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Google Ends the Google Apps Free Lunch

But the millions of people who currently use the free version will continue to get it free

Google last week canned the cloud-delivered Google Apps that have been free for individuals and businesses groups of 10 users or less.

All businesses of any size will now have to pay $50 a person a year, or $5 a month per person, for the premium Google Apps for Business service.

Until last year only companies with more than 50 users had to pay.

Google said the millions of people who currently use the free version will continue to get it free. The subscription-only switch just applies to new customers who will get more bang for their buck than the free version offered.

Google claims it wants to provide the small businesses that use the free version of the software with dedicated customer support – something only paying customers get.

“We’re not serving them well,” it said.

“Businesses quickly outgrow the basic version and want things like 24/ 7 customer support and larger inboxes,” Google Apps director of product management Clay Bavor said on the company’s blog. “Similarly, consumers often have to wait to get new features while we make them business-ready.”

“Individuals wishing to use Google’s web apps like Gmail and Google Drive should create a free personal Google Account, which provides a seamless experience across all of our web services on any device,” he said.

The software competes with Microsoft’s Office and Exchange. Microsoft’s cloud-ified Office 365 costs $4 to $20 a user a month for standard accounts.

One may suspect that Google’s looking to make up for search revenues it’s losing or just doesn’t want to leave an easy money on the table. The Wall Street Journal talked to the guy who ran the Google unit until earlier this year. He claimed Apple, which gives nothing away for free, influenced Google’s thinking.

The paper also noted that last year Google began charging businesses such as mobile app makers that access Google Maps more than 25,000 times a day and this year started charging retailers that wanted to be included in its Google Shopping service.

The widgetry, that along with mapping reportedly generated around $1 billion in the last year, includes a custom e-mail address, calendar, Google Docs, collaborative spreadsheets and Google Drive online storage. Paying customers also get 24/7 support, a 25GB inbox, a 99.9% uptime guarantee, an IT administration console and, for $10 a user a month more there’s Vault, Google’s data archiving service.

Google Apps are said to have more than 40 million free and paid users, and five million business users, most of them free.

Schools can still sign up for a free Google Apps for Education account. Google Apps for Government will remain $50 per user per year. See here.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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