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Google Software-as-a-Service for Small Biz

Reuters reports that Google Inc. is making a concerted move beyond search and advertising into the business software market, starting with a set of Web programs for e-mail, scheduling and communications.

The online search leader said it has created a software platform to run basic business activities -- based on programs it already offers separately. The move marks a stepped up challenge to rival Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) as the software giant prepares to upgrade its Windows and Office franchises.

The free set of Web-based programs for small businesses, universities and nonprofit businesses goes by the mouthful "Google Apps for Your Domain".

Later this year, Google said it will offer a "paid, premium" version with the option of being ad-free and more administrative control and compliance features to meet the demands of bigger corporations and government agencies. Pricing for this more advanced version is not yet available, it said.

Google will host the applications relieving companies of the need to maintain or install software on individual PCs -- support tasks often more costly than software itself. Individual office workers can sign on to Google Apps -- short for applications -- through their Web browsers.

Initial apps are Gmail Web e-mail, the Google Talk instant message and Web phone-calling service, group scheduling on Google Calendar, and Google Page Creator for Web page design.

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