Blogger: Guy Creese
I've been updating my Google Apps report (the updated version should be out in several weeks) and in the course of making the revisions, I began to notice a pattern: Google is discovering--and reacting to the fact--that Microsoft still pretty much owns the information worker desktop.
In August 2007, when the first version of the report was published, Google Gmail only supported POP3. A user could use a different e-mail client to access Gmail, but the mail stayed on the server--there was no way to download the mail to a client such as Microsoft Outlook so that the user could access the mail offline. That changed later in 2007, when Google added IMAP support. At that point, an organization could move to Google Apps Gmail and a worker used to working in Microsoft Outlook would never know the difference (at least from an e-mail perspective). Earlier this year, Google announced synchronization between Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar (one-way in either direction, or two-way: the choice is up to the user). This week, Cemaphore Systems announced that it was offering a product that would allow people to automatically synchronize their e-mail, calendar, and address books between Google Gmail and Microsoft Outlook.
In other words, Google Apps is morphing to become a backend service to Microsoft Office. (This doesn't mean that the Google Calendar and Gmail interfaces are going away, but rather that the Microsoft Office interfaces can take their place if an enterprise so desires.) This shift--one that Google really doesn't highlight--is a replay of what happened in the business intelligence (BI) space five years ago. Until that time, BI vendors would come in to brief me and rant and rave about customers using Excel: "Any company that performs BI within Excel is just plain stupid: there are multiple versions of the truth and the company spends an inordinate amount of time asking, 'Will the real numbers please stand up?' That company should be using our package to analyze the business." However, that rant never got anywhere: their customers, especially casual users, continued to work in Excel. Eventually, BI vendors such as Business Objects and SAS recognized they would never win the user interface battle, and took to developing Excel servers: the approved, corporate numbers sat on a BI server and fed them to workers using Excel.
This product strategy shift means that Google Apps now has two marketing stories: (1) it's cheap on the backend and frontend or (2) it's cheap on the backend. Google started with #1 (instead of paying Microsoft Office and Exchange license fees, pay $50 per user per year) but is now recognizing that may be too big a cultural leap for large organizations. So now it's offering option #2: (instead of paying Exchange license fees, pay $50 per user per year). With #2, the Google mantra of "Use Google Apps because it has a great consumer-tested UI" goes away, but the "less in your face" strategy may be more to enterprises' liking.