A review I wrote for my Persuasive Communication Class
Livin' la Vida Google: A Month-Long Dive Into Web-Based Apps by Michael Calore 18 April 2007
In 2007 web based applications came into there own and have really shown themselves as a viable alternative to desktop based applications. The launch of "Google Apps" (Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs & Spreadsheets, etc.) in February 2006 took the software world by storm as it showed Google's commitment to the advancement of online tools and proved that they were composition to Microsoft, the software giant. If one could create and store everything online there would be no need for desktop applications, all you would need is a browser.
Online applications also level the playing field for operating systems, which is why I turned to them in early 2007. As a person interested in various operating systems, i.e. Windows, various Linux distributions, and OS X, one of my greatest frustrations was the lack of cross platform compatibility of software. With each operating system change I made I would have to hunt down and load the appropriate software for that system. Additionally, Microsoft applications are not available for Linux making my best choice Open Office, which is good but often looses formatting when documents are opened in Microsoft's Office Suite.
Though Google Apps have come a long way in the past two and a half years, are they really ready for the workplace? Could a company really switch to Google Apps? The official Google blog said in February of 2007, just a year after the launch of Google Apps:
Now, I'm excited to tell you that our baby has finally graduated and is entering the business world. Google Apps Premier Edition is a new version designed to take on all the challenges presented by businesses with complex IT needs. For $50 per account per year, you get the whole Google Apps package plus many new business-oriented features, including access to our APIs and partner solutions (so it’s easy to integrate with existing systems), conference room scheduling for Calendar, 10GB of inbox storage, extended business hours phone support, and mobile access to your email on BlackBerry devices (just in case you can't get enough at the office).
In April 2007 Michael Calore of Wired Magazine put Google apps to the test. To see if they were really a viable workplace solution.
The Writers’ Opinions:
Michael Calore, of Wired Magazine, put Google Apps to the test in April 2007 by switching entirely to the online applications for one month. He wrote about his findings in the article Livin' la Vida Google: A Month-Long Dive Into Web-Based Apps.
As Calore reflected on his month long dive into the world of online applications he said:
In general, I found that the browser is perfectly suitable for a variety of daily office tasks — e-mail, writing and editing stories. I also lived through several technological breakdowns that had me pounding my desk in frustration, wondering what the hell I had gotten into.
One of the first observations Calore made was the change in his work flow. His life was now seamless between working from home and in the office. Since he communicates often with freelancers at all hours of the day and night he found that he was able to stay in touch through Google Apps, no longer worrying about transferring files on thumb drives or e-mailing them to his home address.
The first stumbling block Calore ran into was using the chat client, Google Talk. He observed, "I could chat with other Gmail users, but I couldn't connect to my co-workers on AOL Instant Messenger or Yahoo Messenger. Something about the way our proxy servers are configured was blocking Google Talk." For a company which uses chat for interoffice communication, as many do, this was a fairly disastrous realization. Calore "gave up and went back to Adium." observing that the problem was "not Google's problem, but a problem nonetheless."
The next issue Calore encountered was with Google Documents. He explains, "One of our copy editors couldn't open some docs I had exported, so I was forced to copy and paste those articles into Microsoft Word just for her. According to Jonathan Rochelle, product manager for Google Docs & Spreadsheets, these interoperability headaches could have been eradicated if we were all using the same application suite." However the reality, as Calore found is that not everyone does use the same suite.
In general a major hurdle for Google Apps to overcome is the idea of storing your personal information with Google. Calore ran into this problem with co-workers, as they discussed changing the Wired newsroom over to Google Apps. Jonathan Rochelle, product manager for Google Spreadsheet, has explained in various blogs, articles, and interviews how the Google system is secure, and he is quoted in Calore's article saying, "More and more people are recognizing that it's more secure to keep all your data in one location." Citing an analogy from Rochelle, Calore says, "While people generally trust their e-mail systems to be secure, many of them lack a clear understanding of what goes on behind the scenes as e-mail travels from point A to point B, and how many different companies handle the data en route." According to Rochelle, "They don't really understand the structure behind their e-mail systems, but somehow they trust it more than they trust something that's new."
In conclusion Calore notes that:
For small to medium businesses, the reality of a 100 percent Google workplace is mostly within reach as long as everyone in the organization gets comfortable with the security and privacy issues.
However, another oft-cited disadvantage of Google Apps — and web apps in general — is their lack of reliability. After all, the applications are hosted online. What happens when your Internet connection goes down?
Most of the problems that Michael Calore ran into were compatibility issues, with people and other software. He encountered a resistance to change and software which is notorious for not playing well with others.
Microsoft, in particular, has built its empire by not playing well with others. They have designed everything from their browser, Internet Explorer, to their documents in a fashion where one must be using their applications to view things properly. This said, it is not surprising that Calore had problems with documents being imported from Google to Word. However, the point of Google Docs, in my opinion is that you are able to "publish" and "share" them in an online environment. By keeping the documents in an online environment people can copy and paste the info into their chosen software. The Google docs also "export" into various formats. And while you may loose some formatting , such as font choice, this has always been a problem even when staying on the same platform. With users incorporating their own "personal settings" the transfer of formatting has never been a seamless one. This is why many people choose to share their information in un-editable Adobe pdf format, only giving other users the ability to comment and save not to change the essence of the document.
One of the biggest hurdles for Google Apps is the issue of storage. The company has made their API's available for developers but until there is a simple private storage solution I doubt that companies will be switching anytime soon. Companies who store their customers private data routinely use third party storage solutions but the shear idea of using a company like Google to store your data is a difficult mental hurdle to jump. I read some online forums where people were discussing Google Apps storage issues and a physician mentioned his issues surrounding the need to be HIPPA compliant, see that conversation here. The physician says, "One reason I don't use Google Docs in my business is called Federal Regulations and include elements such as HIPPA (health insurance portability privacy act) along with the fact that I deal with personal financial and legal information on a daily basis that absolutely must remain private as the penalties for violating these can be very expensive." What this physician and many other users fail to recognize is that many hospitals and other companies use a third party to store their info. The difference is that they have signed contracts with these third party storage solutions about privacy and backup. With Google there is no such agreement.
Michale Calore gives a very balanced view of Google Apps. I found that his observations were thoroughly researched and very valid. I think that anyone who has not experienced Google Apps, or any web based applications, before would feel encouraged to do so after reading his article. He is very persuasive about the benefits for the home user to switch to Google Apps and at the same time adds a bit more fuel to the fire, if you will, for corporations which are reluctant to do so.
His observations about security and his quotes from Jonathan Rochelle reminded me about the little I know about security. I often explain to those who are extremely concerned about security that in the past we, as humans, used paper and pen to store a majority of our data. The paper/pen technology is not very secure either. Not only is it susceptible to loss, fire and water damage but with the eyes of a human being on it the information was only is secure as the person holding the page. This is similar to today's security discussions. It all comes down to how much you trust the person holding the keys.
As an avid user of Google Apps I find the shear fact that I can access my documents from any computer in the world, as long as it is connected to the Internet and does not have a site blocker blocking Google Apps, such as the company I currently work for, the main benefit to using Google. However, I must agree with those security gurus who raise red flags about security problems. While Google Apps is wonderful for personal use and many small businesses, I doubt that we will see wide scale corporate adoption until Google can address some of the looming questions about security.
In the vein of this line of research I have made all citations, "sitations" (aka hyperlinks) As of 6/16/07 all links are valid. For more information about sitations see: http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/nov102005/1518.pdf
Main sites cited: