Google Apps Gets the Government Shaft to Microsoft's Benefit

By: Clint Boulton

When Google sued the Department of the Interior for allegedly choosing Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite with nary a glance at Google Apps, it revealed an onion layered with irony.

Google, often the target of scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission for collecting too much data or growing too large, is suing the DOI for preventing it from securing a major government contract.

This deal would help Google's relatively small Google Apps business as it seeks to challenge Microsoft in collaboration software.

Google's gripe is that the DOI unfairly limited its consideration of a $59 million contract to serve 88,000 workers' e-mail and other collaboration software tools for the next five years.

The company claimed in this suit that the DOI showed no interest in looking at Google Apps, the cloud collaboration suite the company hosts on its servers and offers for $50 per user, per year.

When Google tried to meet with the DOI, the DOI said it was moving forward with Microsoft because Google Apps did not meet the agency's stringent security requirements.

This is interesting when one considers the General Services Administration awarded Google Apps with FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act) certification. The GSA IS considering Google Apps as a replacement for IBM Lotus Notes.

Unfortunately for Google, FISMA certification is satisfied in different ways across the dozens of government agencies. There is no unilateral agreement on what it takes to secure FISMA. So what is good for the GSA is clearly not good for the DOI.

Google wants the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to prohibit DOI from picking BPOS without conducting a competitive bidding process in accordance with the law.

Some experts believe Google is really just trying to cut off Microsoft at the knees with this suit. Microsoft is the entrenched incumbent in collaboration with hundreds of millions of seats worldwide.

Many of those seats are occupied by U.S. government employees. New York City last month picked Microsoft to give 100,000 municipal employees Web-based Microsoft applications.

Eric Goldman, a cyber-law professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law, told eWEEK:

"I think the more interesting angle is how Google is contesting the software business against Microsoft. Google is trying to expand beyond its search business, and it's willing to invest in litigation to buttress its Apps business."

Google refused to give Microsoft's might the credit for its litigation, telling eWEEK Nov. 1:

"Google is a proponent of open competition on the Internet and in the technology sector in general. Here, a fair and open process could save US taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and result in better services. We're asking the Department of Interior to allow for a true competition when selecting its technology providers."

Sources familiar with the company's plans told eWEEK Google simply feels as though it didn't get a fair shake by the DOI after the GSA accorded Google FISMA that neither Microsoft nor IBM have attained.

Google believes the DOI set itself up for litigation when it specified the new e-mail system had to be part of Microsoft BPOS.

The challenge is that Google must prove the DOI's intent to shut out fair competition as protected by the Competition in Contracting Act.

Google is accusing the government of anticompetitive practices. This comes as Microsoft and other companies try to convince the DOJ and FTC Google is guilty of thwarting competition by prioritizing its own Web services in search results.

Told you this was quite the irony onion. Does Google have a good case? Goldman isn't sure: "I don't know very much about the government contracting process, so it's a little hard to handicap winners here."

What is clear is that Google's battle with Microsoft in collaboration software has moved from contract tables in the boardroom to the court.


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