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Google plots Exchange escape with Outlook plug-in

As part of its quest to get business customers to move their e-mail services to Google, the company has come up with a way to sync Outlook clients and Gmail servers.

Google has developed a way to help companies move onto Google Apps--and away from Microsoft's Exchange e-mail software--without forcing a migration to the Gmail user interface.

Google's Dave Girouard discusses how Google is making a play for more and more business customers for Google Apps. Tom Krazit/CNET News

Microsoft's Outlook has been the dominant e-mail client within the business world for years, and Google's new Apps Sync for Outlook plug-in acknowledges that some business workers just aren't ready to give up that familiar interface, even if their CIOs are anxious to get everybody onto Google's version of the cloud. Businesses who have already signed up for Google Apps Premier Edition--as well as Education Edition customers--will be able to roll out this plug-in across their networks and allow Outlook messages, contacts, and calendar appointments to sync with Google Apps.

Google is trying to expand its presence inside the world's corporate IT departments with products like Google Apps, which the company says offers a cheaper and more reliable alternative to traditional IT software companies. Quoting data from Forrester, Google's David Girouard, president of Enterprise products, said companies who chose to use Google's hosted Gmail service save about $17 per user per month as compared to companies that build and host their own e-mail servers.

However, there apparently is a sizable enough number of workers that refuse to move off Outlook, meaning that IT directors who want to sign up with Google were forced to maintain a Microsoft Exchange server to placate those folks while moving everybody else to Gmail. An alternative where Outlook users are connected to Gmail through IMAP got the job done, but at the expense of a severe performance hit, said Chris Vander Mey, a senior product manager with Google.

Now, they can let those people continue to use Outlook but allow IT managers to move completely away from Exchange servers. "We've made it pretty easy to exchange your Exchange server for Google," Girouard said.

Google's eye is squarely on Microsoft's cozy position in the enterprise when it comes to products such as Google Apps. Around 1.75 million businesses are using Google Apps, Girouard said, although he declined to clarify how many of those businesses are Premier Edition customers.

CIOs invited by Google to a press event in San Francisco were naturally bullish on Google's version of cloud computing, and downplayed any concerns about security, reliability or the loss of a competitive advantage when it comes to giving up control of their IT.

"At most businesses, IT is not core. I'm not in the IT business to make money, I'm here to enable (my company) to win," said Bob Rudy, vice president and CIO for semiconductor designer Avago Technologies in San Jose.

The plug-in only works for Outlook users on Windows; Mac users on Entourage will have to wait.