Google opens heart, Apps to channel

Hopes to woo biz world away from MS Office

Google pulled another hair from Microsoft’s slightly balding scalp today by signing up IT resellers to sell the web kingpin’s online applications to biz customers.

Authorised resellers will be able to flog, customise and support premium versions of Google Apps, from the end of March.

Up to now Google has been selling its range of web-based word processing, spreadsheets, calendars and email apps, which first launched in February 2007, to businesses direct.

But its decision to buddy up with the channel signals the firm’s clear intention to go after some of Microsoft’s hefty market share in the Office game.

In online terms MS is in fact playing catch-up with Google on bringing a version of its Office apps to the internet. Redmond spent much of last year trying to ease jangling nerves among its massive reseller base about its web-based ambitions.

Many have expressed concern about Microsoft’s “software plus services” strategy, which preoccupied the minds of MS wonks throughout 2008 - a move seen by many as the software giant’s bungled attempt to ambush Google’s interwebs empire.

However, in some ways Google’s decision to enter the channel fray could work in Microsoft’s favour. After all resellers will be asked to grapple with what is effectively an unwieldy yet nascent biz model.

So the fact that the world’s two biggest tech firms are now pushing hosted services, migration and integration, business process consulting and desktop managed services means grumbling channel players will simply have to play ball.

Ultimately, it's early days for Google’s latest foray into what has for many years been comfortable Microsoft territory. So far it’s inked deals with 50 companies via its guinea pig reseller program since last summer.

From tomorrow Google will be beckoning one and all to sign up to its cause. US resellers can expect an added shot in the arm with a 20 per cent discount on the $50 per user, per year price tag being offered.

Of course, it remains to be seen if the corporate world is willing to put all its documents at the mercy of the online world, especially when Google Apps still, occasionally, has a nasty habit of plummeting ingloriously back to earth with a thud. ®

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