Google Apps Premier Edition

Cloud computing is the buzz word of the moment and Google is still the internet’s star child. But is Google Apps really good enough for serious business use? We delve deeper.

IT Pro Verdict

Steve Ballmer has poured scorn on Google apps, and after close examination we think he might have a point. The potential is there, but we’re not convinced that Google Apps Premier is feature complete or resilient enough for major corporates to consider.

Google is a company that even within the fast moving tech world has yet to show any sign of losing its lustre as the most cutting edge of companies. Combine this with the current hype around cloud computing and it's no surprise to find that Google is happy to tell all and sundry that the traditional office app is yesterday's news and that its online offering is where it's at.

For the princely sum of 25 exc. VAT per user per year, you too can have access to Google's perpetual beta program of word processing, spreadsheets and presentations - and Google will also throw in mail management, spam filters, collaboration tools and 25GB of online storage. The free Standard Edition only has 7GB of storage, shows you adverts alongside your email and does not include many of the more advanced features.

Signing up to Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) is relatively simple but integrating it into your corporate computing environment is less so. Google gives instructions as to how to add MX and CNAME Records to your ISP account to direct Google Mail to your corporate email accounts but only for a few ISPs. If you use any other ISP, you're left to do this integration by yourself with minimal help. Some ISPs don't provide the tools you need to manage your DNS records directly so you'd need to involve their technical support people to do this.

Google provides online utilities to enable you to provision new accounts for co-workers and to manage your corporate office portal but the main tools are still Google Docs word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.

Main tools

The toolsets in these main applications are quite rudimentary. The range of different fonts you can use is limited to just 12 (including Wingdings) in the word processor, just six in spreadsheets and presentations.

You also get Google's choice of font sizes and no others, so if you want 11, 13 or 16 point text in your document you're out of luck. The word processor can use styles but only picked from a very small list of built-in styles for "Normal" and "Heading 1" to "Heading 6". If you don't like these styles, there's no way to change them or to build your own.

You can have headers and footers, insert manual page breaks and put page numbers on your document but you can't control the format of those page numbers such as specifying Roman numerals or "Page X of Y". Tables and columns can be sized as a percentage of the page/table width or a number of pixels (but not in centimetres or inches).

Want borders on your table cells? You can have them, but only in one colour and thickness for every cell in the table. If you want anything more fancy, look elsewhere. There's a page layout mode in the word-processing module that tries to show you how your work will look on a printed page with margins and page breaks but it falls down badly by not recognising landscape pages, so the text appears to run off the white page and into a grey no-man's land.