Business-like, isn't he?



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    Google applications challenging Microsoft office software monolith

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver 

    March 6-12, 2007; issue 906

    High-Tech Office column

    The timing was, perhaps, less than coincidental. Only two weeks after Microsoft released the retail version of its Office 2007 suite, Internet search giant Google announced its own business application suite, Google Apps Premier Edition, challenging Microsoft both by providing its software online and with affordable pricing of US$50 per year per user (free through April 30).

    Included in the package: Google’s Internet-accessible word processor and spreadsheet, both of which can be used to edit and share files originally created with Microsoft Office’s Word and Excel. Users also get accounts with Google’s Gmail e-mail and contacts, Google Talk instant messaging and Google calendar services.

    Users who feel they can live without support can sign up for free; $50 buys you a year’s worth of 24/7 phone support, a guarantee of 99.9% uptime, and more online storage space (for a total of 10 GB versus 2 GB for the free service). Paid users can also make their Gmail e-mail accounts appear to be on their own web domains and get all services ad-free.

    Blackberry users now can access Gmail accounts, whether they’re signed up for a paid or free account. Google boasts a user base of more than 100,000 small business and university users.Missing from the package: there’s no PowerPoint competitor though there are hints that Google is working on one. Both the word processor and spreadsheet are anemic compared with Microsoft’s products. Though they might be feature-rich enough for some, the lack of spreadsheet charting is a big hole in that application’s capabilities.

    And while working online is better than it used to be, there’s still a performance hit compared with running applications stored on a local computer or network.

    Because all the applications and user documents are hosted online, they’re accessible from any computer with Internet access rather than tied to a single computer or network. Keeping documents online can be a boon to collaboration. (Microsoft offers SharePoint collaboration services with its Office suite, but using this add-on requires additional software, a dedicated SharePoint server and IT time.)

    The flip side is that your work is inaccessible if there’s no Internet access, on a plane or ferry, for instance.

    I would have preferred the ability to download and run the Google Apps and to store my current documents on my local computer so I could work on them when I’m off-line, synching them when I’m reconnected.

    And it means being prepared to trust Google with your business documents. Google uses secure SSL for its online storage, including its Gmail service. Arguably, storing business data on Google’s servers is more secure than toting it around on easily stolen laptops, and the company certainly provides better back-up and anti-spam and virus technology than most small businesses.

    Microsoft is responding with Office Live, with both ad-supported and subscription online services. Like Google Apps, they are targeted at small business, offering quick and easy (and free) ways to get a web page online along with e-mail. There are monthly US$20 and US$40 packages offering additional storage and e-mail accounts, and workspaces, a wiki-based collaboration tool. The premium version includes time and project management tools. Unlike Google’s service (and despite its name), Office Live does not include online word processor or spreadsheet tools. (Like Google, free trials are available; unlike Google Apps, access requires Internet Explorer on a Windows system.)

    Most companies will not be ready to dump their full-fledged (and expensive) copies of Microsoft Office for either the free or paid versions of Google Apps. It may prove to be a strong competitor, though, for individuals and small-business users who are often on the road, want simple collaboration or don’t need high-powered word processing or spreadsheets.

    Full-disclosure time: I’ve been working full-time using Google’s Gmail, contacts and calendar services for the past year. My website has generated a small amount of advertising revenue hosting Google’s AdSense ads. For more on Google Apps:; Microsoft Office Live:

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan