Google searching for corporate customers

Specialised applications of its search tools are how Google aims to tap the business user market. By John Fontana

Google has its eye on the enterprise. The company doesn't plan to come busting through the front door, however, but is banking on its search technology and user adoption of its productivity tools to get onto corporate desktops.

The company recently introduced a number of tools that will help users find, organise and share information. The tools, which are intended to enhance searching, include Version 4.0 of Google Desktop, which features small, customised applications called Gadgets; Google Co-op for targeted searching and sharing of links; and Google Notebook for capturing, saving and sharing links and text from online research.

"The corporate products we are doing step by step," says Google chief executive Eric Schmidt. "We just did OneBox, which allows you to get data securely from enterprise back ends. You should expect more of that in the future."

Nearly all Google's revenue comes from online ads, and while that business is under pressure from Yahoo and Microsoft, business users represents a wealth of potential, especially as web-based services and Web 2.0 technologies are taking off.

Google officials say they are refocusing their efforts on being a search company because they believe that is where the future lies and Yahoo, Microsoft and others are not focused on that area. Google claims to devote 70% of its development efforts to search, and Schmidt says it had fallen behind on that tenet.

He says the strategy would be to build everything around search, and he describes the products detailed above as "advancing the state of the art in search".

Analysts say coming into the enterprise on the back of Google's Search Appliance may be Google's best bet, but that doesn't mean others aren't watching.

"Growing from the bottom up sounds right," says Matt Brown, an analyst with Forrester Research.

"But they are going to have to continue investing in the Google Desktop and Search Appliance to keep competitive", he says.

"Google will have the most impact on small businesses — if you have the Search Appliance, suddenly you have all this tooling around it [mail, calendaring, desktop, word processor] and it delays you going out and buying a collaboration platform."

Google's step-by-step approach to targeting business customers can be seen in its OneBox for Enterprise, which was introduced last month as a feature of Search Appliance, Google's only revenue-generating enterprise product.

OneBox has been used for years on Google's consumer search engine and provides specialised results when users type in package tracking numbers or keywords such as "weather".

Google now has partnerships with NetSuite, Oracle and so users can get search results from those systems by typing in a query such as "quarterly sales results". An API released as part of Google's Enterprise Developer programme lets corporate developers build connectors to other systems.

Google hopes to use the same model to introduce tools that build off the Search Appliance.

The Gadgets feature of Desktop is beta software that uses Google search capabilities to find email and files and show intranet search results. The Desktop also is the anchor for a new feature called Sidebar, which provides a quick glance at personal information and a list of Gadgets.

Gadgets are mini applications. Google has built a number of them, including a music player, and offers an API so users can build their own.

Apple has similar features in Mac OS X, and Microsoft has a feature also called Gadgets that will ship with the upcoming Vista operating system.

"Gadgets and the Sidebar are a way to deliver functionality to the desktop," says Matt Glotzbach, senior product manager for Google Enterprise. "You can have a Gadget that delivers corporate data to a personal homepage."

He says Google's consumer team is pushing features, but the enterprise team is driving security and IT requirements. "We bring the likes of Oracle and to the table," Glotzbach says.

It was the corporate team that fostered a feature in Desktop that lets administrators block at the network level the "search across computers" feature, which was seen as a security risk by many IT shops, Glotzbach says.

He says the steps into the enterprise continue with Co-op, which can be combined with OneBox to offer more relevant search results.

Other upcoming products aimed at corporate uses include Notebook, a web cut and pasting tool.

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