iPad Opening CIOs to Web-Based Apps, OSes

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple’s betting big that the iPad will be the next great “must have” consumer device. So far, that bet’s looking pretty good as Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) selling about as many iPads as it can make . But the tablet PC is finding a home in businesses too, with what one Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) executive thinks is an unexpected, though welcome, benefit.

“Every CIO I meet is carrying an iPad these days,” David Girouard, president of Google’s Enterprise division, told members of the press at the company’s offices here. Girouard said the iPad is “the ultimate statement of the consumerization of IT to date.”

As the point person for the search giant’s effort to sell enterprises on Google’s Apps suite, Girouard said the dialogue he has with CIOs and IT managers has traditionally included questions about whether the software could match specialty features of Office — like pivot tables, the data summarization tool in Excel.

“Apple’s opened the minds of a lot of IT people” to think beyond the classic Office on a desktop PC model, Girouard said. And that in turn is helping Google pitch its cloud-based Apps as an Office alternative but also as a supplement to enterprise shops. While he concedes “Windows isn’t going away,” Girouard said Apps customers are also seeing advantages to adding Google for its collaboration and other features where a “thick client” like Office isn’t needed.

Later this fall, Google expects a number of hardware partners to bring out netbooks and other portable devices based on its Chrome operating system that will run Web-based apps rather than its locally installed applications. Girouard said he expects these devices could further disrupt the Office desktop model.

These new Web-driven devices present “a radically simpler IT management model” than Windows PCs, which typically require more hands-on support, updating and service contracts, he added. “These devices are less expensive and largely stateless so you don’t have the same worries about losing data.”

CIOs aren’t the only ones paying attention

Girouard acknowledged that Microsoft is taking notice of Google’s customer wins including a big contract with the City of Los Angeles. “We’ve come a long way from six to nine months ago when Microsoft said we didn’t matter or compete with them,” he said.

Now Microsoft is actively touting winning back Google Apps customers and showcasing customers who chose Microsoft over Google.

“Our renewal rates are 90 percent in all segments and we feel we have very good products,” Girouard said.

Ironically, Girouard admitted one of the features that Google is working hard to implement is a search function across applications, which wasn’t in the original design of Google Apps.

In terms of other competition, he said Microsoft is the primary one. “IBM conceptually and Cisco’s working on some things, but Microsoft is who we see most in the market,” Girouard said.

Relative newcomer Google said it has two million business customers for Google Apps and 25 million users. Microsoft Office has amassed hundreds of millions of Office users over the years.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.