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Web-based applications intensify Microsoft vs. Google market battle

Bill Gates says Google Apps isn't robust enough for business use, but Google thinks its simplicity gives it an edge over Microsoft Online Services.

BOSTON -- Google's enterprise products chief touted Web-based applications as the future of business technology during this morning's Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) International Exposition and Conference keynote address.

Matthew Glotzbach, product management director for Google Enterprise, told the crowd that Web-based applications are simple, but not simplistic, and they can actually perform tasks that on-premise software can't or doesn't, like importing online data into a spreadsheet in real time and integrating email and chat in one window. He spoke one day after Microsoft announced online versions of its SharePoint and Exchange software and launched Office Live Workspace collaboration software -- moves that intensified the Microsoft vs. Google battle in the Web-based applications market.

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"We're on the cusp of the next generation, the next revolution in computing," Glotzbach said. "We're really being ushered into the era of cloud computing."

A frequently used term, "cloud computing" refers to applications and data stored online and accessible from any device with a Web browser. It remains unclear how the shift will affect value-added resellers (VARs) and systems integrators (SIs), who traditionally made money by selling and deploying products at customer sites.

Google's primary success in the Web-based applications market has come from GMail and Google Docs, its free email and productivity programs for consumers.

But the Google vs. Microsoft battle will be fought in the enterprise. For those customers, Google offers Google Apps, which features GMail, Google Docs and Google Sites, the new online collaboration application. It is almost impossible to tell how many paying customers Google has for those products, however.

Microsoft said this week its online services will "create new opportunities for partners to resell, customize and provide consulting, migration and managed services for customers."

Google's website says partners can deploy "search and collaboration solutions and extend installations" for customers, but the site only lists 18 worldwide partners who specialize in Google Apps.

The Microsoft vs. Google battle features two companies approaching the Web-based applications market from very different angles. Microsoft built its empire on desktop applications running on local PCs, while Google conquered the online search and advertising markets.

While Google attacks Microsoft's dominance inside the firewall, Microsoft is trying to eat away at Google's prodigious share of Web search and to straddle a line where functions can be delivered as software or services or a mixture of both.

Yesterday at the SharePoint 2008 conference in Seattle, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates criticized Google's enterprise push.

"The Google tools that have tried to do productivity-type things … really don't have the richness, the responsiveness," he said, according to the Associated Press.

Glotzbach responded this morning, although he did not refer to Microsoft by name. He said Google's approach is to be feature-rich but also easy to use.

"Power users want to cram as many features on a page as possible," he said. "That's what the enterprise software industry has lived on for the past few decades."

Glotzbach said that on his trip from San Francisco to Boston, a fellow passenger spent the entire flight organizing emails into different folders. With GMail, users can store and search through every email they have ever sent or received, eliminating the need for such tedious tasks, Glotzbach said. That was one example of what he called Google's strategy for simplifying enterprise technology through Web-based applications.

"All of the old business models that we know are really going to be challenged by this," he said.

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