Yesterday, Google released Google Apps for Your Domain, a suite of free hosted services for small businesses, at www.google.com/a. At the moment, the suite--it really should be called Google Office--is a bundle of existing Google products, loosely integrated by how you manage them for your business and the fact that they share a domain. Your domain.
For example, I set up a fictitious company, DemoArigato. Google's suite offers this firm small-business versions of the communications apps Gmail, Chat, and Calendar. The suite gives everybody in the company a branded version of the applications. So now if you send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, I'll get it. (This is not exactly new; in February the company released Gmail for Your Domain.) The suite makes it easy to manage user accounts, and you can even replace the Gmail and Calendar logos with your own.
The suite also includes Page Creator. This is Google's tool for creating and managing a simple company Web site, now actually at the domain of your choice. (As of this writing, the domain site www.demoarigato.com isn't calling up the Google page I created using the product; it can take up to two days for domain maps to update across the Internet.)
Setting up Google Office was actually harder than installing software, since it required logging on to my domain registrar (where I parked the demoarigato domain) and changing settings so that the Google services would appear to run on demoarigato.com. Not only will Google not do this for you, the instructions were not perfectly aligned with my registrar's Web interface, so I was left wondering if I had in fact set everything up correctly (since the Web page isn't live yet, I'm still not sure). It would be much easier if Google offered domain registration itself; then, presumably, the settings could be made automatically.
Also, as a hosted business suite, Google is missing a few big elements. There's no word processor, spreadsheet, or presentation program, although Google does have both a word processor (Writely) and a spreadsheet app in beta.
The productivity apps will be integrated into this suite later, it's been reported, but it's not clear how they'll work as part of an office suite. Writely and Spreadsheets have different interfaces and store their files separately, so not only do they not work well together, but we've yet to see how file management will be handled in a group setting.
There are also no native offline applications for the suite. This is fine if all your employees work full-time in front of connected computers, but not so hot when they're on planes or if they want to use mobile devices to send mail or access their calendars. (See Calgoo for a solution.)
Then there's security. In the wake of the AOL search-data flap, do you want all your company's communications stored on Google servers?
The suite of applications in this 1.0 version of Google's first official small-business suite is unimpressive when you compare it to the capabilities of a business-focused workgroup application such as Joyent, a productivity suite such as Zoho's, and especially the capabilities of the full line of applications and services from Microsoft. But it is a heck of a deal for a small business, and the applications are easy to use once you get the servers configured. Today, it's a useful suite for simple and undemanding small businesses.