Our Google Overlords


Remember when Google was a website that offered a better search engine than Yahoo or Ask Jeeves?  Today, Google as a company has it’s own web browser (Chrome), Operating System (Android) and has expanded that Web Search functionality to, potentially, replace many aspects of the industry standard productivity software suite, MS Office.

Google Apps for Business is positioned to challenge the current industry leader by bundling e-mail, groupware (shared calendar, contacts, etc) as well as word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software which all run in a browser.  Google is taking the stance that internet connectivity is a prerequisite for effectively working on your computer. If you happen to agree then their service may be perfect for you.

As a B2B entrepreneur I spend a lot of time thinking about small business processes and the ways my clients both use the Internet and protect themselves from it at the same time. After all, the Internet allows savvy users to run a full fledged business from a laptop (or tablet). Google Apps specifically aims to allow users to do many of the things they have always relied on MS Office for, essentially for free.

Though many people use MS Office, few end users actually pay for it.  If you do, you know it costs between 160 CAD and about 600 CAD for the full Professional package which includes the Access Database, Visio and MS Project.  The least expensive version “Home & Student” doesn’t include Outlook, the de facto e-mail client found in small offices.  My personal feeling is that the sooner people move away from using MS Outlook the better.  It’s actually not Outlook that is the problem, it’s the notion of storing e-mail on a specific computer (which can then fail, taking the email with it). What Google is doing right, in my opinion, is encouraging users to move their essential business data, including email and documents, to ‘the Cloud”.  By this I mean storing the data on a offsite data center.  While this theoretically makes it harder to lose your data, it is kind of like putting your money in a bank.  The bank could get burned down or robbed but it is still much safer than hiding your money in a mattress.  You have to trust the bank , though. And you have to trust Google the same way.

The reason Google Apps is so attractive for small businesses, specifically businesses of one to ten staff is that the service is free at that level. A single entrepreneur, say a Real Estate Agent, could easily setup their own domain, store their data on Google’s ‘Drive’ (their version of Dropbox) and use Google’s Documents to create written documents, spreadsheets, etc. If that person were to loose their computer, due to damage, loss or computer virus, any other computer can simply access their e-mail, documents, etc… instantly, while their new laptop/desktop/tablet is being setup for them.  Since it is all online, said email and other data is also accessible from any Android or Apple Smartphone.

So why would a company like Google give all that away for free? What do they want?  They want to target their advertising (or rather their partner’s advertising) to you.  They will give you free email and enough software to never have to pay for MS Office again if you are willing to see some ads on the web pages as you do your job.  If that is acceptable to you, and you can trust a company to filter all your email for keywords, then you may want to join me in welcoming our new Google Overlords.