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?

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

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

Really, I’m not obsessed with cloud computing! I’ll try to write about something else next.  However, I wanted to reply to a post from Chris Keene, titled: “Larry Whistles Past the (Cloud) Graveyard”.  Chris writes:

“Larry’s rant is an extraordinary example of whistling past the graveyard. Oracle’s huge transformation over the last 10 years has been from an infrastructure company (databases & middleware) to an applications company (ERP, CRM, SFA ect). Now, just as this transformation is completed, along comes an infrastructure that will obsolete all the applications Oracle just got done rolling up.”

I agree that Larry’s rants sometimes distract from the real discussion.  However, I don’t agree that SaaS/Cloud is a magic bullet, let alone the only answer for customers.

A point that Chris doesn’t make explicitly, but I’m sure he has considered is what it would take for Oracle to become a SaaS/Cloud player.  It would be extremely expensive for a vendor like Oracle to build new SaaS-based apps alongside their current apps.  But Oracle has an ace up its sleeve, namely, the average customer’s willingness to migrate core business applications.  Hint: willingness is very low, considering how painful migrations are.

Over the next decade Oracle will have to balance spending R&D dollars on their current applications (i.e. non SaaS-based) and on new applications designed from the ground for a Cloud/SaaS environment.  What portion of their R&D will Oracle invest in the latter?  Play a game with me.  Imagine Larry et al. trying to explain missing quarterly targets because “we are investing in the right products for 5 yrs from now, that won’t drive substantial revenue anytime soon”.  What would happen to their stock?  A more realistic option is for Oracle to follow a BAU approach with their R&D and products. Then, as SaaS/Cloud really begins to negatively impact revenue, Oracle will acquire SaaS/Cloud vendors.

When this occurs, Oracle will offer significant customer choice.  If a customer isn’t happy with traditional Oracle Apps, and wants to migrate to a SaaS platform, Oracle will have an answer.  The “Customer Choice” card is not a new strategy, I’ve written about it in the past.  It works.  Customers are a lot more nuanced than the black and white, for-vs-against SaaS, open source, maple syrup etc., figures we like to paint.

If you take this thesis to be true, then vendors that win, will have to offer both choices to customers.  Sorry to say, but in these types of games, the incumbent tends to win.  On the other hand, incumbents tend to win via acquisition. Incumbetnts acquire startup competitors that took the different approach to serving the customer.  To me, this seems like a win-win game.

What do you think?

It seems that Cloud computing is already scaling its way down Gartner’s trough of disillusionment?  For those not familiar with the Gartner Hype Cycle, the trough of disillusionment begins right after a technology has hit the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”.

Dan Lyons starts things off by agreeing with Richard Stallman about the risks surrounding cloud computing. Dan says:

“Just think of all the little hooks and Velcro straps a cloud service provider can create to keep you locked in. For one thing, they’ve got your data. But think also of all the business logic, the customized apps created uniquely for you. Just look at what Facebook does to make it extremely painful for users to move. That’s a tiny taste of the cloud.”

Stallman tells the Guardian:

“It’s stupidity. It’s worse than stupidity: it’s a marketing hype campaign….Somebody is saying this is inevitable – and whenever you hear somebody saying that, it’s very likely to be a set of businesses campaigning to make it true.”

The Guardian also has a quote from Larry Ellison on cloud computing:

“The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women’s fashion. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?”

On the other side of the debate is Geir Magnusson:

“I think that notions of privacy and user control aren’t intrinsically at odds with the big spectrum of technologies that are called ‘cloud computing’. Rather, like any other computing technology used by humans, there are options, and we can choose to use and create tech that is secure and open, both in the implementation (as in open source), but maybe more importantly in terms of portability and data freedom, being able to move one’s data to where one chooses.”

Like many other technologies purported to completely reshape the vendor landscape, cloud computing won’t deliver.  However, cloud computing definitely has a role to play in the future of the IT marketplace.  Some applications are well aligned with the cloud.  Others, especially really important business-critical apps, aren’t.  Will this change over time? Maybe, but how many companies still do the majority of their business critical transactions on a mainframe-based system?  Hint, a lot.  Also, as more customers start making noise about data portability and freedom, expect vendors to respond with support for related open standards.

In the end, cloud computing will become a valuable part of every company’s IT strategy.  However, cloud computing simply won’t be the foundation upon which an average company’s IT strategy is built.

What do you think?

It was intrigued when a press release titled “over 8500 testers in more than 130 countries” was emailed to us.

uTest has released a SaaS-based global marketplace for testing web applications.  uTest estimates that over 10% of folks performing a QA/testing function have signed up as a member of the uTest community.  The uTest community is split mainly India (32%), USA (27%) and the UK (9%).  The service is being positioned as a compliment to internal testing resources, rather than a replacement.

Have a web application that needs (further) testing? Head on over to uTest, provide a link to the app, select a tester profile based on skills, demographics, etc., and you’re ready to go. uTest offers on-demand and annual pricing options.

According to the uTest website, over 4,335 bugs have been discovered by the uTest community of professional testers.

Using the community to do more than could be done with one company’s own resources is a key tenant of the open source development model.  However, unlike the open source development model, uTesters stop after they’ve found a bug since they don’t have the source code to fix the bugs that they discover.

I can see pros and cons for companies not sharing the source code for applications tested on uTest.

What do you think? Is uTest another step towards companies opening up their source code to an online community in an effort to produce better code with fewer resources?