Google Apps suite gets 10 times bigger

Google is folding a slew of consumer services into the built-for-business Google Apps suite

Google Apps

Google Apps

If you've been using Google Apps for work and other Google services for play, then you know the annoyance of juggling two accounts within one browser. That hassle ended Thursday as Mountain View brought more than 60 services into the Google Apps fold.

The vastly expanded Google Apps suite will include such services as Picasa, Blogger, Maps, and YouTube alongside work-friendly tools including Gmail, Calendar, Voice, and AdWords.

For those integrating Google accounts, the company enables migrating data, so you can export, say, all the RSS feeds from a personal Reader account to your professional Google Apps account.

The company says it's responding to high user demand for unifying sign-in and contacts across the applications. Nearly half of user requests lately have mentioned Google Apps access to the consumer services, said Dennis Troper, director of product management for Google's enterprise apps, in a briefing by phone.

Until now, the Google Apps suite has felt oddly small, with the core of Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Sites, Groups, and Video. However, the line between online services used for work and play is increasingly blurred. People using Picasa photo editing for office tasks and Calendar for a social life, so why not place those services under one roof? Big infrastructure changes were apparently needed to make single sign-in possible for so many tools.

"We want to keep innovating and adding more to the suite," Troper said. "Behind the scenes there's been quite a bit of work to get here."

Internet giants are increasingly knocking down walls between personal and professional tools and data. Another crumbling brick came this week, with Facebook Messaging integrating with Office Web Apps. People checking into one hub--whether from Google, Facebook, or Microsoft--for social and work-related tasks will certainly discover new TMI moments.

The expanded Google Apps also encompasses Talk, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Drawings, Voice, Blogger, AdWords, Analytics, Website Optimizer, AdSense, Checkout, Translate, Places, Maps, Finance, News, Alerts, Reader, App Engine, Feedburner, YouTube, and Picasa.

As for the usual comparisons between Google Apps and Microsoft Office, Google's suite is becoming a bigger, more complex beast. At the same time, Microsoft arguably offers even more serious online tools, such as Office 365 and Office Live Small Business, through a Windows Live account. You'd probably rather lean on Microsoft if your company already uses the desktop Office among other staple tools from Redmond.

Still, Google's Web-based package feels lighter to adopt for a startup getting off the ground, while its administrative options are meaty enough for corporations. In addition, Google Apps Marketplace enables companies to integrate third-party services.

Centralized administrative controls in Google Apps will enable IT overseers to grant apps access one by one to select people and departments. A PR crew, for instance, might have exclusive entree into a company's Blogger account--or the marketing team alone could enjoy AdWords access.

For now, IT admins of legacy Google Apps accounts can choose which apps to turn on or off for their users. That's supposed to help companies transition slowly to tailor apps to their needs. New customers will have all apps turned on by default during the provisioning process--as will all users by early 2011--but admins still will be able to select the services before rolling them out to users.

Google is renaming the versions of Apps, simply referring to the former Standard Edition, free for fewer than 50 users, as Google Apps. The former Premier Edition, which costs $50 per user per year and includes business features and support, from now on will be known as Google Apps for Business. (That's pretty much what most people have been calling them already.) Google Apps for Government, certified to comply with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), was formerly known as Government Edition. The free, nonprofit-targeted Google Apps for Education replaces Google Apps Education Edition.

Launched in 2006 as Google Apps for Your Domain, Google Apps has grown to serve 30 million users and 3 million business customers.

For more information about how to export and import information between Google accounts, check out DataLiberation.org.

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