Google Apps is adding Google Groups to its enterprise suite of applications, another example of Google's commitment to developing an online application environment that is compelling enough for users to move off the Windows platform.

Google Groups has to this point been a consumer service. As part of Google Apps, it now integrates with Google Docs, Google Calendar, GMail, Google Sites and Google Video.

Adding Google Groups is another shot across Microsoft's bow. Striking is the speed in which companies like Google can innovate with web-based applications, compared to Microsoft's long development cycles. Designing for the browser is so much more efficient that you have to wonder how much of a lead Microsoft can hold in face of the fast development cycles from Google and others in the enterprise collaboration space.

In 2007, Google Apps had three products: Gmail, Google Docs and Google Calendar. Today, Google Apps includes 24 products. The cost for Google Apps is $50 per user/per year. In the current Microsoft desktop model, the costs to develop products make it seemingly impossible to keep licensing costs as low as Google Apps. The customer investment is magnified by the technology investments that IT departments need t make in order to keep desktop applications running inside the enterprise.

This not to say that Google is lacking any weaknesses of its own. The addition of Google Groups adds another level of functionality to its enterprise suite. Still, the features are fairly simple, compared to the Windows platform.

Features

Google is adding groups to address the challenges for both the IT administrator and the user. In Google's view, managing groups is a significant administrative burden for IT. The user, in turn is dependent on IT to create the groups.

Google's answer is to create a group environment that can be controlled by the user or the IT department. The IT department can control all groups that are created or it can give complete control to the user.

This will all sound familiar if you have ever set up your own Google Group. The process is pretty straight forward. The time it takes to set up a group is minimal. You give the group a name and create a group email and web address. You then add a short description and set controls for who has access.

Members are added by sending an email with an invitation.

Google Groups for the enterprise is designed for users to collaborate on projects. For example, Google Docs and shared folders may be added to a group as can mock ups from Google Sites. Calendar items can be added or a testimonial using Google Video.

Dependence on email is its weakness. All changes or additions are sent through email, just as in the consumer version of Google Groups. The saving grace is Google search, which makes it easier to find information in the email.

Activity streams are all the rage and seem like they would potentially fit if the groups were designed differently. But you can see why email is the default. Google Groups on the consumer side is designed for email as a distribution mechanism so it makes sense it would be the same for the enterprise.

In Conclusion

Adding Google Groups is not a dramatic improvement to Google Apps. But it will be compelling to watch how the collaboration market unfolds in 2010 in the face of rapid feature enhancements from Google and a host of competitors competing for a piece of the enterprise market.