Google puts a face on Google Apps

Start Page technology and user interface is based on the Personalized Home Page service Google offers to consumers

This week, Google will put a face on Google Apps for Your Domain, released as beta last August, when it unveils Start Page, a customizable home page for single users and organizations that will aggregate all of the Google applications.

Just like Google Apps, the Start Page will also be hosted by Google and like the Apps, it will allow organizations to brand the Start Page as their own.

Forrester Research senior analyst Matt Brown said it was a bit confusing at first trying to figure out exactly what Start Page is.

"When I first looked at it, it looked like a portal from 1995," said Brown. Brown added, however, that it is the first time a major vendor has provided collaboration in a software as a service [SaaS] model.

The Start page will integrate various messaging components such as e-mail, e-mail sharing of documents, calendaring, and Google Talk, its instant messaging and instant talk technologies.

Although Google appears to be slowly but surely trickling out more and more capabilities in a hosted environment, Brown said it is a long way from being competitive with Office on an enterprise level. He added, however, that for certain "price sensitive" markets it will make sense, pointing out that there is a huge difference in the cost of supporting Microsoft Exchange Server and SharePoint server as opposed to using a hosted Start Page and Apps from Google.

"We are watching the product unfold as it is built as opposed to a typical software company that goes away for a few years and comes back with a completed package," Brown said.

Mike Horowitz, product manager at Google said it will give users a central access point for services such as e-mail and calendar. He reiterated, though, that it is not a portal.

Horowitz said a portal typically creates a walled garden experience whereas the Start Page allows users to move about their business, view e-mail, go to the Web, and incorporate content from internal and external sources.

Although he gave no road map, Horowitz said that over time, Google will make available different versions of Google Apps targeted at various types of uses and users such as family Web sites, community groups, universities, small and large businesses, and ISPs.

Although large companies have major investments in their current e-mail infrastructure, there are some enterprise-level organizations that are experimenting with Google Apps, Brown said. He declined to name them saying they were Forrester clients.

"If you look out long range, 10, 15, 20 years and where enterprise software is going, SaaS has compelling attributes and Google will gain mindshare, so who knows?"

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