Today, the search company announced a new software offering aimed at business customers. The free package, which goes by the not-so-catchy moniker Google Apps for Your Domain, is a private-label version of Google's email, chat, calendar, and web page editing programs. Like most of Google's services, it's supported by text ads.
The move is one that most Google watchers expected, especially following the acquisition of Writely (a web-based word processor) and the release of Google Spreadsheets. The thinking is that Google will eventually offer a software package that would compete with Microsoft Office. And if the company sticks with its current business model, that package would most likely be free.
I love Google's email and chat programs, and I'm excited they're extending powerful (and free!) applications to business users, but I wonder if company owners will be hesitant to turn over their email systems to the guys in Mountain View. When I wrote about Google's free web analytics offering, one of the common complaints from the company's competitors was that its tech support is non-existent. Now maybe that's unfair (Google staunchly defends its support), but I think it's an issue worth considering. What happens if Google screws up and accidentally deletes your account, or, as happened earlier this month with AOL, mistakenly releases private data? Not only would it be unclear who to call (Google does not publish a customer service phone number), but the aggrieved company would seem to have no recourse. Google Apps is a "beta" release, which means that, if there's a problem, it's your problem.