Google Apps for Business: Limit Free Users, Accused by Microsoft for Hidden Costs

google cloudBack in April 26, 2011, Google has officially announced in the Official Google Enterprise Blog that Google Apps will limit from previously 50 users to 10 users for the free version. This new policy has brought up some opinions from Google Apps existing and potential customers.

The new free user limit will be effective starting from May 10, 2011. This means, if your business needs more than 10 users, you will be required to sign up for the paid version, Google Apps for Business. This new user limit is not applicable to educational and non-profit organizations.

Fortunately, Google avoids cloud lock-in issues by allowing the existing Google Apps customers to expand beyond the 10 users limit, up to 50 users.

Google Apps new free user policy is also followed by an update on its plan and pricing. Google introduces a new flexible billing option, the Flexible Plan, in addition to the existing plan, will be called the Annual Plan.

The Annual Plan will follow the same pricing structure – $50 per user per year, with unlimited number of users allowed. The Flexible Plan will charge $5 per user per month with no contractual commitment; businesses can add new users or remove existing ones as they see fit and the billing will be adjusted automatically.

Why Google revise its Google Apps plan and pricing and what are the impacts?

There are some possible explanations, but this article from explains that the new plan and pricing is a strategic move Google made due to the company’s poor first quarter earnings in 2011.

Regarding the impact of the new policies, I’ve read some opinions across the web, such as this opinion from one of Google Apps user that pretty much sums it all up; the user thinks that despite it’s understandable, the move is short-sighted.

MajorLacy, the user, says that the $500/year (10 users) is still a bit pricey for businesses that only want email and nothing else, compared to, as an example, GoDaddy that offers 10 email boxes at $19.95/year. The user suggests that Google Apps should add a new plan for email-only needs, while giving a thumb up on charging for the rest that needs more apps.

A bit off topic, but the concern is valid, in my opinion. Other users voice similar opinions, ranging from accusations and worries that they will experience something similar to cloud lock-in.

Microsoft rubs salt on Google’s wound

Still attracting comments across the web regarding the plan and pricing changes, Google is receiving another blow – this time by its big competitor, Microsoft. Microsoft warns in the company’s newly published white paper that Google Apps is not as cheap as it seems, as it charges customers with “hidden costs”, such as:

  • Mobile user support: Microsoft claims that Google’s mobile support is limited – for more features, Google Apps users will need to use third-party services that cost money, such as CompanionLink for Google at $40/user.
  • Migrating from Exchange: To mass-migrate Exchange email accounts to Google Apps, you need a tool, such as Exchange To Google Apps Migrator, made available in Google Apps Marketplace at $20/user price tag.
  • Google Apps support: The basic support is free, but for live help and remote desktop assistance, a customer need to pay a one-time fee of $30/user PLUS $360/user/year.

You can learn more about the recap of Google Apps hidden charges from this article.

Is Google Apps still worth it?

Despite all the negative opinions regarding the changes, I still believe Google Apps can deliver and benefit organizations. Google cloud, Amazon cloud and the others are growing and evolving along the way – changes in feature, plan and pricing are understandable as the “side-effects” of adopting a new, rapidly evolving technology, such as cloud computing.

As a cloud user, you and I should understand the risks of adopting cloud computing for business. The cloud technologies are not mature, yet – we should expect more woes, hiccups and missteps to happen occasionally. Nobody can escape those – not even Google, Amazon (remember the historical 2-day cloud outage?) and the other big players in the cloud.

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