Thursday, May 12, 2011

Google Takes Office-Space Battle to Microsoft

Google fully took on its biggest rival Microsoft Wednesday, with a new offering called Chromebooks that provides software, laptops and support for $28 per month per user.

The idea is simple. Businesses spend a lot of money on IT support, hardware and software ? the core of which is commodity computers running a flavor of Windows OS and Microsoft Office. They hold on to computers as long as they can both for reasons of cost and to simplify support, which generally is provided locally through the IT department. With Chromebooks for Business Google is taking the enterprise leader head on, in both price and service.

Google provides standardized small laptops from Samsung and Acer running its Chrome OS, which debuted in December. The new Chromebooks, as Google dubbed them, are fully web-based ? both programs and storage is ?in the cloud.? Users have access to use a wide range of productivity software, like Google Docs, Salesforce CRM and photo editing software, with no installation or and upgrades automatically performed in the background. Google provides all support, including repair and replacements. All for a small monthly price.

?For the first time, it is software and hardware as a service, packaged together,? Google senior vice president Sundar Pichai told the Google I/O conference in San Francisco.

Google has made less ambitious plays for the enterprise before. It?s first attempt the paid version of Google Docs, has had some success with smaller businesses, but hasn?t turned into a significant revenue source for Google. But diversification is seem as key for the search giant, since its core advertising products is still responsible for more than 90 percent of its revenue. So we see a push into the mobile space with Android ? a direct blow at Apple ? and now a disruptive gambit to make a dent in Microsoft?s domination of the business office.

Besides the cost argument ? Pinchai said the Google initiative would be one-third of what he estimated was the average $1,000 IT cost per employee ? he stressed peace of mind that comes with not worrying about obsolescence and replacement cycles.

?Each time when you open them, you get the latest and the greatest version of the web application which you?re using,? Pichai said. ?It gets better over time. I think this is a concept people aren?t used to on their computers. When you buy a PC, it?s great on the first day. But as you install applications, it slowly starts degrading over time. Because we update Chromebooks automatically, we?ll update them every few weeks, we actually think we can make it better over time.?

The same program is also being extended to schools and businesses, at a lower rate of $20 per user per month. Individuals who want a Chromebook will be able to buy them, without support, starting in June at $350 and up.

The initial offering is limited to two laptops, but Google says its working with Samsung to create a small box, a little larger than a cigar case, that can be used to power large screens as a desktop replacement.

When Google debuted its Chrome OS through a laptop giveaway program in December, users complained about the nearly useless trackpad and the inability to upload photos when you attach a computer. Google says those are now fixed and that it has a robust set of APIs to let existing web applications, such as Dropbox, to connect to Chrome OS ? so that users will have a wide array of options when they want to store data, create spreadsheets and even use computer-assisted design software.

Ryan Singel covers tech policy, broadband, search and social networking for Follow @rsingel and @epicenterblog on Twitter.


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