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The rumblings about Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) plans to give Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) a run for its money in the enterprise are revving up.

Robert Scoble has a post kicking around an interesting idea. Could Google do an offline version of Gmail that would compete with Exchange? It’s quite possible. And it almost makes me wonder if Google is listening to Garett Rogers.

Garett noted a few days ago that a Google Apps Appliance could raise quite the ruckus among corporate customers. Let’s face it–companies are into saving dough, but they may not be ready for that cloud thing just yet.

Enter a hardware-meets-software Google product. The blueprint is already there since Google already has a search appliance. Toss Google apps on it and you may find a few more customers.

So what’s the big picture? Forrester has a few ideas about collaboration and how it plays into the Google-Microsoft battle. In a research report Tuesday Forrester analysts Rob Koplowitz and Kyle McNabb posited that Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) is partly about fending off Google in the enterprise. Forrester’s conclusion: Collaboration software is off to the cloud and a Microhoo deal will accelerate the shift. That’s an interesting hook with the following takeaways:

  • “Google has moved tentatively into the enterprise software market, potentially threatening Lotus and Microsoft in a big way by continuing to add enterprise capabilities, such as the workspace offering Team Edition.
  • Google’s move essentially signals a sea change in how enterprises license and distribute software. Although Yahoo! could help Microsoft get there faster, it’s not just a Google-Microsoft race, and all bets are off with IBM/Lotus’ Project Blue (NYSE:IBM) for cloud-based Social Computing as a clear finalist.
  • From an information and knowledge manager’s perspective, putting productivity and collaboration software in a cloud-based model has clear benefits — it’s potentially much less expensive, easier to manage a single source of the truth, and is available anywhere, at any time.”

The rub: For that collaboration in the cloud theory Google will need a bridge to woo CIOs. An apps appliance that melds the cloud with offline access could do some damage. Toss in an excuse to undercut Exchange and things may really get interesting.

It remains to be seen how all these Google parts add up, but Forrester notes the following:

IBM/Lotus and Microsoft have dominated collaboration in the traditional enterprise model, garnering far and away the greatest market share in enterprise email, calendaring, instant messaging, workspaces, and platforms. This dominant market position will serve both companies well as collaboration moves more to the cloud - as long as they don’t cling to a licensing and distribution model that is changing to their disadvantage. Both have moved into services-based delivery: Lotus with its Project Bluehouse announcement, and Microsoft most notably with its recent announcements about SharePoint and Exchange being offered online. Meanwhile, other capabilities will come into play that could create new market dynamics that favor other vendors. Specifically, Google has the potential to leverage its strong positions in data center efficiency, and Cisco can exploit its networking position to create cloud-based collaboration, as well as enterprise Web 2.0 offerings that disrupt the incumbents. Pure plays, such as SpringCM in the ECM space, stand to gain significant traction by distributing its offerings from the cloud.

Right now, we’re still mired in the hype cycle with Google Apps and the threat to Microsoft, but at some point it may be the end of software as we know it.

Source: Google’s App War with Microsoft Ramping Up