Google Business Apps Sting Apple, Microsoft

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Welcome to the battle of the Web small-business software superstore.

Early in March, Google ( GOOG), almost too quietly, rolled out its new Google Apps Marketplace: an online big-box software Web site similar to Apple's ( AAPL) Apps Store, or Microsoft's ( MSFT) Marketplace but focused almost entirely on smaller-business process tools.

You know the drill with app markets: Third parties vie to sell software built to work very easily with Google's core Web-based document, spreadsheet, email, presentation and other office tools. And developer response has been brisk. Google says over 90 apps have been posted in just over two months that do everything from accounting to customer-relationship management to calendaring.

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"Our goal is not to replace all desktop software," says Chris Van Der Mey, senior product manager for Google Apps Marketplace. "Our goal is to get really great software to every company that needs it."

What you get: I'll keep it simple: Google Apps Marketplace is big stuff for the little business.

What the search giant has done is turned all our basic files, contacts, calendars and other work stuff into a Web-based platform that can support very sophisticated business-process tools. Which means -- for better or worse -- enterprise-level business software is now just a few clicks away from your small business.

Take one of the top installed apps, San Francisco-based Manymoon. (Standard edition is free; Pro users pay $10 a month.) This start-up has cooked up a Web-based project-management app that works with, among other Web environments, Google's contacts, documents and other software. Sign up is dead easy: Go to the site, create an account, and all your Google contacts and other data flow into the system. And, in about 10 minutes, your team is sharing information on a job, setting goals, and taking the critical step of getting out of that dumb old email inbox for managing jobs.

And you see the deal here: There's no software developer. No agonizing design meetings. Just an idiot-proof way of getting a new business tool in your shop.

It's pretty darn impressive.

What you don't get: The aspirin you'll need to keep all this Web-business-app nonsense straight.

Clearly, Google has made it easy for third parties to interop with its software and your business. But the fact is, it is almost too easy. Yes, tools like Manymoon are cool. But the complexity this stuff introduces is mind boggling: Manymoon faces direct competition from other sophisticated project-management products with names like Smartsheet, Teambox, Insightly, Comindwork, Jira, Glasscubes, Zoho Projects, TrackMyHours and EmForge. And that's just project management! There are 80-odd more apps aimed at how to do your books, how to file your taxes, how to hire and fire. You get the idea.

Even the smallest of firms will be facing an overwhelmingly -- and I mean overwhelmingly -- complex trial-and-error process of testing, deploying and migrating to these tools.

Bottom line: For sure, the Google App Marketplace is the real small-business deal: It's a miraculous rainforest of exotic Web-based business tools that even six months ago were beyond the reach of most small firms. Be sure to give the place the once-over.

Just don't fall in love with the wild animals. As lovely as they seem, none are as tame as they appear. If you're not careful, they could eat you -- and your firm -- alive.
Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.