Google Apps is a suite of hosted services for small businesses, at www.google.com/a. The basic Google Apps is free, and the Premier edition costs $50. At the moment, the suite--it really should be called Google Office--is a bundle of existing Google products, loosely integrated by the way you manage them for your business and the fact that they share a domain, your domain.
For example, we set up a fictitious company, DemoArigato. Google's suite offers this firm small-business versions of the communications apps Gmail, Chat, and Calendar in addition to its word processor and spreadsheet applications. The suite gives everybody in the company a branded version of the applications. So now if you send e-mail to email@example.com, we'll get it. The suite makes it easy to manage user accounts, and you can even replace the Gmail and Calendar logos with your own.
However, Google Apps does not provide Web site registration and hosting, which Microsoft Office Live does for free. You can set up Google Apps to coordinate with a domain name you already own, or you can pay for a URL through Google's partnership with GoDaddy. The Google suite also includes Page Creator. This is Google's tool for creating and managing a simple company Web site, now actually at the domain of your choice. By contrast, Microsoft's online small-business tools also enable users to pay more for a total of 20 business applications in addition to a Web page design tool. Read here to see how Microsoft's and Google's services compare.
Setting up Google Office was actually harder than installing software, since it required logging on to our domain registrar (where we parked the demoarigato domain) and changing settings so that the Google services would appear to run on demoarigato.com. Not only will Google not do this for you, the instructions were not perfectly aligned with our registrar's Web interface, so we were left wondering if we had set everything up correctly.
Also, as a hosted business suite, Google Apps is missing some elements. There's a word processor, Google Docs (formerly Writely), and a spreadsheet program, Google Spreadsheets, but no rival to Microsoft PowerPoint. There are also no native offline applications for the suite. This is fine if all your employees work full-time in front of connected computers, but it's not so hot when they're on planes. Thankfully, Google Apps now offers BlackBerry support.
Then there's security. Do you want all your company's communications stored on Google servers? Furthermore, Google's fine print spells out that it's not liable for lost data. You'd be wise to back up those online files to a hard drive.
The suite of applications in this early version of Google's first official small-business suite is unimpressive when you compare it to the capabilities of a business-focused workgroup application, such as Joyent, a productivity suite such as Zoho's, and especially the capabilities of the full line of