Google unveils potential Exchange killer

Rivalry intensifies as Google targets Microsoft's bread and butter

Google just made it easier for IT organizations to ditch Microsoft Exchange Server.

On Tuesday, the company unveiled Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook. With it, users don't have to switch from the familiar Microsoft Outlook interface for calendar, contacts and e-mail functions. They can continue to use Outlook while connecting directly to Google's servers. It eliminates the need for an Exchange mail server to be in the loop.

The Google enterprise blog posted a video comment by Robert J. Rudy, vice president and CIO of Avago Technologies, which was an early adopter of Google's synchronization technology. Rudy claims that using Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook costs one sixth of the cost of running and maintaining Microsoft Exchange. He also said that it eliminates a "performance hit" from running the IMAP 4 protocol.

The sync capability is an added feature for users of Google Apps Premier or Education editions. Google Apps is a subscription-based bundle of messaging and collaboration applications delivered as a service via Google's server farms. The cost of Google Apps Premier is $50 per user per year.

Google developed the synchronization feature to accommodate people who like to use the Microsoft Outlook user interface. Users can also select Google's interface, if they wish. The two interfaces will sync together. For instance, Google Apps subscribers can set an appointment using Outlook and it will show up in a Google Apps browser-based interface as well as in Outlook.

Microsoft has had a strong grip on the e-mail server market with Exchange, and even rolled out an Exchange Online hosted service, which is offered by Microsoft or its partners. However, Google has slowly chipped away at Microsoft's profits with Google Apps in some cases. For instance, last year, an Australian school district stopped using Exchange and signed up for Google Gmail, saving millions of dollars.

Another threat to Microsoft's bottom line is Google Wave, which was unveiled late last month. Wave presumably would be an alternative to Microsoft's hot-selling SharePoint collaboration solution.

According to an account by The Register, Microsoft's Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie criticized Google's Wave during a Churchill Club event last week, saying that it was too complex. However, Microsoft's official transcript of Ozzie's interview at the event does not contain any such comments cited in that article. Ozzie does say in the transcript that he expects the margins on services will be less than the margins on boxed software.

In any case, Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook represents a kind of competitive jujitsu move by Google against Microsoft. Google took Microsoft's strongest trait -- its user interface (or "user experience," in Microsoft's parlance) -- and now uses it for direct competition against Microsoft.

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