Google has announced a free version of Google Workspace for business users named Google Workspace Essentials Starter Edition. In addition to being one of the most recent enhancements to Google Workspace, the offer is noteworthy for how it is positioned in the market.

Essentials Starter consists of Google Drive, Meet, Chat, Docs, Sheets and Slides for teams up to 25 employees. Users can simply sign up with their work email address. Unlike the other Google Workspace versions that each offer a 14-day no cost trial, Essentials Starter is completely free. The offer is scheduled to go live globally in the coming weeks.

Essentials Starter mirrors Microsoft Teams Essentials which launched on 1 December, 2021. Both offers are slimmed down versions of their respective flagship peers, incur minimal cost and are targeted at small businesses. In addition, the overlap in nomenclature – with the Google offer including “Essentials” – is probably not a coincidence.  All things considered it appears that ‘Starter’ is merely the latest salvo Google is lobbing at its arch-rival Microsoft.

Another notable aspect of Essentials Starter is consistency with the shadow IT movement. Shadow IT involves the use of systems, devices, software, applications, and services by ‘citizen’ users in the absence of IT department approval. Shadow IT has grown tremendously in popularity in recent years with the emergence of cloud-based applications that are easily accessible by anyone. In a parallel to shadow IT, Google is positioning Essentials Starter as an avenue for non-technical employees to transition to newer productivity tools of their choosing in place of legacy productivity tools. But in a nod to IT departments and general concern for protecting digital assets, Google Essentials Starter features encrypted and secure access to files.

Essentials Starter is not without shortcomings

Despite the positives, Essentials Starter is not without shortcomings. The offer is missing Gmail and Spaces and comes only with limited admin controls. Even the absence of a price tag does not translate into a major advantage over Microsoft. The most comparable, apples-to-apples Microsoft offer (Microsoft 365 Business Basic) can be purchased for only $5 per user per month. And for those who that is still too much to pay, Microsoft offers a free version of Teams.

On balance, Google Workspace Essentials Starter Edition is a positive addition to Google’s unified communication and collaboration portfolio. Not only does it expand the number of options available to customers, it also provides great value by delivering an array of meaningful functionality at no cost.

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