Google, Salesforce to Meet in The Enterprise?

by Nicholas Carlson

It might just be 'rumor and speculation' now, but a partnership between the two could give Microsoft fits.

Google  and Salesforce.com are talking about forging a partnership to take on rival Microsoft , which is hungrily trying to nibble away at Google's share of online services.

The search engine giant and software-as-a-service (SAAS) market leader are expected to announce a deal in the next few weeks, according to the The Wall Street Journal, which cited people familiar with the matter.

The most likely product integration, the sources say, would be a combination of Google's messaging and e-mail applications with Salesforce.com's customer-relationship management (CRM) tools.

Salesforce.com  did not respond to a request for comment. Not even Marc Benioff, the company's normally outspoken CEO, would discuss the subject during a keynote speech at the company's developer conference in Santa Clara, Calif., today.

"I'm not one to hold back a comment, but in this case, I'm sorry but I can't comment on what's happening between us and Google," said Benioff.

A Google spokesperson said the company refuses to comment on "rumor or speculation."

Google and Microsoft seem to compete in more businesses by the day. But while Google dominates it's Redmond, Wash. rival in all forms of online advertising, Microsoft remains well ahead in the enterprise space.

That doesn't mean Google isn't trying to chip away at that lead, however. In February, Google announced Google Apps Premier Edition, a suite of hosted applications targeted at the same enterprise market traditionally dominated by Microsoft Office.

Google Apps Premier Edition costs businesses $50 per user account per year and includes Google Calendar, as well as the company's Gmail e-mail application and its Google Talk instant messaging client. It also includes Google Docs and Spreadsheets, word processing and spreadsheet applications geared toward collaboration between users. Google's mobile e-mail application is also now available on BlackBerry devices.

It includes 10 gigabytes of storage per user, phone support, and Google guarantees that e-mail will be available 99.9 percent of the time. Google is also offering application-level control for administrators who want to adapt services such as calendars or spreadsheets to business policies.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt refused to say Google Apps competes for the same enterprise dollars as Microsoft's software.

"[Google Apps] doesn't have all the functionality of Microsoft Office -- it's a different way to share information," he said at the Web 2.0 conference in April. "It's casual and a better fit for the Web 2.0 framework."

Industry watchers agree that Google is far from overtaking or even truly competing with Microsoft for the revenues found in catering to business.

But still, the incremental moves into the enterprise space have fueled industry speculation that Google is preparing to make a more dramatic move. As a result, this isn't the first time talk of a marriage between Google and Salesforce.com found its way into headlines.

In March, Frank Gens, a senior vice president of research at IDC, predicted Google or Yahoo would purchase Salesforce.com to get into the enterprise market.

Google routinely denies such intentions.

In December, Davi Girouard, president of Google's business division told internetnews.com, "Our focus is and really ought to be applications that have a place in both the consumer world and the enterprise world -- to take advantage of the big Google that everybody knows... If they don't have consumer analogs, that makes them [applications] much less interesting."

But Girouard's comments, which insist that Google will not begin to create applications soley for the enterprise, do not preclude the type of partnership reported today, wherein Google's consumer apps would be integrated with an enterprise partner's platform.

Internetnews.com senior editor Andy Patrizio contributed to this report.

  This article was originally published on Monday May 21st 2007
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