At a press event at its headquarters this morning, Google announced Google Apps for Government–a new version of its Google Apps productivity suite that’s been certified by the US government as meeting its security requirements.
The new version is a variant of Google Apps Premier edition, and includes the same core apps: Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Sites, Groups, Video, and Postini. Pricing is the same as for Google Apps Premier: $50 per user per year.
The certification says that Google Apps qualifies for is called a FISMA-Moderate rating, which means that it’s authorized for use with data that’s sensitive but unclassified. In addition, Google says that it’s storing government Gmail and Google Calendar on servers that are isolated from those used for non-government customers, and which are located in the continental US.
At the event, Google pointed out the standard benefits of cloud computing: Companies pay only for what they use, don’t have to worry about maintaining servers, get new features automatically, and can access services from any device. It also said that Web-based services offer “best-in-class security.”
Already, Google says, Google Apps, Google Earth, and other business products are widely used by the government–including by every cabinet agency. The new version of Google Apps is also available to state and local governments: Google says that Orlando, the District of Columbia, Kansas, and New Mexico are already Apps customers. (So is the city of Los Angeles, although it’s had some widely-reported bumps in its rollout.) FISMA is a federal government certification, but Google says that it expects the news to also lead to more interest among states and cities.
“Everyone knows we’re quite committed to the enterprise and quite committed to cloud computing–it’s an open field now,” said Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who dropped in for part of the event. He knocked past productivity solutions–presumably including Microsoft Office–for having “a high degree of lock-in and high degree of non-standard data structures.”
Google Apps’ modules tend to have strong collaboration features but be far shorter on features than their rivals from Microsoft and other traditional desktop-software companies, and they’re designed to be used when Internet access is available. But “almost all government “are perfectly suited to relatively simple Web apps,” contended Schmidt. FISMA certification, he said, is about “knocking down barriers” to acceptance of what he said is already a hit product.
I asked him whether Google sees its upcoming Chrome OS as having potential for government use, and whether it would seek FISMA certification for it.
“That’s like a ‘yes, absolutely,'” he told me. “Let’s ship it first…All the apps we’re talking about will run incredibly well and incredibly securely on Chrome OS.”
Government agencies have never had a reputation for technical sophistication, and the current financial crisis hasn’t helped matters. Google executives at the event said that adapting Google Apps makes sense because it has the potential to both streamline IT and reduce costs. And Schmidt said that paperless government is an inevitability: “there will be a point where governments will move to 100 percent online only. And the reason they’ll do it is it’s more efficient.”
As with all news relating to Google Apps, it’s impossible to resist framing it in the context of Google’s competition with Microsoft Office–a battle in which Google remains a David and Microsoft is still a Goliath. (Microsoft is already seeking FISMA certification for its Business Productivity Online Suite and told me it expects it receive it soon.) The introduction of Google Apps for Business doesn’t sound like a landmark moment, but it’s one more piece of evidence that Google sees Apps as a core offering rather than a quirky side project.
I’m a Google Apps user and fan myself, but there are still plenty of instances when it falls far short of Microsoft Office’s abilities. Two obvious ones: Apps’ presentations module is extremely basic compared to PowerPoint, and most of Apps is unusable when you don’t have an Internet connection. I can see today’s news appealing to government agencies of all sizes, but I wonder just how many are ready to truly give Office the boot.
No-brainer prediction: Microsoft will swiftly respond to Google’s move in a blog post or other document which rattles off stats about just how dominant Office remains among government users…