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Google gains on Microsoft with hosted security offering

The search giant's latest Web-hosted offering, Web Security for Enterprise, gives it a leg up on Microsoft in a digital world increasingly turning to cloud computing, experts say.

With every Google enterprise announcement Microsoft must hear the war drums beating.

Sure, Google owns the search market. And, as a result, the company is the online advertising leader. But Microsoft has all those Windows desktops out there, and owns the corporate market, right?

Well, maybe not for long.

Sure, software as a service and cloud computing don't sound as sexy as free e-mail and pay-per-click, but they are the wave of the future, experts say.

On Thursday, Google unveiled a re-branded Web Security for Enterprise based on the Postini technology it acquired last year. The Web-hosted service protects corporate Web and e-mail users from viruses, spyware, and malicious Web sites, and extends protection directly to remote workers if needed.

This is all part of Google's hosted apps business, but targeted at corporate customers instead of consumers who expect--and get--hosted services for free, at least for now.

By putting traditional desktop applications, e-mail, word processing, and calendars into the cloud, Google relieves corporations of the administrative burden of having to buy hardware, install software, and hire people to maintain it.

This greatly reduces the costs for corporations and allows them to focus on their core businesses. And by beefing up the security of its hosted offerings, Google has removed a large impediment to widespread corporate adoption of its hosted services.

"Securing the current enterprise environment is futile," Philippe Courtot, chief executive of Qualys, which offers security as a service to corporations, said in an interview on Friday. "This is a problem Microsoft should have fixed a long time ago."

With an arsenal of search, Web-hosted apps and the advertising-supported "money-making machine...Google is going to kill Microsoft," he predicted.

Google's offering is compelling for corporations because of the ease with which they can be up and running without any IT headaches, says Nitesh Dhanjani, senior manager and leader of application security services at Ernst & Young.

"Microsoft says 'here's the software.' Google says 'it's already there; we just create the accounts and you can start today,'" Dhanjani says. "We're seeing, from an IT perspective, that in the next couple of years services will move into the cloud, even security services, so Google is really thinking ahead."

Microsoft certainly recognizes this trend. The company turned its FrontBridge acquisition into Microsoft Exchange Hosted Services, which includes security. But the software giant doesn't have a pure, software-as-a-service-based messaging security platform like Google or MessageLabs, says Paul Roberts, senior analyst for enterprise security at The 451 Group.

"Microsoft clearly sees the light that the Web and the Internet are the OS (operating system) of the future and that selling shrink-wrapped software isn't going to be feasible," Roberts says.

Peter Firstbrook, a program director at Gartner, summed it up this way: "I wouldn't ring the bells yet, but it is another feather in Google's cap; another service they can offer so that they become more strategic to their customers."