How many businesses are using it: More than 2 million companies are using Google Apps, including big organizations such as Salesforce.com, the semiconductor firm Avago Technologies and the City of Los Angeles, according to Google. (See related story, "Los Angeles chooses Google Apps over Microsoft".) But the adoption numbers aren't as impressive when looking at the entire business world. An IDC survey in July 2009 shows that nearly 97% of businesses were using Microsoft Office, and 77% were using only Microsoft Office. Nearly 20% reported extensive use of Google Docs, but not at the exclusion of other tools.
A separate survey by Information Technology Intelligence Corp. (ITIC) in January 2010 indicates that 4% of businesses are adopting Google Apps as their primary e-mail and productivity software, and that Google's popularity is primarily among the smallest businesses. But Google Apps adoption still lags behind OpenOffice and IBM's Lotus Notes, let alone Microsoft, according to ITIC. The ITIC survey was based on responses from nearly 800 IT managers worldwide and the IDC survey on 262 respondents.
What's good about it: The most commonly cited advantage of Google Apps is the low cost, both in terms of the list price and the ability to reduce internal IT costs for help desk support and hardware in the data center. Although some potential customers worry about Google's security, businesses that don't have their own disaster-recovery processes and systems may feel comforted by the fact that with Google their data is stored off-site and in highly redundant data centers.
While Google customers recognize that Apps doesn't offer everything that Microsoft Office does, proponents argue that the online productivity tools are good enough for most users.
Google "is a credible replacement for in-house versions of Lotus Notes e-mail or Microsoft Exchange if an enterprise wants to stop paying for in-house personnel and server and client access licenses," Burton Group analyst Guy Creese writes in a recent in-depth report on Google Apps.
Google's productivity and collaboration tools are also well suited to certain organizations, such as those that haven't yet implemented collaboration software at a broad scale, or companies that have pockets of "disenfranchised users" who lack e-mail, word processing and spreadsheet capabilities, Creese writes.
Strengths of the platform include the ability to easily include workers from outside the enterprise in collaboration processes; avoidance of unnecessary power user licenses; and storing documents online rather than in scattered C drives and file shares. It's also easy to scale up when more users need to be added.