With its mind in the clouds and an eye on rival Microsoft, Google on Tuesday launched an online application store for third-party programs that can be integrated with its online Google Apps office suite, with a single log-in and Google's universal navigation. The programs can sync with Gmail and Google's calendar, and use document-sharing features.
With 25 million application users and services for two million businesses, Google clearly hopes to reduce Microsoft's dominance in business-productivity software. Some 50 companies are offering applications in the initial Google Apps Marketplace inventory.
A random sampling on the marketplace Wednesday included EZAsset, a business asset-management tool; Manymoon for social productivity, project management, and task management; Fresh Books, a billing and bookkeeping utility; and eFax, an Internet fax service.
Google reportedly charges developers $100 for a listing, then takes 20 percent of sales.
The marketplace is intended for companies with their own domain, and Google Apps membership is required. A premier membership is $50, with an unlimited number of users per account. To lure customers away from the competition, the marketplace offers a tutorial on importing data from Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based Google previously had a solutions marketplace offering add-ons for programs. But Google Apps Marketplace will allow the company to generate revenue while also driving more interest in its online suite.
Google has increasingly battled for turf with Microsoft, recently introducing the Chrome operating system to challenge the dominant Windows. The software giant has taken the fight to Google's front door with its Bing search engine, which it hopes will soon be the default search window on Apple's iPhone.
Microsoft has announced cloud partnerships with Hewlett-Packard and Chunghwa Telecom and has other cloud projects in the works. The HP deal is a three-year, $250 million project to integrate Microsoft programs and HP hardware.
Cloud-computing services could be a $14 billion industry by 2013, according to research firm Gartner. But there is growing concern about the risks companies face.
Are Clouds Safe?
Chet Wisniewski, an analyst at the U.K.-based security firm Sophos, said the Google Apps Marketplace could be a good option for people who already trust a cloud with their information.
"Developers could offer enhanced encryption or security features requiring two-factor authentication to access sensitive documents," Wisniewski said. "The bigger issue is, should you trust your data to be stored in the cloud in the first place? We saw how Twitter's corporate Google Docs were hacked into last year through the use of a careless password."
"As an organization, someone could be trying to access your data for years and you have no visibility into the inbound connections, firewalls, password guesses, etc., if it is off-premises," he said.
In another entry in the growing online applications market, Intel has opened its AppUp Center, to be included on several netbook models, to build popularity for its Atom processor chip. The company's goal is to eventually have the chip make its way to smartphones and other hardware, The Wall Street Journal reported.