Friday, July 4, 2014

Review: Google Apps for Business 2014

Review: Google Apps for Business 2014

Review: Google Apps for Business 2014

Introduction and pricing

Microsoft Office is a wonderful thing, but it might also seem like overkill for many businesses: depending on whose figures you believe, the average user only uses 10% to 20% of its features. Why pay for features your organisation doesn't use?

The short answer is, to paraphrase the famous maxim about IBM, nobody ever got fired for buying Office. It's a mature product that's massively powerful, widely supported and familiar to pretty much everybody on the planet.

When you buy Office you don't need to wonder if it has X feature - it almost certainly does, even if it's buried in a submenu that only three people have ever seen - and you don't need to worry whether the features your clients love to use so much in their d ocuments will be supported at your end.

Google Apps takes a completely different approach. It doesn't have the sheer power of Office 365, but that's not its mission: where Office wants to be everything to everyone, Google is happy to cover the basics and to do so very cheaply. That doesn't mean it's simple, though. Google Apps has come a long way since its debut in 2006.

Apps and pricing

The Google Apps suite consists of ten major products, grouped into four categories: Communicate, Store, Create and Manage. Under Communicate you'll find Gmail, Hangouts and Calendar; Storage is where Drive lives; Create covers Docs, Sheets, Slides and Sites; and Manage includes Admin and Vault, which is designed to archive and export corporate email.

The pricing policy is refreshingly simple. Google Apps is £3.30 per user per month / £33 per year, and Google Apps with Vault is £6.60 per user per month. Those prices are for standard business use: there's an educat ional version, Google Apps for Education, that's completely free.

google business apps presentation

If you're wondering what differs the paid-for version of Google's applications from the free versions you can get at and, the answer is storage, management, support and use of your own domain: paid customers get 30GB of storage space per user and the ability to use their own domain name for email.

Google's main rival here is of course Microsoft, whose Office 365 comes with a number of price tags attached depending on which version you want and how many people you want to give it to.

Office 365 Small Business is £3.90 per month / £39.60p a per person for up to 25 users; Small Business Premium is £8.40 pp/pm (£100.80pa), again for up to 25 users, and adds desktop and iPad versions as well as Office Online; and Midsize Business is £9.80 pp/pm billed annually for up to 300 users.

Microsoft's Small Business plan is clearly priced to take on Google, and in some respects it outdoes it: user mailboxes are 50GB with a further 25GB of OneDrive storage, compared to Google's 30GB shared storage for both email and files. However, once you hit the magic 25-user limit or require iPad access the cost of Office shoots up, while Google's pricing remains the same.



The sign-up process takes seconds and once you've created your account you'll be taken to the Admin Console. This has eight key options: users, company profile, billing, reports, apps, device management, security and support.

You can add users in two ways: manually, or by uploading a CSV file containing multiple user details. Once you've done that you can then specify which apps they can use, so for example you might want to let users access email but not Google Talk/Hangouts. You can also disable unwanted apps globally.

One of the most interesting sections here is Device Management, which enables you to mandate passwords and Google Sync on users' devices, to encrypt data, to configure Wi-Fi and to enable or disable automatic syncing and the device camera.

google business apps device management

You can also remotely wipe devices either manually or automatically if they haven't been synchronised for a specified period.

The Admin Console also contains some additional tools: group creation, third party apps, domain management and settings for other free Google services such as Google Analytics, AdWords, Google+ and Google App Engine.

The optional Vault, which doubles the per-user price from £3.30 per month to £6.60, is designed for organisations that need to retain email and chat data and other digital information for regulatory compliance.

You can set data retention options globally or based on particular dates, groups or search terms, search the archive using the familiar Google search field, and you can audit the data and export it for further analysis. It doesn't store all communications, however: at the time of writing the new Hangouts service is only partially compatible with Vault, and any chats marked off the record aren't stored either.

If you're not sure whether you require Vault or if it isn't currently necessary, it's possible to upgrade to the with-Vault version from within your Google Apps for Business Admin Console.

Tools and features

Create: D ocs, Sheets, Slides and Sites

Google's apps come in two forms: cross-platform, browser-based apps and mobile apps for iOS and Android. Windows Phone isn't supported beyond Google Sync for mail, contacts and calendars.

It's worth noting that the browser apps only use local storage if you're using the Chrome browser or Chrome OS, although the standalone Google Drive desktop app keeps everything in sync if you prefer a different web browser (and of course Gmail is widely supported by desktop email software and mobile email apps). The features available offline differ from product to product and platform to platform.

google business apps 3rd party apps

Docs, Sheets and Slides are Googl e's equivalents of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, although a more accurate comparison would be to Apple's most recent iWork apps: the emphasis is on simplicity and ease of use rather than power features.

That's particularly apparent in Slides, which also appears to prize simplicity over making presentations that don't look absolutely awful.

We wouldn't want to craft a massive, complicated manuscript in Docs, but then that isn't what Docs is designed to do. It's a fast and user friendly way to create everyday documents and to share them with colleagues and clients. The companion Drawing app adds functions such as WordArt-style text effects, simple image creation, diagrams and flow charts.

google business apps docs

It's a similar story with Sheets, whi ch covers the most common Excel functions (including pivot tables) but which doesn't have the power of Microsoft's offering. It is improving, though, and now that it supports Google's App Script add-ons it's possible to automate workflows and develop custom apps - although it's still way behind Microsoft here.

There are two additional apps for creating content: Forms, which as the name suggests is for creating and completing online forms, and Sites, which can be used to create shared pages on the intranet or public internet. It's a template-driven affair and while it won't give professional web designers any nightmares, it's an effective way to publish web content without any knowledge of web content creation.

Collaboration and compatibility

Online collaboration has been baked into Google Apps from the outset, and sharing documents with colleagues or clients is effortless. The Revision History panel tracks changes and there's a separate panel for comments , which can be notified via email as well as in the app.

Sharing is a one-button affair, with options including public, anyone with the correct link, anyone within the organisation, or sharing only with a specified group of people. These options only apply to unpublished documents, however: anything published via the Publish to the Web option, which makes an online copy of the current document, is publicly available.

google business apps sheets

In addition to the obligatory Microsoft Office formats (.docx, .xlsx and so on) Google Apps also supports downloading documents as Open Document Format, Rich Text Format, PDF, plaintext and zipped HTML. Spreadsheets can be saved as CSV and tab-delimited files, and presentations can be output in SVG an d PNG formats.

Google Apps also includes Google's Hangouts service, which you can make available for text, voice and video calls with anybody or limit conversations to just those people who are members of the same organisation. Hangouts can be shared with up to 15 people and used for video chat, presentation sharing or screen sharing.


We liked

Google Apps for Business is very competitively priced and easy to administer. While the various apps aren't quite as fully featured as power users might like, they're more than adequate for most everyday administrative work.

We disliked

The apps may be too simple for some organisations, and not everybody loves Google's software interface - although it's much better than it used to be. You might not like the thought that your company's communications are being scanned by Google.


Rather tha n be all things to all men and women, Google Apps for Business is content to cover the basics and to cover them well. It's fast, lightweight and works on a wide range of devices, and it's both easy to use and easy to administer. If Google's apps cover the features your users will need every day, it's a very compelling product for SMEs - and with 30 days to put it through its paces without providing any billing details, it's a product you can test risk-free.

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//PART 2