Practical Ecommerce

Google Apps: Free Business Tools, Plus Collaboration Services

As Google expands the number of tools and services it offers, it also seeks to package those services so they can be linked with each other and between the main user and other collaborators. This is the idea behind Google Apps, a suite of productivity and collaboration tools.

Google launched its Apps program in 2006, with “Gmail For Your Domain,” with 2 GB of storage and the ability to link the Gmail account to a custom domain name. Later that year it included other services like Calendar, Talk and Page Creator.

Since then, it has expanded Apps to include Google’s messaging and collaboration services. Google spokesperson Kat Eller said 3 million businesses now use Apps, with 30 million individual users.

For Business

I spoke to Managing Partner Irfan Khan from Agosto, a Minneapolis-based development firm and Google Apps reseller. Khan said Apps’ communication tools are the main reason Agosto recommends Google to its clients.

Google offers web-based office tools for businesses in both a Standard version for free and a Premier edition priced at $50 per user. Tens of thousands of users can have profiles on an Apps account. Khan said his company, Agosto, set up a Google Apps account for one of its clients with 16,000 users.

Standard users can add up to 50 users on one account with Google’s messaging apps—Gmail, Calendar, Docs and Sites. Premier users can store up to 25 GB of mail and have access to Video and Groups.

Calendar provides a collaborative scheduling tool that allows users to plan together, as each user can overlay every other user’s calendar over his or her own.

Docs is a word processor with many extras. Its main strengths lie in its online storage, auto-save, collaborative features and added tools. It’s more robust than Microsoft Word for ordinary word processing, but it falls a little behind on other document types like spreadsheets and slideshows.

Sites allows users to create a sort of organizational hub that can support documents, spreadsheets, slideshows, graphs and more, all in one place. Users can collaborate with each other on the page, deciding who can edit and share.

Compare to Office Suite Software, but for Free

With these combined tools, it could greatly benefit Apps users to convert to a free Standard Apps account than to purchase office suite software. Khan said these tools are key to his company’s choice of Apps as its preferred platform to use with their clients.

“We went with Google because it has the most robust communications platform around,” Khan said.

Premier users get extra mail storage and two additional features: Video and Groups.

Video is a collaborative video channel using Google to host and stream video content. The product demonstration features a retail business, 2nd Wind Exercise Equipment, that uses Video for a variety of purposes—training videos, commercials, job postings and product demonstrations.

Groups makes collaboration easier, as it allows users to group other individuals together so documents, video, calendars, sites and more can be shared in bulk. In a corporate situation, users could be placed in groups depending on their job descriptions or current projects.

Khan said the main thing that sets Apps apart from other online office suites is Gmail.

“Other platforms have some good collaboration tools, but in the end you need a messaging platform that includes mail, spam filtering, etc.” Khan said.

Google is not the only company to offer such web-based office tools. A primary competitor with a free bundle of apps is India-based Zoho, which launched its office suite in 2005. It offers the same sort of collaboration and creation apps but with less free users and file storage space.

Google also offers many of the same Apps benefits to educational institutions for free. Gmail, Calendar and Google Talk with voice and video chat allow for communication either in universities or K-12 schools. Docs, Sites, Groups and Video are all available for educational collaboration.

Conclusion

Apps provides free, web-based business tools that can benefit many smaller ecommerce businesses. Unless creating a large single messaging and collaboration interface with many users is top priority, avoid the $50 per user per month fee and go with the free “Standard” version, or use each part of the suite for free on its own.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons

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