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Google Apps pain or pleasure for CIOs?

Google Apps Team Edition is so tempting you could measure the time it'll take your employees to get hooked on it with an egg timer. You can wrestle users over it, if you're so inclined, but best to embrace it instead.

Add one more to your list of applications to keep an eye on.

Unlike social networking, games and standard instant messaging (IM), the new Google Apps Team Edition might actually be the most productivity-stimulating unsanctioned application confronting IT departments.

But the free, user-friendly application suite still makes an end run around CIOs by encouraging employees to do their work outside a boss' watchful eye. And it's going to be up to IT departments whether they want to do anything about it.

Released earlier this month, Team Edition -- essentially a bundle of the Mountain View, Calif.-based company's Web-based document programs, calendar scheduling program and Google Talk, which allows IM and Voice over Internet Protocol PC-to-PC calls -- will flirt with popularity. Chenxi Wang, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said it may be a big hit.

"Although it's an enterprise application, it takes a more consumer-oriented approach," Wang said. "I think a lot of users will gravitate toward that. For one, it's free and easy to use and it allows collaboration with features that are fairly popular."

Key to that consumer feel of the Software as a Service suite is that users sign up independent of their IT departments. Like other Google properties -- Google Maps, Google Reader and Google Blog Search to name a few -- Team Edition is simple, colorful and uncomplicated. Once signed in using an email address from his or her employer's domain name, an employee can use the application to invite co-workers and others using the domain name to join.

In some business sectors, such as engineering, Team Edition could be a godsend for employees who thrive on constant collaboration with their peers, Wang said.

"This is the type of feature they love," Wang said. "They don't want to go through the IT department to get approval, because it's burdensome.

"On the flip side, the minus side is from a corporate standpoint, you have less control," she said. "I think this has its place for collaboration scenarios whereby the content that is being collaborated is not that sensitive or the organization is not a highly regulated industry, for example."

The standard cautions apply. Employees storing and sharing documents, spreadsheets and the like will be doing that on Google's servers, which could present a compliance problem in some industries. IM is included, which still makes some executives wary. And sensitive business information could be shared with the wrong people inside the business.

So Team Edition becomes something of a judgment call for CIOs. But it's a call they'll have to make. Wang predicts the tool will become popular -- and to hear Google tell it, the whole thing is on its way to becoming a worldwide hit.

University students and employees at "thousands of small businesses" as well as at Fortune 500 companies all "spontaneously" began using Team Edition in the program's debut week, Google Senior Product Marketing Manager Jeremy Milo said.

"Right off the bat, we started to see people signing up for organizations of all shapes and sizes," he said. Milo would not say how many domain names have registered users, or how many users are registered overall.

This is the type of feature they love. They don't want to go through the IT department to get approval, because it's burdensome.

Chenxi Wang, principal analyst, Forrester Research Inc.

"We recognize that there are IT administrators out there that are going to want more control and say over who is using these applications," Milo said.

In come the administrative functions, options offered by Google that allow CIOs to control which employees can use which applications in the suite.

To wrest some control, a CIO or IT director must sign up for Team Edition. Once inside, there is an administrative login that connects the CIO with Google.

With that, the CIO is given an option to either create a CNAME record or upload an HTML file provided by Google to the company's domain. Both options prove that the CIO has control over the domain.

A third option is to update the domain's MX record.

Exercising any of those options essentially disables Team Edition for the domain and shifts everything to Google Apps Standard Edition, Google's free version of its Web-based application suite for businesses. Once that happens, companies can use Gmail as an email client and CIOs can take control of the applications.

Standard Edition includes text-based ads alongside emails. Google does offer a Premier Edition that ditches the ads, provides support services and allows the integration of third-party applications. That costs $50 per user.

CIOs looking to shutter the whole program can do that.

"We absolutely want to give administrators the control to do that if that's what they decide," Milo said. "The easiest way to do it would be to disable all the applications."

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