In an announcement in the Official Google Enterprise Blog, it was revealed that the Google Apps free version is no no longer available. While I always thought that this was a possibility, I never really thought that Google would kill the whole program! I use Google apps for a number of domains, like, http://pranab.in, http://scepticemia.com, http://communitymedicine.co.in, http://aequanimitas.org.in and a couple others I do not intend to continue with.
The official reason for this change in policy was:
When we launched the premium business version we kept our free, basic version as well. Both businesses and individuals signed up for this version, but time has shown that in practice, the experience isn’t quite right for either group. Businesses quickly outgrow the basic version and want things like 24/7 customer support and larger inboxes. Similarly, consumers often have to wait to get new features while we make them business-ready.
This does not sound very logical to me.
What does sound logical is that Google intends to monetize a very successful product. Google Apps initially allowed free users to have 100 (or more) users, which then was curtailed to 50, and then to 10, before finally axing the product altogether. The free version was becoming more and more difficult to find in the Apps environment and signing up, though remained simple as before, would mean a lot of sleuthing around to find the link. Finally, the last straw came yesterday when Apps closed this feature altogether.
Although they claim that the existing customers will not be affected, I am, frankly, worried! I cannot afford to pay the 50$ per customer per year rider for the businesses account. When Google Apps passed the 5 million mark, Amit Singh, VP, Google Enterprises, sounded adequately awed:
We’re humbled that 5 million businesses (including BBVA and Roche), 66 of the top 100 U.S. universities, and government institutions in 45 of the 50 U.S. states have gone Google by choosing Google Apps to live and work in the cloud. We hear from these customers that alongside improving IT administration and individual productivity, Google Apps also helps teams of employees work better together.
One can only say that the free version was intended to be a nidus around which the Apps product identity would be developed. Come to think of it, such a wonderful product, given for free, is kind of unbelievable – and now it is gone. With such a large user base around, one can only say that the free version needs to be borne around no more. It was just another product eating into the Google services without giving it substantial revenue returns. Although I never needed customer support in the 3-odd years I have used Google Apps, and the free version (even with the limit of 10 accounts) suited me pretty well, I must say I cannot envision continuing with it if I am asked to pony up the 50 bucks per user per year rider some time soon. The Google assures me that:
Please note this change has no impact on our existing customers, including those using the free version. And as before, Google Apps for Education will be available as a free service for schools and universities. Also, as the first cloud productivity suite with FISMA certification, we’ll continue to offer Google Apps for Government for $50 per user, per year.
…I am a little worried. Now, I know that Google strives to be not-evil, but it is a hard, money-driven market out there. One can only give away that much.
Anyways, there is one hack going around that will still allow you to grab a free Apps account (although it shall allow you only one user instead of the 10 they allowed till yesterday). So, if you have a domain or two lying around, then feel free to sign up for it via the App Engine Admin Console. Special hat tip to TechCrunch for unearthing this hack from Greg D’Alesandre, Senior Product Manager, Google App Engine:
Image Credit: TechCrunch, Natasha Lomas
So, the obvious question: where do I go from here if the free version shuts down? (Though I trust Google enough to believe it will not do that!)
One option is, of course, to revert to ye olde gmail ID. Thank goodness I still have the proper IDs there. Derelict. Lonesome. But there. Or, one could try the volatile people over at Microsoft to sign up for the free service (unlimited users for free, still, apparently) at http://domains.live.com – take your pick!