You won't even know who's doing it, because those companies use their own domain names for incoming and outgoing mail messages. That is, if they pony up US$50 per user per year to let Google handle e-mail, Web hosting, calendars, instant messaging, and standard business applications like word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.

Individuals can get most of these applications free with Google Apps Standard, but paying the US$50 per user per year works out far cheaper than traditionally buying all the applications Google provides. And some big companies are signing up for services like calendar and e-mail, like Genentech and the city of Washington D.C. But Googlers wanted to tell me about their small business customers, which they consider companies with fewer than 100 employees.

How many companies have signed up? Over 500,000 in the past two years for a total of over 10 million active users worldwide.

"We measure success as active users, not just random logins who never come back," said Rajen Sheth, senior product manager of Google Apps and the man credited with coming up with the Apps idea inside Google. "The majority of our 500,000 companies are small businesses - 3,000 new companies a day are signing up worldwide."

Why do they sign up? Can Google Docs over the Internet provide as feature rich a word processing or spreadsheet experience as Microsoft Office or OpenOffice?

"Our goal with Docs and others was not to duplicate existing tools," Sheth says. "Our goal was to rethink applications with collaboration in mind. These tools enable collaboration uses never before possible with other tools."

Have to hand it to Sheth on that one. Real spreadsheet fans say Excel beats Google spreadsheet in features, but the ease with which you and four of your friends can collaborate on a spreadsheet, each of you in a different part of the world, is a game changer for many companies. Today's distributed work-from-home and work-from-the-road business world demands connectivity and collaboration for white collar workers, and you can't do that with Office or OpenOffice applications running on a desktop.

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James E. Gaskin

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