Google is no longer offering its Google Apps productivity suite to small businesses for free and is now charging $50 per user, per year for businesses with 10 or fewer employees.
But companies already using the free cloud applications can continue doing so, the company said late Thursday.
Google originally offered a free version of Google Apps, then later added the "premium" Google Apps for Business for which it charges $50 per user for an annual subscription. That version includes phone support, 25 GB of data storage and a 99.99 percent uptime guarantee.
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Now Google will offer new customers only the premium version, according to a blog post by Clay Bavor, product management director for Google Apps.
"When we launched the premium business version we kept our free, basic version as well," Bavor wrote. "Both businesses and individuals signed up for this version, but time has shown that in practice, the experience isn't quite right for either group. Businesses quickly outgrow the basic version and want things like 24/7 customer support and larger inboxes. Similarly, consumers often have to wait to get new features while we make them business-ready."
The change, effective immediately, means that no new small business customers can sign up for the free applications and must subscribe to the for-fee application set, which includes word processing, spreadsheet, email and presentation graphics tools. But businesses now using the free version won't be affected by the changes, Bavor said.
Google Apps competes with other cloud productivity suits, including Microsoft's Office 365, and application services for small businesses from Intuit, Sage and other companies.
Individuals can still get free access to the applications by signing up for a personal Google account. Google also continues to offer the free Google Apps for Education for schools and universities. Google Apps for Government remains $50 per person, per year.
PUBLISHED DEC. 7, 2012