Gmail, other Google apps, out of beta

Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Talk no longer beta products

Gmail is out of beta. After five years and plenty of industry snickering and corporate complaining, Google announced Tuesday the online messaging service is now an official "shipping" product.

Gmail is out of beta.

After five years and plenty of industry snickering and corporate complaining, Google announced Tuesday the online messaging service is now an official "shipping" product.

Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Talk were all stripped of their beta tags Tuesday as Google upgraded the pieces of its Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) suite to the status of a finished product.

Google Sites and Google Video for Business have already lost their beta tags.

Google also announced that it is adding other enterprise features including replication of messaging data stores among various Google data centers. In the coming weeks, Google will add the ability to delegate e-mail accounts to assistants, and the capability to set e-mail retention policies.

All of those features and services are being added without an increase to the $50 per user fee for GAPE, Google officials said.

"For too many companies looking at commercial Gmail, the beta label was like a blinking neon light that flashed "amateur, amateur…," said Matt Cain, an analyst with Gartner. "Companies did not want to engage a vendor that forced them to put their most mission-critical communication channel on a piece of beta code. Removing the beta label removes one of the major hurdles Google had to overcoming corporate resistance."

While Google claims the move is just semantics, it acknowledges that the "beta" tag was making corporate users uneasy and often unwilling to commit.

"We've come to appreciate that the beta tag just doesn't fit for large enterprises that aren't keen to run their business on software that sounds like it's still in the trial phase," Matt Glotzbach, product management director for Google Enterprise, said in a blog post Tuesday.

Even with most of its corporate-focused applications in beta, however, Google did not stand still. It acquired Postini in 2007 for $625 million to answer corporate needs for e-mail security. Google added in the past six months offline support for Gmail and calendars, BlackBerry access, contact list integration and support for Outlook client software.

And Google signed up major customers such as Genentech, which put 17,000 users on Gmail in 2008, and Fairchild Semiconductor, which recently migrated 5,500 seats from Lotus Notes to GAPE.

All the while, Google has been dealing with a number of outages that have knocked customers offline, including a trio of outages last fall that resulted in customer credits being issued, a May outage that affected 14% of its user base and another just last week that knocked some customers offline for up to six hours.

But Google says its performance is up to par.

"We are finding our service to be quite a bit more reliable [than most on-premises systems]," said Rajen Sheth, senior product manager of Google Apps. In November last year, the company was so confident about its uptime that it extended its 99.9% service-level agreement  across its GAPE suite.

Going forward without the beta tags, Google says it will streamline new features and innovation into GAPE at various intervals. The company did not provide specifics.

"Very deliberately we will release new functionality in these product and we will do it incrementally," Sheth said. "You will see these apps continue to change and see more and more features added to them, but we will be very deliberate about it in terms of how we test those features before they go out." Sheth said features will move more quickly to Google Labs, where users can test them and decide for themselves when to adopt.

Gartner's Cain says Google's moves show it is maturing.

"While a slow starter in the commercial e-mail market, Google is learning on the job and is gaining momentum. Within two years it will be a true, credible, and aggressive competitor to Microsoft and IBM."

Follow John on Twitter: twitter.com/johnfontana

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