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Google recently announced that Google Apps for Business will no longer be free for new small-business users. This suite of services -- which includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Groups and many other tools -- had been free for workgroups of no more than 10 users.
Now, new businesses signing up for Google Apps must pay $5 per user per month, or $50 per user per year. So, for instance, a business with eight employees using the company's Google Apps account would spend $400 year at the new annual rate. Pre-existing Google Apps business accounts remain free of charge, for now.
For the new price, business users get some additional perks not available to individual free Google Apps accounts: 24/7 phone support, more Gmail storage (25GB compared to 10GB for free accounts) and the ability to purchase Google Vault archiving service for $10 per user, per month.
But whenever a free service turns paid, it's usually a good time to evaluate the value it might offer. If you're thinking about signing up for Google Apps for Business, consider which benefits to productivity, responsiveness, coordination, reliability, tech support, mobility or overall efficiency you'd hope to receive for the price. Even if your company has a grandfathered-in free account, what if Google someday starts charging you for it? What would make it worthwhile to stay and pay -- or to switch to other options?
One advantage of Google Apps is that it's fairly comprehensive. The email and calendars apps are most popular, but the suite includes numerous apps, including Google Docs (document collaboration), Google Drive (file repository comparable to Dropbox) and Google Sites (simple website building and hosting). Going with alternative web-hosted options would probably involve turning to several providers, not just one.
If you don't plan to use more than a couple of apps in Google's suite, it might not be worth paying for Google Apps for Business. But there are alternatives. If your company uses Microsoft Office applications, for instance, Microsoft offers a suite of online extensions called Office 365, available for $6 per user per month for up to 50 users. Microsoft 365 users also can subscribe to an online version of the Sharepoint suite of collaboration and conferencing tools. Plans range from $4-$22 per user per month. Extra storage is available for $0.20 per GB per month.
For a complete alternative to Google Apps for Business, probably the closest competitor in terms of breadth of service is Zoho -- a diverse suite of business, collaboration, and productivity apps -- including calendaring and e-mail. For business users, Zoho pricing varies by the applications you use and the number of users, starting at $12 per user per month. Like Google Apps for Business, you can use your own domain name on these services. Zoho doesn't offer archiving comparable to Google Vault.