Friday, October 12, 2007

Google turns 10! (Trust me, it's true)

You might have read about Google's latest push for the enterprise space - beefed up email security and added compliance services for users of its Google Apps Premier Edition thanks to technology from the Postini acquisition. It also follows last month's news that consultancy firm Capgemini would start offering Google's online software to its business customers. Yet another sign that Google is serious about the enterprise sector, and some might argue a sign that the company is maturing.

It's funny you should mention that because a little-known milestone passed on September 15 that strangely got very little coverage - Google's 10th Birthday. Actually it probably passed without notice because Google wasn't celebrating it. In fact, they prefer to say they're only nine years old, as they highlighted via their search page logo a few weeks ago.

But by my reckoning they're 10. That's because September 15, 1997 was the day Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two 24-year-old Stanford University students, registered the "" domain name. A year later they incorporated the company, but given that it's an Internet company I reckon it's appropriate to mark the anniversary on the day the domain name was registered.

Perhaps they were not keen to celebrate because in the technology industry, 10 years is a long time. Many users still think of Google as the fresh newcomer that reminded the old-timers, most notably Microsoft, that every company reaches its peak and that it's downhill from there. Let's face it, nobody likes the sudden realisation that they're approaching middle age (trust me), yet that's precisely where Microsoft and its peers (the likes of Oracle and SAP) are today.

Now that it's 10, Google also needs to deal with its new maturity. Perhaps one of the reasons why it's sometimes compared with some of the more prominent startups, such as Facebook, is that nothing seems to ever get out of "beta". Take Gmail - I've been relying on it for a couple of years now yet it's still a beta project. So is the Google Calendar and others in the growing list of hosted applications that I (and I suspect many others) have now incorporated into business life.

Keeping something like Gmail in perpetual beta is a mistake. Why? Because these days Google is seriously courting the enterprise space, as demonstrated by the announcements referred to earlier, and many enterprises are not going to adopt a beta product. They want something that's been tested, then tested some more and that comes with a water-tight guarantee that it works. A system that proudly advertises that it's still in beta is not what the newly-appointed compliance manager wants to see.

It also explains why not everyone is convinced of Google's enterprise credentials. According to Burton Group analyst Guy Creese, while Google is making a major contribution to the adoption of SaaS solutions within the IT sector, he said its application suite has weaknesses that large enterprises cannot ignore, such as the product's lack of user roles, no departmental categories, and minimal records management as examples.

"Burton Group believes many enterprises will begin investigating SaaS offerings for collaboration and content due to Google's industry influence, but recommends organisations wait for market maturity, or look to more sophisticated offerings," he said.

And there's that word again: maturity. So let's not pretend Google is a fresh-faced startup. It's a 10-year-old company and it should not be keeping its products in perpetual beta, particularly if it wants to be taken seriously in the enterprise space. In the meantime, congratulations Google on a remarkable first decade! -- Geoff Long

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