Google making big Apps moves

Many Google Apps are shedding the beta tag, and the company also is introducing new online services and features

Google is making the most of its I/O conference's spotlight as it unveils a trio of applications announcements today.

The first announcement is that Google is dropping the "beta" tag from many of its Google Apps (though it is being coy about which apps are shedding beta status and when it will happen). This may not seem like a big deal, but Google is notoriously slow to shed beta designation (witness the fact that Gmail, now five years strong, still carries the beta label), and the practice may be harmful when it comes to enterprise adoption. After all, enterprises like to use fully tested and properly released software, so the beta tag acts as a red flag and may be keeping Google Apps -- even the Premier Edition, a for-pay version that includes support and an SLA -- out of businesses.

[ Last year, InfoWorld examined what Google needs to do to move Google Apps into businesses. ]

In a related announcement, one particular Google App, Google Docs, is getting scripting capabilities. The scripting, which is based on JavaScript, will allow users to customize apps, automate some tasks, and even link some applications together. In the bigger picture, the customization will allow Google to differentiate its offerings from one-size-fits-all suites like Microsoft Office. Initial testing will take place on the Google Spreadsheets app before spreading to other offerings.

Finally, the company is releasing Google Wave, a "Swiss Army Knife" for online services, to developers. Wave is being billed as a collaboration and communication suite that allows developers to bring together e-mail, instant messaging, blogging, wikis, multimedia management, and document sharing, but beyond all the buzzwords lies some risk: Wave could have a hard time pulling in users who would prefer sticking to the discrete apps they know instead of flocking to the new unified platform. It's an adventurous concept, which is why Google is trying to get people talking about it now and is giving developers time to play around with the Wave APIs and start creating extensions and applications (that will hopefully entice users to come aboard) in advance of the full release later this year.