Google has a tough time with partners.
Recent news that Google plans to design its own cell phone handsets resurrected complaints by third-party VAR and ISV partners who say Google Inc. has a bad habit of wooing strategic third parties into work on pet projects, then competing with them directly. They maintain that the search giant has abused their trust in its push for enterprise credibility.
In short, they maintain that Google's self-professed "Don't be evil" mantra is beyond ironic especially as the search giant tries to push its way into enterprise accounts where these partners already have traction.
Several of these VARs and ISV partners -- none of whom would speak for attribution -- said Google had approached them to devise software and connectors for the Google Appliance and Google Apps, and then released its own free "open source" products that compete directly with what they had built.
"Google's like Tiger Woods. They built up this aura around themselves that they're above reproach, and the truth is much different," said a person who consults with a partner that has had a run-in with Google.
The issue has been simmering for some time. Several ISVs said that they built software specifically because Google asked them to do so, pledging them an open field. They maintain that they brought out the products only to see Google enter the same market within months or a year with free versions.
LimitNone LLC took its complaint to court in June 2008, charging that Google misappropriated its trade secrets. LimitNone had developed software to help Microsoft Outlook customers move to Google Gmail. The Chicago area company alleged that in the previous year Google pressured it to offer the product -- which listed for $29 -- for $19 to Google customers and repeatedly said it had no plans for a competitive product. Then in December, Google told LimitNone that it would, in fact, launch its own product and make it free for its Premier customers.
Google "invited us to work with them, to trust them -- and they stole our technology," LimitNone CEO Ray Glassmann said in a statement when the lawsuit launched. "People need to realize that Google is just another large publicly traded corporation that will do whatever it takes to increase its revenue, even if that means risking its reputation among developers."
A judge said that Cook County, Ill., was not the proper venue for this case and dismissed it without prejudice, meaning it can be re-filed elsewhere.
Google ups the ante in enterprise push
In the past few years, as Google tried to move beyond its ad-funded consumer search services, it recruited ISVs with expertise in on-premises software like Documentum document management, Lotus Domino/Notes and Microsoft SharePoint for its Google Enterprise Professional Program.
In June 2006, Persistent Systems joined the program and announced its Lotus Notes Connector for the Google Search Appliance. In October 2009, Google launched its own connector for Lotus/Domino Notes. Persistent could not be reached for comment.
It's normal for small vendors to be cowed by a company as powerful as Google, and Google has its share of defenders in the partner world. Some say that the services opportunities Google's cloud infrastructure provides make up for any bumps and bruises on the product side.
Tony Safoian, CEO of SADA Systems Inc., is a longtime Google partner and is pleased with the result. "Google today has no services capacity. They don't bill for any and they need partners to deploy every sophisticated Google Apps project. That's where we see our success." Safoian cited the big deal Google closed with Los Angeles as the type of business Google can bring to services partners.
In many cases, big customers want to deal with a single provider, Safoian said. "When a large organization wants to go to the cloud, they don't want eight different plug-ins from eight different vendors. They want Google to have it, to support it. So, as an ISV, we have to figure out niche areas we can support where Google probably will not build and focus on that customer base and service."
Google is a partnering newbie
Just as on-premises software companies are having difficulty moving to the cloud, Google is challenged in dealing with corporate buyers and partners. One disgruntled Google partner points out that Google's enterprise sales group employs a number of ex-Oracle salespeople -- not a good sign.
"Look, channels are in the DNA of Microsoft. Google is not set up for partnering and it's not in their blood. They're experimenting with it," said Darren Bibby, program director of software channel for IDC.
Safoian seconds that notion. "We all have to realize that the channel strategy is very new for Google. Microsoft's had what -- 20 years to practice?"
Still, IT channel pros said if Google is serious about its enterprise push, it had better make nice and share the wealth with the integrators, ISVs and VARs that make specialized and vertical applications run. So far, they say, it's done a very poor job.