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Google Apps make the office suite SaaSy

Google unveiled today its long-anticipated jump into enterprise office suite market with the launch of the Premier Edition of Google Apps. For $50 a year per user, companies can now use Google’s suite of word processor, spreadsheet, calendar, instant messenger, voice-over-IP and email programs — including extensions for the BlackBerry and other mobile devices — tech support, the promise of 99.9% uptime and online storage space of 10GB per user. The suite also includes a set of application programming interfaces to allow either IT or ISVs to create customized extensions.

Both versions require an individual domain name for the users’ e-mail addresses and the Start page. Google will help users sign up for a separate domain for $10 per year through partnerships with and eNom.

Google Docs and Spreadsheets — which had been a separate service but are now included in the suite — have group access and version control that allow several users to work on a document simultaneously, while the application keeps track of revisions. The suite also includes controls on each application that allow administrators to define who can use what applications, and how.

A standard edition of Google Apps is also available free. The company is offering the premier edition for free until April 30.

Google Apps are delivered as software as a service (SaaS), meaning that end-users and administrators can use them from the comfort of whatever Web browser they happen to be sitting in front of. SaaS applications also relieve IT departments from the headache of upgrading, since new versions are installed at the vendor’s servers, a process which is hopefully transparent to its customers.

SaaS has made headway in some business functions, most notably customer relationship management (CRM), where has in the minds of many been the poster child for successful enterprise SaaS applications. Microsoft has also gotten behind the movement to some degree, with Microsoft Office Live offering email and document management over the Internet. The next version of Microsoft CRM will also be offered as hosted SaaS, although higher-end customers will probably still opt for the on-site edition.

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