SMB users enthusiastic as they try out Google Apps

With small IT budgets and limited technical staffs, a sampling of small and medium-size businesses (SMB) have been kicking the tires of Google Inc.'s free, Web-based Google Apps for Your Domain collaboration offerings and are finding that it meets many of their business communications needs.

Alejandro Pivaral, CIO of Miami-based 2night Entertainment Corp., a local entertainment Web site, said his company's 100 employees have been signed up for Google's free services, which will allow him to dump an e-mail server and its associated expenses for upkeep.

"I don't use Outlook anymore," Pivaral said in an e-mail response. "I only use Gmail," which is Google's free hosted e-mail service. "Managing accounts is easier than ever," he said.

The key to trying the new hosted applications, he said, was that they are offered for free, but the value has turned out to be deeper. "Definitely [being free was] one of the main reasons" to use the services, he said. "It's ad-supported, but the ads don't distract; many times they are interesting. I love Google products. Their innovation is changing the way we work."

Launched under beta on Monday, Google Apps for Your Domain is a suite of free, hosted collaboration applications for SMBs and other groups. The company plans to expand to larger companies by year's end.

Google said a wider, "premium" set of the applications, which will carry fees, will be available by the fourth quarter for large enterprises. One of the big pluses of Google Apps, users said, is that companies can create free e-mail accounts using their own custom domain names, giving them added professionalism and credibility on the Web.