Last night, as nearly everybody knows by now, a tidal wave of embargoed press coverage washed over the web regarding the launch of “Google Apps for Your Domain,” Google’s first concerted move into the provision of hosted application services for business customers.
For those of you who have been incommunicado for the past 14 hours, Google Apps for Your Domain is a set of free services that comprises web-based email, calendaring, instant messaging, and page-creation programs. Small- and medium-size businesses, universities and colleges, and non-profit organizations can pick and choose from Gmail, GoogleTalk, Google Calendar, and Google Page Creator.
As with most Google free services, the tradeoff for those who adopt them is that they also must accept Google advertising. For some, the combination of the advertising and Google’s terms of service, especially in the wake of AOL’s scandalous disclosure of customer-search data, is enough to dissuade them from embracing Google’s latest offering.
Naturally, there’s plenty of talk this morning about how Google finally has taken lethal aim at Microsoft’s Office’s $11.7-billion (in annual revenue) fortress.
That’s a dramatic narrative theme, to be sure, but it isn’t accurate — not yet, anyway. This is merely a first move from Google, not a checkmate. Since this first iteration of the wretchedly named Google Apps for Your Domain doesn’t include personal-productivity applications such as word processing or spreadsheets, I’m sure Microsoft’s near-term hold on small businesses is safe for now, never mind its iron grip on larger enterprises.
Google, for its part, claims his first foray into business applications is complementary to Microsoft’s offerings, and that’s a wise tack to take.
Suggesting that it is providing collaborative features that incumbent products lack, or inadequately provide, Google is contending that its new services enhance rather than replace what customers already are using. It’s not entirely true, of course, but it’s better than saying that this particular offering represents Google’s definitive answer to the application needs of business users, which it most assuredly does not.
Over time, though, especially if a feature article in InformationWeek is to be believed, that will change. Google will fill out its web-based business software product portfolio — perhaps at that point changing the name to something more mellifluous, such as Google Office — with word processing, spreadsheet, and other functions, and it will add service-level agreements and other business-friendly adjuncts. Higher-end, fee-based versions will eschew the advertising.
But the pace and nature of those future releases remain to be seen. What we have before us today — programs that provide web-based email, calendaring, instant messaging, and page creation — doesn’t redefine anything. It’s a tentative step — nothing more, nothing less. It makes one wonder whether Google should have waited until its Writely word-processing service had been fully integrated, along with Google Spreadsheet, into the suite before making this announcement, but Google probably had its reasons.
The thing to remember about Google, as an industry player, is that it isn’t a knockout puncher. It doesn’t provide single-punch dramatics. Instead, it take its time, throwing precise, short jabs, methodically moving forward and working toward the desired outcome.
That’s why the company can be, and has been, underestimated. Its progress, as judged at any single juncture, is nearly imperceptible. You really don’t see Google coming until it’s too late.
I think that’s why there’s been so much head scratching from the pundits in response to this announcement. We’ve all become so conditioned to “big” announcements, we’re always looking for them.
Well, with Google, you won’t get them.
Everything with Google is a work in progress, and that work apparently never ends. To assess what Google is doing, and whether it will achieve its goals, you have to forget what you’ve learned about traditional product-release schedules, the concept of a finished product, and the huge PR-intensive product launch.
With Google, products and services never truly are complete; enhancements and refinements will continue into perpetuity. Unless you view what Google is doing on a broader timeline than the moment, there’s little drama or understanding to be had. It’s just more stuff coming at you, some of it not fully formed or integrated with other parts of a complete solution.
For now, the Microsoft-versus-Google dramatics that this announcement seems to have unleashed are woefully misplaced. As Paul Kedrosky points out, companies other than Microsoft will be the first to bear the brunt of Google’s gradual, iterative advance into web-based business services. Included among those who will feel the Google-administered pain: domain hosting, application, and storage services.
Like a good, thoroughly prepared, systematic boxer, Google is disrupting and taking apart lesser foes before it steps into the business ring for the main event against a reigning champion. The thing is, we might not know when that bout begins, and its ending might be just as ambiguous.