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Google Searches for Partners

Oh, it's on now. Sure, Microsoft and Google have been competing for a while, battling it out in search and, to a much lesser extent, in productivity suites (which means Microsoft Office and Google Apps, in case you were wondering).

But it's really on now because Google has decided to replicate arguably the smartest move Microsoft ever made: selling through the partner channel. That's right -- Google has a partner program, and it's looking for you.

Well, it might be looking for you, anyway. The program is primarily focused on Google Apps -- the search giant's low-cost answer to Microsoft Office -- right now. A Google spokesperson shed a little light via e-mail to RCPU on what the company is seeking from partners. It's nothing you wouldn't expect, but here are the guts of what he said:

"As our customer needs are diverse, we also expect the characteristics of our reseller community to be diverse. For some, this is an opportunity to add SaaS products to complement their existing on-premises portfolio. For others, it's an opportunity to go all the way into the cloud. We anticipate that those firms who have a strong orientation toward SaaS and cloud computing as a primary or a complementary business will be most successful. And we expect that a commitment to providing value-added wrap-around services and solutions is also essential. Successful partners will help customers to plan, migrate, integrate, customize, optimize, extend, and support their Google Apps solutions."

That's sensible enough. Google's looking for SaaS-oriented partners that want to provide add-ons to Apps or offer other services that add value to Google's goods. Of course, partners would be working with the Premier version of Apps, the one Google actually charges for, and would keep recurring revenue after buying Apps at a discount. Presumably, the real money would be -- as it almost always is -- in providing services and add-ons, and Google's prepared to help train partners to do that, too.

Everything considered, it sounds like a good effort for a first-time partner overture. And nobody can argue with Google's desire to copy the model that has made its chief competitor in this space so successful. What we wonder is what Microsoft thinks of all this. We haven't seen a response from Microsoft yet -- and, to be fair, we haven't asked for one yet, either. But we're guessing that Microsoft doesn't have much of substance to say about Google's move. Companies rarely do in these situations, and that's understandable. It's not Microsoft's announcement.

Besides, Office isn't exactly under threat for now. It's still the dominant productivity suite by miles, and Google Apps still can't compete with Office in terms of functionality. Beyond that, just about everybody's used to Office by now, and Office file formats are de facto standards. (In fact, the Office Open XML format actually is a standard now.)

Ask yourself this, though: If you're a Microsoft partner, how will Redmond look at you if you decide to dip your toe into Google's waters, or maybe, more appropriately, reach for Google's cloud? Sure, Microsoft partners link up with other companies -- with competitors -- all the time and Redmond doesn't look at it as the end of the world.

But this is a little different. This is Google, the new superpower, coming right at Microsoft, recruiting partners -- in all likelihood, Microsoft partners -- to try to take down Office, which is still a big cash cow grazing in the fertile fields of the Pacific Northwest. Google seems to be offering a pretty good deal for the right kind of partner, but if you're tight with Microsoft -- or, more appropriately, if you're worried about your relationship with Microsoft -- think about the consequences of linking up with Google before making a move. Because even though Google's a huge underdog in this space, we have a feeling that this fight could end up getting pretty nasty.

Will you look at Google's partner program for Google Apps? Why or why not? Let us know at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on January 15, 2009 at 11:55 AM


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