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Google Takes Aim at the Desktop

Google is taking a leading role in turning software into services online. Between its own internal development and last year's acquisitions of JotSpot and Writely, the search giant has put together a palette of office productivity and collaboration applications that appeal to both corporate users and consumers. Two of the executives overseeing these applications sat down with Redmond magazine. Jonathan Rochelle, product manager of Docs & Spreadsheets, and Rajen Sheth, product manager of Google Apps for Your Domain, detailed Google's application strategy.

Q: What is the general strategy for Google's business applications and where do you see it going?

Sheth: As product manager of Google Apps for Your Domain, which consists of Gmail, the Calendar and Google Talk, I see this as our platform for bringing Google technologies and other services to organizations. So far many small businesses, universities and other organizations have put their e-mail service in our hands and collaborate using our services. We give them the ability to customize their applications, control their user base and essentially run it like it's their own service. Later this year we'll start to bring this to larger businesses as well. We feel the technologies we're building are valuable to not only consumer end users but all end users, whether they're sitting in an office or are at home. We want to find ways to bring those technologies to everyone.

Gmail

Q: So what sort of penetration have you had in business compared with consumers?

Sheth: We launched Google Apps for Your Domain as a beta back in August and we already have tens of thousands of domains. We have seen a substantial uptake of these services over the last few months, with interest being shown among businesses of all sizes.

Q: So your success has been equally divided between smaller businesses and enterprise accounts?

Sheth: A little bit of both, to be honest. Enterprises will take a longer time to get rolling because they have existing infrastructure and can't shift on a dime. But we have a lot of smaller companies that have taken it on whole hog and adopted it right away. All of these organizations are looking at this Web 2.0 space and the concept of host applications and realizing there are a lot of benefits it can bring. We have also seen a strong uptake in the educational space as well. Lots of universities are thinking about why they have to run this expensive infrastructure for collaboration, maintaining it themselves.

TalkQ: How are the larger IT shops bringing you in? Are they using your apps on a departmental basis or via pilot projects?

Sheth: It depends on the organization. We see certain organizations thinking about them as future applications, so they will deploy to a department or deploy a set of pilot users. Others look at them as a way to enable e-mail for users that never had e-mail before. We are seeing a surprising amount of that, too.

Q: Do you feel you have a lead here in terms of technology over Microsoft with its Live offerings?

Rochelle: Not necessarily. This is so early in the maturation cycle of these applications. But this is what makes it so exciting and why there's so much innovation. There's so much innovation still to come that anyone, really -- not just Microsoft and Google -- but someone could come from nowhere and just do this in a way that's a little bit different and catches users' attention. Or maybe does it vertically within a certain space. It's easier to create applications like this than it used to be. Almost anyone could do some interesting things here. We're not saying we're going to supplant desktop software, we're just saying we have an interesting way to collaborate.

Jonathan Rochelle, Product Manager, Google Docs & Spreadsheets

Q: Do you see this Web 2.0 area primarily as the domain of the desktop application? Or do you see server applications playing a more prominent role at some point?

Rochelle: I don't think there's a way to describe these as either desktop or server apps. I think of Docs & Spreadsheets as server apps. It actually exists on the server and it just happens to download transient code to the desktop.

Q: What is your tools strategy?

Rochelle: On the spreadsheet side we introduced new tools in December. They are consistent with some of our other APIs, allowing RSS feeds and syndication as well as deeper APIs to write these vertical apps. They use the spreadsheet as the basis, so you could have a collaborative list of your favorite restaurants in the background on the spreadsheet, but I can write an app that lets people search that or add data to it. We give those tools to developers to enhance things. APIs are a way to extend the app without us having to do it all.

Sheth: The other part of this, too, is that we recognize [that] people will have a lot of existing infrastructure there and so we're building a variety of infrastructure APIs as well. For example, let's say you have an Active Directory system: You can leverage that to control users rather than shifting to something else and leveraging that for authentication. We have similar types of APIs that can co-exist with existing mail servers you might have.

Q: With the dawning of the Web 2.0 age, have the ground rules changed regarding buy vs. build?

Sheth: The only thing that's changed is there are a lot more players that rise up on the buy side. If you look at the cool Web 2.0 apps that have risen up out there, they virtually came from nowhere. The cycle has shortened so much that it always behooves us to look out there and ask what's been done and what's working and what users are responding to.

About the Author

Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.

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