Google Apps is a group of office automation services provided by the world leader in search Google. It includes several Web applications offering similar functionality to traditional office suites, including: Gmail, Google Groups, Google Calendar, Talk, Docs, Presentations, Forms and Sites. More than three million businesses, including Jaguar/ Land Rover, National Geographic, Rentokil Initial and others are already running Google Apps, and the number is counting.
MS Office or cloud solution?
Although Google Apps lack some functionality in comparison to the standalone MS Office suite (particularly in rich formatting and database functions of its spreadsheet), it also has three strong advantages: very easy online collaboration, ability to work from mobile devices and, last but not least, very low price.
Lets start with the price: Google Apps usage for personal non commercial usage is for free. Even for corporate usage, total cost of ownership is just a fraction of costs of MS Office, leader of this market. Google Apps are available in three edition – small business, medium-sized business and enterprise. Each edition has a limit of the number of users that may be active at any given time. Every user has own disc space which is possible to extend for an additional fee. Other differences between edition include level of technical support, functions in administrators controls, additional business apps, and advanced features. Enterprise edition also includes SAS 70 Type II certification, which provides guidance to service auditors when assessing the internal controls of a service organization and issuing a service auditor’s report.
In addition to basic services (docs, spreadsheets, presentations, mail, calendar, etc.), user can select from a variety of third party supplements stored in Google Apps Marketplace, which is an App "store" for Google Apps users. It contains both free and paid applications, which can greatly customize the Google Apps experience. For example, company which has a database of received invoices for the last 5 years wants to know what is the most expensive and repetitive item. In short, for what the company spends most of the money every month? An easy way to resolve it is to transfer invoices to a common format and use one of the analytics and reporting services from Google Apps Marketplace, like “Bittle SAS: on-demand analytics and reporting for all”, or “Bill.com - Online Invoicing and Bill Payment”.
Apps offer multiple ways of work
All data are stored in Google Cloud. 1 GB of storage is included for free. Currently the costs for additional storage per year are 20 GB-$5, 80 GB-$20, etc. up to 16 TB. Individual documents may not exceed 1 GB as of 13 January 2010, embedded images must not exceed 2 MB each, and spreadsheets are limited to 256 columns, 200,000 rows, and 99 sheets. Documents are automatically saved to Google servers after every change to prevent data loss, and a revision history is automatically kept.
The primary method how to work with documents is the built-in java based application that runs on recent versions of the Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari and Chrome browsers running on Microsoft Windows, Apple OS X, and Linux operating systems. This application allow users to convert their files to proprietary Microsoft formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt), and into two ISO standard document formats: OpenDocument (for both importing and exporting) and Office Open XML (for import only). Thanks to these rich conversion features users are free to use their Google Apps documents in any other office application like Microsoft Office, Open office, or WordPerfect Office.
In November 2010 Google also launched Microsoft Office Connector which allows direct synchronization, sharing and storing of MS Office documents using the Google Cloud. The documents —Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint— aren’t reformatted into the Google Docs format, instead their original MS Office format is kept (although reformatting is an option for users who need to edit these documents and don’t have MS Office). This connector actually brings the best from both worlds - it keeps the rich offline functionality of MS Office while adding all main advantages of Google Apps, namely easy online cooperation, easy online access, and ability to share information across multiple platforms. It is also a smart move from Google: the Office Connector makes MS Office users used to the new Google Apps features, and offers them an easy migration path for the time when they are ready for change.
Last (but not least) option how to work with Google Docs is via Google Apps API. This allows for an easy integration with an existing infrastructure. We will demonstrate this feature in a more detail in a separate article.
Real-time collaboration via smartphone
Mobile access, and namely smartphone support, is a very strong feature of Google Apps. Google Apps work on all popular systems, including Android, Iphone, Blackberry and Windows Mobile. This is especially appreciated by employees who are frequently out of the office and still need to be able to cooperate with their colleagues remotely. Imagine this situation - you are a construction engineer who is responsible for managing more than one building sites. On the first site you have to solve shortage of cement, on the second site shortage of sand and the third site requires ordering tiles. It would be inefficient if you have first to finish the visit of all the building sites and only then return to the office to pass these requests from the field. The solution with Google Apps is simple and very practical. Just create one spreadsheet with information, requests and to-do’s for every building site and share this spreadsheet across the organization, including your colleagues in procurement. Then simply log-in to you company account using your smartphone and modify shared spreadsheet directly at the building site. Your requirements are immediately shared with the colleague who is responsible for ordering the missing material (he can even receive notifications), and within an hour after your input everything will be fixed.
To sum up, if you need an easy access to your documents, contacts, e-mail, calendar and other tools for effective office automation, then Google Apps is the choice for you.
What we liked:
+ easy sharing and collaboration, including automatic revision management
+ rich integration tools and API
+ reduction of IT costs
+ easy to use
+ favourable price
What we didn’t like:
● 1GB per user for file storage limit
● not working in offline mode (the user needs to be permanently on-line)