If Microsoft Resellers Don’t Like Licensing Options …

If Microsoft’s resellers don’t like the licensing options available to small and mid-size businesses (SMB’s), why should you?

Yesterday, ChannelWeb (A CMP Publication) reported that Microsoft was mulling over changes to its SMB volume licensing programs, again. This is just another salvo in the ongoing debate over licensing complexity championed by David Schrag and other SMB experts for years.

Microsoft Licensing is overly complex. For every server, there are Client Access Licenses (CALs) to be bought. Volume licensing gets you access to features, training, and a limited number of support calls. Tracking and managing licensing and its related benefits burdens your IT staff with more administration.

Why bother?

For many applications and services, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions meet your business requirements without the licensing hassle. Most SaaS solutions include a reasonable startup fee and annual per-user fees. While user fees for services like Salesforce.com have tiers based on functionality sets, others like Google Apps include all service and application options at a single fee.

Either way, the licensing is relatively simple, you pay as you go, and your IT staff do not need a MS in Licensing (pun intended!).

Pundits Mix, Match, and Misunderstand Google’s Enterprise Solutions

On February 11, Keith Ferrell posted a blog entry at bMighty.com entitled Google Apps: Right For The Small Business Buck? (And Does Google Even Want Your Bucks?). In the article, Mr. Ferrell confuses the market positioning of Google’s Message Encryption Service, part of the Google Apps Security and Compliance Suite, with Google Apps Premier Edition as these services apply to small and mid-size businesses.

In my response, I clarify the differentiation between services targeting companies with internal messaging infrastructures and those for which Google Apps can provide the messaging services. I also point out that Google is not walking away from companies with fewer than 50, or even 250 users.

More Offline Features

Google Apps Premier Edition offline (Beta!) now includes offline, read-only access to your calendar.

This represents another example of the continuous, incremental development and improvement strategy behind Google products and services.

Google Apps Contacts Mature

One of the differences between Google Apps Premier Edition and MS Outlook with Exchange is that Google Apps does not have the concept of the Global Address List. Companies use the GAL to share contacts and distribution lists, even though the GAL is a separate entity from the Personal Address Book, which is also separate from the Contacts folder. So while contacts within Outlook/Exchange is not pretty, the information is available.

As announced on 11-Feb, the following new features are available in Gmail contacts:

  • You can combine multiple contacts into a single entry
  • The new ‘All Contacts’ group includes ‘My Contacts’ and other people with whom you have corresponded
  • You can remove contacts from ‘My Contacts’, leaving them in ‘All Contacts’
  • You can search across all contact fields

What do these features mean?

Contacts and groups are starting to look more like emails and labels, where all contacts are kept in a single place (like All Mail), but you can track your contacts and group contacts more easily. If “All Contacts” becomes a shareable resource, Google Apps will include the GAL functionality some businesses miss, but in a fully integrated way.

Short term, though, you get better organization and search, making Google Apps Premier Edition that much more easy to use.

Incremental Improvements in Gmail Should Help Enterprise Adoption

Google Apps Enterprise Edition users have seen some a number of small changes to the user Gmail user interface. While some are cosmetic — colors, borders, highlights — others should ease user adoption and comfort with Gmail. One of these changes is the Move to button that appeared this morning.

One of the big differences between Gmail and other email servers, like Microsoft Exchange, is the difference between folders and labels. With folders, when you move an email from your Inbox to the folder, the email actually moves into that folder. To find the email, you need to browse the folder or include the folder in your search.

Gmail labels work differently. In Gmail, all of your email resides in “All Mail”. Gmail uses the power of Google’s search technology to find and display your messages.

When you label and Archive your message, you are removing it from the “Inbox” and adding the labels to the message. While clicking on a Label name looks like opening a folder, you are in effect searching for all messages with the Label.

Labels offer more than traditional folders in that: (1) You can put multiple labels on a message without having to copy the message into multiple folders; and (2) Searching and finding messages in Gmail is fast (no comparison to Outlook).

The Move to button adds the label and archives the message(s) in one click. As such, it looks and feels like you are moving a message into a folder.

User Interface enhancements that mask some of the differences between Gmail and other email systems will only enhance users’ acceptance. With this feature, users can work with the familiar “move” concept without loosing Gmail’s superior search capability.

Will There be a G Drive in Our Future?

Several stories like this one from Jan 30 on ChannelWeb point to signs that the often-rumored GDrive is coming from Google. Like Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (a.k.a S3 Drive), the word on the street is that Google’s GDrive will provide large quantities of low cost, or even free, storage in the cloud.

More interesting with Google, however, is the potential value of integrating the GDrive with Google Apps Premier Edition. If provided, this integration will provide businesses with a means of storing, sharing, and protecting data without the need for local servers or setting up a myriad of Google Sites.

If and when the GDrive arrives, we will try it out and report.

Offline Access for Gmail

With the recent announcement that users can access their Gmail service offline, Google continues to move Google Apps towards a fully independent working environment. Offline access to Gmail should mitigate the need for other email clients, such as Outlook.

For Google Apps Premier Edition, some offline capability already exists across the Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentation applications, as noted in the online help file.

Here’s an overview of which functions you can do in Google Docs while you’re offline (the ‘X’ means the function is available).

  • Docs: View, Edit
  • Spreadsheets: View
  • Presentations: View

While the functionality across the Google Apps suite is limited, look for more offline features in the coming months. Several third parties, such as Zoho, are already using Google Gears to provide offline integration with Google applications and services.

Tech Media Miss the Mark on Google App Reseller Launch

When Google announced the launch of the Google Apps reseller channel on January 14, the technology press and reseller channel pressed jumped on the story as this is big news for the industry. Google continues to prove it is serious about enterprise computing and challenging the status quo models for in-house computing. With the opening of the official reseller channel, Google is demonstrating a commitment to ensure that businesses get the support, integration, and training services necessary for any successful platform or application rollout.

To much of the media focus, however, has been on how Google Apps Premier Edition compares with Microsoft Office. While Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentation are pretty cool applications with some amazing collaboration and integration features, they are not as mature with respect to traditional features — fonts, formatting, styles, etc. — as the Microsoft suite.

More importantly, these applications are not the best reason to use Google Apps Premier Edition. Google Apps provides a hosted environment for communication and collaboration that delivers features, capability, and value that few, if any, other providers can match.

Here are reasons to consider Google Apps Premier Edition:

Hosted Email and Calendars

  • The easy-to-use GMAIL web interface
  • Full IMAP support lets you use pick nearly any email client, including Outlook
  • Private, shared, public, event, and resource calendars
  • 25 GB of space per mailbox
  • Free blackberry and PDA integration
  • Secure Instant Messaging with searchable archives and VoIP telephone service

Collaboration Tools and Solutions

  • Embedded collaboration in Docs, Spreadsheet, and Presentation saves money on fee-based web conferencing services
  • Google Sites enable easy and fast creation and management of Intranet and internal project sites
  • Secure customer portals with no network adminstration required
  • Google Forms for simple information gathering and management

Content Management

  • Embed content within Google Apps dymanically into public web sites, including calendars, events, and response forms

In summary, Google Apps Premier Edition provides a better solution for companies already using hosted email, calendar, and collaboration services and can provide a more cost effective means of delivery these services than upgrading current in-house systems.