Tested and true: little guys’ verdict on free Google apps

Smaller companies have limited IT budgets and little tech support. A number have been trying out Google Apps for Your Domain with great success

With limited IT budgets and technical staff, some small and medium-sized businesses have started kicking the tyres of Google’s free, web-based Google Apps for Your Domain desktop application suite. Some early users are finding that the software works well in smaller operations.

Larger companies, on the other hand, may be somewhat wary of buying hosted key applications from the search-engine provider, say users and analysts.

Joe Poole, technical support manager at Boscov’s department store, a Pennsylvania-based retailer, says there’s not much chance that his company would use the new offering from Google. “If we need inexpensive office software, we use OpenOffice.

“At this point, the large enterprise looks at this and says, ‘I’ve kind of got this covered’ [with an Exchange server, instant messaging and other IT software],” says Whit Andrews, an analyst at Gartner.

Alejandro Pivaral, CIO at Miami-based 2night Entertainment, says he expects his company can dump an email server and its associated expenses after signing-up its 100 employees for the alpha version of Google’s free suite.

“I don’t use Outlook anymore,” Pivaral says. “I only use Gmail,” Google’s free hosted email service.

Pivaral says he installed test versions of the new Google offerings earlier this year because they were free, but has since found additional value.

A beta version of Google’s suite of hosted applications was launched last week for small and medium-sized businesses. The suite will be expanded by the end of the year with capabilities for larger companies.

The corporate versions will carry as yet undisclosed fees, says Matthew Glotzbach, Google’s enterprise division products manager. The product suite includes the Gmail software and Google’s Calendar, Talk and Page Creator applications and Student Email System.

Michael Renzi, director of finance and administration at San Jose City College, says the school began using an alpha version of the suite in February and has already created its first email system for its 11,000 students.

“It’s providing them with services that we haven’t been able to provide before [because of budget restrictions]”, he says.

Renzi says the two-year college had hoped to build such email capabilities over the past several years but hadn’t been able to gain funding for the project.

So far, Renzi says, “it’s working out great. There are, of course, things that we have to change”. These include some work processes. But these adjustments are expected and are being made.

Renzi says he’s not sure how much money the college has saved by using the hosted Google applications, but “there’s no question that it’s saved thousands of dollars”.

Paul Sculthorpe, a senior web developer at Rock Kitchen Harris in Leicester, England, says his company began using Google Apps several weeks ago when its internal mail server died.

Sculthorpe says the Google system was “painless to set up and means we can get on with other things”.

The company is looking for Google to improve the Gmail software’s spam folder, says Sculthorpe. “We’ve had a few important emails go into the spam folder.”

“There has been some [internal] concern over privacy and things. My general answer to that is that I trust Google to take better backups than we ever could.”

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