Is Google doing the Gatesdance?

Some people wrote to tell me that I am partial to Google, seeing that I have been defending its contra-Microsoft strategy on this blog. Truth isthat I respect their creative vision and the chutzpah with which they stick it to the Redmondites. But, of course, Google is not operating as a charitable organisation – they are a multibillion dollar enterprise, with shareholders to feed. Sooner or later, I knew, Google will have to show its business-hand and, in doing so, will force me (us) to face the question if the current holder of the moral high ground is really as kosher as it claims.

Recently, Google announced the release of Google Sites – its (free so far) Team Enterprise suite of applications that will enable teams, as the Google marketing blurb says, to “add file attachments, information from other Google applications (like Google Docs, Google Calendar, YouTube and Picasa), and new free-form content.” Their two-pronged targeting includes business — and schools.

It makes perfect sense when you realise that the first group will bring business-leads while the second provides ready made hoards of beta testers – the first of a host of clever Google tactics. I was probably not the only person to smirk — this looks like a straight arrow into Microsoft’s underbelly, namely, Office SharePoint.

Office SharePoint Server is “an integrated suite of server capabilities that can help improve organizational effectiveness by providing comprehensive content management and enterprise search, accelerating shared business processes, and facilitating information-sharing across boundaries for better business insight.” Let’s get it perfectly right – Microsoft Office SharePoint is not really comparable to Google Sites, at least not right now. The SharePoint server holds clear benefits over Google’s lightweight version: content (some of it may be highly sensitive) is hosted locally, on the company / school servers, and not at a Google Gigabox somewhere, and there is, of course the issues of data safety and integrity, general security issues, as well as the question of risk of compromising sensitive information.

Still, I was quite adamant that Google Sites could position itself successfully below SharePoint — say, individuals (freelancers come to mind), and small-to-medium-sized businesses. Schools and educational institutions, as well as NGO and the civil and public services could use a much cheaper (free, in fact) solution, while larger businesses would continue to rely on heavyset systems like SharePoint. As I was writing a piece to that effect, I read an article titled “Google Sites the Next SharePoint? Maybe Not….Why Google Apps Could Lose the Enterprise Market” on the RealWriteWeb blog. The article gave my thinking two conceptual blows. The first thumping gave me the giggles while the second really ticked me off:

It appears that Google have identified the natural, most formidable, barrier to entry (literally) for their product — the IT department. It makes sense that IT persons will voice their worries about a system that resides on an external (commercial) server, that has unknown checks and securities to safeguard the information, that is not specific to their own needs, in terms of infrastructure. In short – Google anticipated a resounding F during an IT process of due-diligence. In order to overcome this – they simply offer the system directly to the end user – IT, they say, should not have the final say over the system used. Got it? This is chutzpah, um, more like CHUTZPAH, really. Yet – it’s a clever communication ploy. Let the IT department fight for a say in the matter!

The second point offers no reasons for admiration, it has to do with the small letter of the Google TOS (Terms of Service)- I thank and credit Joshua Greenbaum, writing on the ZDNet Blog for this unpleasant revelation. He scrutinises the TOS in details, and you can read it here, but the gist of his claim is simply that “For the privilege of using Google’s services, including Apps, for free, the sucker…customer gets to forgo pretty much any reasonable protection for the content – documents, spreadsheets, etc. […] — that it places inside a Google service. That should pretty much make it a non-starter for any real company trying to do real business using a Google App.” Now this, put simply, stinks.

So, it appears that while I was trumpeting the Goggle’s chivalry, they were busy the Gatesdance twostep. Eish.