TechCrunch is reporting that the free version of Google Apps, Standard Edition, is no longer being actively marketed. Google Apps includes Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar, Docs & Spreadsheet, Page Creator and Start Page. There was previously a no charge Standard Edition and a Premier Edition for $50/user/year.

The confusion and panic is somewhat funny and interesting; well, for someone whose data isn’t entirely beholden to Google. I say “entirely” because my personal email is stored somewhere on the Gmail servers. But I digress.

In any case, it seems that Google has shifted from offering Standard Edition free for anyone, including businesses, to offering Standard Edition free only for non-businesses. Although any user, business or non-business can still hit the Standard Edition page and register for the Standard Edition offering for free. Well, at least for now.

So why all the fuss?

Two key concerns arise from reading the comments on the TechCrunch story. First, there is the general “how dare Google take away my free lunch” sense of anger. Second, and more interesting, readers are asking “what happens to my data?”

The free lunch argument is understandable, but hey, everyone has bills to pay, even Google.

The concern about data sitting in Google Apps is much more worrisome. Data portability, or the cost of exit, as Alfresco’s John Powell schooled me on, continues to be increasingly important day by day. The Cloud/SaaS proponents haven’t really addressed this to the degree that users feel comfortable with their ability to move from vendor A to vendor B and bring their data along easily. But you could easily argue that this is no different than traditional enterprise applications.

It’s somewhat surprising how much we’re willing to trade off freedom tomorrow for productivity today, a point that Redmonk’s Stephen O’Grady makes. The “Google Apps for Business” FAQ makes no mention of how one would ever migrate their company’s data off Google Apps. As a buyer, I’d like to know that the vendor has at least thought of this and provides some tools. It would give me a sense of comfort with my purchase decision. As a user, who isn’t paying Google a dime, I should also care about the cost of exit, but I’m willing to set aside those concerns for the free lunch they’re providing me. At least for now.

What about you?

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PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”