Google has announced that it will be discontinuing the free version of its Google Apps for Business, effective immediately.
Previously, small businesses with up to 10 accounts — and before that, up to 50 accounts — could sign up for the online software suite at no cost, making it a fairly popular choice with many smaller organizations who wished to utilize Google’s Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, and other such services for their operations.
Now, however, all businesses will have to pay $50 per user a year, or $5 per user a month, to access the premium version of Google Apps for Business, which includes 24/7 phone support, “a 99.9% uptime guarantee with no scheduled downtime,” and 25GB of inbox storage.
Every other version of Google Apps will remain unchanged. Those who created premium Google Apps for Business accounts before yesterday’s announcement can downgrade to the free tier until January 9, 2013. Of course, those who just want free personal access to Gmail, Docs, and Drive can simply sign up for a regular Google account.
In the end, Google says that the free version was nixed because “the experience wasn’t quite right” for neither businesses nor individuals utilizing the service.
“Businesses quickly outgrow the basic version and want things like 24/7 customer support and larger inboxes,” said Google Apps’ director of product management Clay Bavor. “Similarly, consumers often have to wait to get new features while we make them business-ready.”
The move may show an effort on Google’s part to catch up to its chief rival in the office suite space, Microsoft Office 365. That service’s plans range from $4 to $20 per user per month, but have long been near-ubiquitous in the enterprise.