Small business IT staff and Microsoft beware, Google's latest offering intends to take a large share of the messaging platform business away from the competition as well as the operating costs away from the enterprise. Google Apps for your Domain, as it is currently called, puts the familiar GMail interface into the hands of novice users and on their own business domains.
The administration interface is so easy to use that once set up, it can be maintained by the office manager or receptionist.At the moment, as part of Google Apps, the company offers GMail, Google Calendar (including sharing), a shared address book, and GTalk Instant Messenger.
Additionally, they offer the anemic Google Pages for web content management, but most businesses will find it too lackluster to use, for now. Google's business apps are presently all a bit basic. However, the potential for a paradigm shift is obviously there and more and more users are demonstrating an acceptance. If you are a 5-25 person business who doesn't want to staff a full time IT department, this is definitely starting to get interesting for you.
If you are an IT person at a small shop and want to wash your hands of the Exchange/Notes Server/ Backups/Licensing operations, this may also be for you. As someone who has managed IT in a medium sized shop, I can tell you that the opportunity to rid ones self of all of the messaging administration, so as to better focus on business applications and processes, is cause for celebration. Additionally, given Google's quick footwork and seemingly manic software release behavior this space could heat up quickly for the 50-200 person businesses.
Unsurprisingly, Google is presently using the advertising revenue model to fund this effort, so its currently a no-charge service. However, they have said that it will have non-advertising based versions of its service that have additional features and capacities -- but for a cost.
One can see the next step in their enterprise evolution. The recently christened "Google Docs & Spreadsheets" which combines Writely and Google Spreadsheet's document management platform are likely the next addition to Google's enterprise offering. This would be a huge step towards the web-based office ...even if that's a pretty feature-sparse place to be.
Looking around the current space, its not hard to imagine Google moving their offering down the road towards other Web 2.0 collaboration packages like Backpack and Basecamp from 37signals. The convergence is certainly happening and Web 2.0 expectations and behaviors are being tapped and bridled by those fastest on their feet. Google continues to work hard to stay out in front. Beware Microsoft Exchange, and be thankful small business owners.