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Google made a splash yesterday by burying the sign-up hyperlink to Google Apps Standard Edition (free) and pointing people instead to the $50/user/year version: Google Apps Premier Edition. The title of TechCrunch's article about the move ("What The Hell Happened to the Free Version of Google Apps?") hints at the general reaction. Several commenters said they felt that Google was violating its "Don't be evil" mantra with this move.
At a superficial level, this is about Google's plowing ahead with a different pricing strategy, leaving some miffed users and prospects in its wake. However, at a deeper level, this announcement signals a major organizational change at Google.
Think about it. Google has been following this dual pricing strategy for 2.5 years--it could have easily kept on a steady course. Why did it change? My guess is that upper management told the Enterprise Division that it would have to start paying its own way--it could no longer live off of ad subsidies.
In other words, this is Google saying, "Let's figure out if we have a viable business here: let's stop treating Google Apps like a lark and get serious." (A hint of the "get serious" attitude is that yesterday Google also removed the beta status from Google Apps.) If the supposition that the Enterprise Division is being told it has to stand on its own two feet is correct, that implies something else: that the Enterprise Division will be able to call its own shots. With its own money coming in, it will be able to develop the apps it needs, rather than making do with hand-me-downs (such as Google Apps) from the consumer side of the house.
In my view, the Enterprise Division has been sort of hamstrung by being a hobby at Google. (Not completely hamstrung--the Google Search Appliance, derived from Google's web search expertise, has been a big hit and a money-maker. However, Google Apps hasn't taken off with enterprises because Google hasn't made the necessary feature changes that enterprises need.) Living or dying based on paying customers will concentrate the mind of the Enterprise Division wonderfully, and that will be good for enterprises.