Google Woos Business Users With Gmail-Driven Outlook

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It's no secret that Google has Microsoft in its sights as the younger company builds up cloud-computing alternatives for large customers long in the thrall of Microsoft's suite of business applications. Now the team responsible for Google Apps is turning one of Redmond's best weapons -- Microsoft Outlook -- against them.

Google claims it sometimes hits a snag when pushing Google Apps products like Gmail to enterprises, meeting major resistance from users comfortable with the look and feel of Microsoft Outlook. So on Tuesday, the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant unveiled Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook, a plug-in for Outlook 2003 and 2007 that presents users with the familiar Outlook user interface but runs e-mail through Google's cloud rather than Microsoft Exchange.

"We look at this as a way to provide choice for users who like to do things the old, Outlook way," said Google's Chris Vander Mey, a senior product manager responsible for the new offering. The company on Tuesday lined up several Google Apps customers at a press event in San Francisco to talk up the benefits of the plug-in toward moving Outlook loyalists off Exchange.

Genentech, which moved its 15,000 employees to Google Apps late last year, now sees Google "as one of our five strategic IT platforms," said Chris O'Conner, director of IT at the South San Francisco, Calif.-based biotech company.

"We saw Outlook preference as a major hurdle [to migrating to Gmail] previously," O'Conner said, explaining that IMAP, an earlier attempt by Google to couple the Gmail back end with an Outlook experience, suffered in terms of performance vs. Microsoft Exchange. Google's new MAPI-based synchronizer has eliminated those issues.

Avago Technologies, a San Jose, Calif.-based semiconductor company and another Google Apps customer, is happy to hand its IT management over to Google, according to its CIO.

"At most businesses, IT is not core," said Avago's Bob Rudy, who dismissed concerns about security in the cloud or losing a competitive advantage to rivals if Google or some other company is managing everybody's critical applications. Rudy said he hoped other major technology vendors like Oracle would step up their cloud offerings.

"Tell Oracle to get with the Google, Workday and SalesForce program or we'll move off you with time," he said.

Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook is available globally as a plug-in for PCs running Microsoft Windows XP (service pack 2) or Vista (service pack 1). The current edition only supports English-language synching with Outlook, but Google says other languages will be coming soon.

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