I mentioned in my last entry that I thought that Google were making serious headway in the productivity software space. What did I mean by this? Well take a moment to think about what 90% of computer users use their humble beige boxes for 90% of the time. I’ll give you a clue – email, browsing, scheduling, and reading or writing documents. Occasionally there’s some spreadsheet, presentation and planning tools in there too, but actually most of what people do is those first 4.
For a long time now, Microsoft have cornered a huge majority of that market both at home and in the office, with Outlook / Exchange, Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word. Fair play to the boys and girls in Redmond – its partly because of their work in this area over the last 20 years that most people take all these activities for granted now. Microsoft are now facing their biggest challenge in this space though, and it’s Google.
I use a lot of free Google apps for my own personal use – GMail, Calendar, Reader, News, Personalised Home page, Picasa, etc., and I use the free Firefox browser for all my web surfing needs. If I used Google documents that would cover off all of the ‘90% work’ I described above. I find Google apps are a lot better than the applications I use that have been paid for by the companies I work for (why oh why can I not escape the clutches of Lotus Notes…) If I ran a company I would love to pay Google to use their apps rather than the others out there for this 90% work. But they only make apps for consumers, right?
Up until now the only Google love you could share within your company is the Google Search appliance. It was nice and all, but only gave you search – where’s my corporate GMail?! Well no more shouting, it’s here, at least in beta, as (wait, this is a mouthful) Google Apps for your Domain. At the moment it’s Email, Calendars and a couple of other bits and bobs, but this is a huge advance. The big surprise to me (and I guess I’m an idiot for not thinking of it before) is that they won’t be selling ‘GMail appliances’, at least not yet, instead Google will host this for you – it’s Software as a Service.
It can’t be long until they make Google Documents available as a similar service, and at that point most companies’ IT departments will be able to shrink massively. No more Exchange servers, no more need for never-ending word-document-hosting file servers, and massively easier licensing models, computer setup times, etc. This is the revolution – truly outsourced IT to a company that actually knows how to do it.
Of course, how this would be financed and how quickly people would be willing to host all their files ‘outside the firewall’ are open questions, but these are (I believe) minor in comparison with the technological problems now solved.
One final point here. With all of these Google applications being browser-based the age of the Network Computer might actually be here. I suspect that we won’t all be switching to diskless browser appliances overnight but in 5 years time I think we’ll start seeing something like it in a big proportion of the IT market-space. And if that does happen, why would I bother upgrading my enterprise to Windows Vista? Enter stage right, Mr Shuttleworth…