Big bonuses coming for Google Apps users

Recent changes in Gmail, and the Google+ onslaught, bode well for Google Apps in its combat with Office 365

Still debating whether to sign on with Office 365 or jump ship for the slimmer, cheaper, and less feature-laden (or encumbered) Google Apps?

Google's trying to sweeten the pot and make your decision easier.

No doubt you've noticed the face-lift going on across Google's pages. As Google's blog describes, the official rollout started three weeks ago. I'm convinced we're looking at more than a face-lift for the aging Google dowager design. Behind those nips and tucks there's a makeover in the way the pieces of Google hang together -- the way you engage with Google itself -- and a uniformity in appearance that's starting to tie things together.

The Google marketing machine lumps the changes into three general categories:

  1. Focus improvements make it easier for you to find and use common actions and de-emphasize things you don't want to do as frequently.
  2. Improved elasticity aims to make the user interface more uniform whether you're on a full size PC, a tablet, or a smartphone.
  3. Effortlessness changes the plumbing behind the scenes to do more, while requiring you to do less.

At least, that's what Google would have you believe.

Next up? Gmail's in for a redesign. The new appearance, which bears more than a little homage to the Outlook Web App, is strictly opt-in at the moment. You can take it for a test-drive; inside Gmail, click on the gear icon/Options button in the upper-right corner, choose Mail Settings, move over to the Themes tab, and select either the Preview or Preview Dense theme. ("Dense" refers to the graphic quality; it's not a value judgment.)

As of yesterday, Google started making small tweaks to the standard Gmail interface -- the Spam button looks a little different, for example. The company promises to roll out more changes this year ... slowly.

Ultimately, as you can see in the Preview Dense theme, Gmail's going to start looking more like a corporate email app and less like a really cool pastiche cooked up by a bunch of geniuses with too much time on their hands. By changing the appearance and functionality in slow increments, the designers hope to accomplish the change with a minimal bump on the learning curve.

The biggest impact on corporate users: Google+.

You may think that Google+ won't have any effect on your company, but you're only fooling yourself. Dan Tynan pointed out in his article "10 hard truths IT must learn to accept" that Facebook and Twitter are already being used at 96 percent of organizations. Google+ seems destined to take on both. Google+ can handle Facebook-style open blog posts, Twitter-style directed tweets (only longer), individually addressed emails, and targeted group interactions similar to Google Groups.

With 10 million acknowledged users as of last Thursday -- I'd be willing to bet it's closer to 20 million by now -- Google+ is going to change the corporate landscape.

Currently Google+ membership is limited to addresses. Soon, we're promised, Google will open up Google+ to any domain hosted by Google Apps. That's going to give your users a lot of capability, including a big slice of Lync functionality, although it isn't at all clear if Google+ working with Google Apps accounts will have any of Lync's central control.

We're also promised integration between Gmail and Google+ in the near term. That's going to be interesting as well.

If you're actively defending your organization against Facebook and Twitter, you have a new G+ bogeyman to shut out. But if you're toying with the idea of embracing social networking, Google+ offers a lot of advantages to your users and to your company. For example, an employee can set up a circle called Co-workers (or Management Committe or The Cafeteria or HR) and direct posts to that limited group. It isn't iron-clad security on a par with Lync, but it's a big step forward from post-it-to-the-world Facebook.

If you're thinking about moving to Google Apps, in the past few weeks the folks at Google have given you a whole lot more to think about.

This story, "Big bonuses coming for Google Apps users," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.