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Google Apps Premier Edition

Cloud computing is the buzz word of the moment and Google is still the internet’s star child. But is Google Apps really good enough for serious business use? We delve deeper.

Confidentiality and updates

With data stored and processed on your own equipment, you can be reasonably confident that you know who has access to it and, if necessary, you can take steps to protect it by encrypting the files. The files stay on the PC or servers under your control. You know what software is installed on the PC and your company's IT policies can give reasonable assurance that no malware sticks its nose in.

Giving all your documents to Google's servers to look after is another leap of faith. Who is to say that your files remain confidential to you if they're stored on another company's servers and every time you want to view or edit them they're transmitted over the internet, without encryption, to any PC you happen to be using at the time? If you're in an internet cafe somewhere, do you know the PC you're using isn't running spy software, logging all your keystrokes?

Google reserves the right to support the service by advertising and that means it will examine your documents to find keywords to trigger "relevant" adverts to be pushed to you. Do you want Google to know everything about your business? If it has all your documents, it will.

The Google applications themselves can be updated and changed at any time without any warning as Google releases new versions and, if you don't like the change or it breaks your documents, there is no way for you to go back to using the old version. There's also no way to get your documents out of Google Docs short of opening each document in turn and choosing to download a copy.

Conclusion

With terms and conditions running to many pages, including clauses that say the company can change the terms at any time, without telling you, we would be very wary about entrusting any of our data to Google. 25 per user per year is a fair chunk of money if you look at it long term. Over three years it is about half the cost of a single OEM licence for Microsoft Office 2007 Small Business Edition and that gives you an awful lot more functionality. Other packages, such as OpenOffice, still have more features than Google Docs, but are completely free.

All in all, Google Apps look far too simple, unfinished and, as Dr Johnson said: "Like a dog walking on its hind legs, it is not done well but you are surprised to find it done at all."

If your requirements are relatively rudimentary, with your documents consisting of plain text and little formatting and if you are happy to risk all the restrictions, possible breaks in service, or loss of confidentiality - then Google Apps could be right for your company - but if not - there are other, far better, solutions out there.

Verdict

Steve Ballmer has poured scorn on Google apps, and after close examination we think he might have a point. The potential is there, but we’re not convinced that Google Apps Premier is feature complete or resilient enough for major corporates to consider.

Internet connection required

OS: Windows XP/Vista or Mac

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