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When Google isn't like Google

Why is Google – the advertising and search giant – so interested in enterprise computing? Google Apps give some much-needed diversity to the company's business. The company has hit it big with Android, but ultimately, that's just another way to drive advertising. The mobile OS is free. But Google Apps is not.

Giroaurd acknowledges that Google is interested in diversity - but not for diversity's sake. "I don't think [Google Apps] started with the idea of having diversity," he told us. "It probably started with the idea of 'Here's an area where Google should apply itself: enterprise computing.' Maybe it doesn't seem obvious, but Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] didn't start Google with the idea that it would be a consumer company. ... They started with the idea of using computer science to address information problems that are very hard to solve; most everything Google has done in the years since are all under that idea...

"I don't think Google sees itself as [merely an advertising business]. I think you'll see the company diversify, not because we want to be diversified but because it makes sense to do some things differently."

Asked if the enterprise business was started in order to fuel Google's famous thirst for data, Giroaurd said no. "Not at all. I've never had a conversation of that nature," he said. "It's really not the case whatsoever. The only way we use the data is to provide the service." If you use the consumer versions of services such as Gmail, Google may use your data to, say, tweak your search results. But the company told us this does not happen if you use the for-pay version of Google Apps.

"It's different if you're using Google Apps for Business vs. a consumer account," a company spokesman told us. "Of course, there is some limited cross-product information sharing within Apps, e.g., using contacts from your email to auto-populate a calendar entry."

Whatever the underlying motives driving Google Apps, the service is almost entirely ad-free. With the free version – for entrepreneurs, small businesses, and families – you'll see ads on Gmail, but nowhere else. The for-pay Google Apps for Business includes no ads whatsoever. Google is actually selling a service, and with this comes an extra responsibility, not only in terms of security and reliability but support – another area where Google doesn't have much experience.

Currently, the company offers online and daytime phone support for paying customers, and there's 24-hour, 7-day phone support for "P0" issues – i.e., those moments when you can't access the system at all. But the Girouard said that company intends to offer 24-by-7 phone support for all issues in the future. "We want to continue to do better," he said. "I'd give us a B on support. There's an impression that we're awful at it, but I think a lot of what we do with our free products is intermingled with what we do with our enterprise customers."

It's yet to be seen whether Google can truly dominate a market that's not advertising-driven, and that requires the company to provide not just technical support but, well, emotional support to its customers. Google is known for cold rationality, for an unemotional approach to the world's problems. But clearly, the company believes it can move beyond its reputation. ®

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