Google Apps go Native?
The other salient issue is that some portions of the Google Apps suite – most notably Google Docs, which handles word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations – can't quite match the interface you get with, say, Microsoft Office. Google has never been particularly adept at UI, but it's also limited by the medium.
Naturally, Girouard downplays this interface gap as well. "There is definitely a historical tradeoff between a web application and a thin client," he said. "But we are closing that gap in terms of experience and responsiveness very quickly, and there's this whole other side of things you can only do in the cloud, like co-editing a document at the same time or having revision history available to everyone or having one person edit on an iPad and another on a PC. We're working hard to make the fundamental experience on Google Docs better than Office and we think we're getting close."
Outside of Girouard's enterprise group, Google's Chrome team is developing a plug-in technology, Native Client, that runs native code inside the browser, an effort to speed the performance of web applications. We asked Girouard if the company is developing a native-code version of Google Apps, and he completely sidestepped the question.
"Native Client is one of several things we're doing to make sure you have access to the full system from the browser," he said. "Google has a whole bunch of initiatives that add up to making the browser the right platform and being able to eliminate the distinction between writing a Windows applications and writing for a browser. We've made a lot of progress, but we're still not all the way there yet."
But he did say that Google now has members of the Chrome team and the Enterprise team working together in close proximity, and these meta-teams are developing tools involving both Chrome and Chrome OS, the upcoming netbook operating system that puts all data and applications inside the browser. "We have what you can describe as an internal joint venture between the Chrome team and the enterprise team," Girouard said. "In fact, we now have teams that are co-located and working together to bring both Chrome the browser and Chrome OS [tools] to enterprises."
In mid-December, the company rolled out IT admin controls for deploying and configuring the Chrome browser across business networks, tools that - ultimately - fuel the use of Google Apps. Support for the tools is provided under a standard Google Apps for Business agreement. Meanwhile, Chrome OS is built specifically for use with Google Apps – though it will run traditional office apps through thin client technology developed by Citrix.
Again, interface is a problem – at least with the current beta incarnation of the OS. But in many ways, the platform is ideal for the enterprise. In theory, it's more secure than the average machine. Each webpage and app is restricted to its own sandbox, and if malware escapes the sandbox, Google does a verified boot at startup. What's more, the company points out, if you lose your netbook, you don't lose your data.