For the enterprise, Google Apps fights uphill battle with Microsoft

The devil you already know often gets the nod

While companies are starting to seriously look at the hosted applications from Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. -- and Google Apps is winning converts among schools and small firms -- Microsoft's incumbent status gives it a leg up, according to CIOs interviewed at the Society for Information Management (SIM) conference in Seattle this week.

Mueller Water Products Inc., for instance, is piloting Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), which includes Microsoft-hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint and other apps introduced a year ago.

"We had Google in to look at their apps," said Bob Keefe, Mueller's CIO. The Atlanta manufacturer has 5,300 employees, of which 2,200 use PCs with Windows XP and Microsoft Office. "We're really trying to keep budgets slim. To change out the whole company [to Google Apps] in this economic environment would require a lot of retraining, and that would be very costly."

Retraining costs also dissuaded the United States Tennis Association (USTA) from moving to Google Apps, according to CIO Larry Bonfante. The USTA "looked very seriously" at Google Apps last year, but ultimately stayed with the known quantity, Microsoft Office. More than half of the USTA's 750 employees and volunteers are located outside of its White Plains, N.Y. headquarters.

That hasn't stopped the USTA from shifting many of its back-end applications online, including its Exchange e-mail system, which is run by Web hosting firm, Bonfante said.

Oregon State University has a strong relationship with Google, which has donated more than $1 million to OSU's open-source lab. But OSU also recently upgraded to Exchange 2007 for its e-mail, and it remains firmly on Microsoft Office, said CIO Curt Pederson, because of Microsoft's deep educational discounts and the preference of OSU faculty members.

The situation is different at Sunoco Inc. The gasoline retailer is looking carefully at both Microsoft's BPOS and Google Apps for its 1,000 office workers, CIO Peter Whatnell said. The company only recently upgraded to Office 2003 at the beginning of this year.

Insurance firm Chubb Corp. has not started to test either Google or Microsoft's hosted offerings (the latter also includes the coming Web version of Office 2010.) But group CIO Jim Knight says "the whole concept appeals to me."

"Eighty percent of our employees are using 10% of the functionality of Office," he said. "So I could seriously consider Google Apps for 80% of my users, with the other 20% getting the full Office."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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