Editor's Note:\u00a0 Please welcome our newest guest expert, Aaron Smith. Aaron will be writing about\u00a0\u00a0free and low-cost applications that you may find of value for your business. His first column is about the Big Daddy of them all, Google Apps. By Aaron Smith It seems incredible, but just over a year ago most businesses had to pay for their email. If you wanted you and your employees to have YourName@YourDomain.com you had to pay a premium for each mailbox. Then, one day, Google decided that we could all change a couple of zone files and point our mail traffic at their servers, and they would be delighted if came in a used their beautiful applications ... for free. And it wasn't just email. It was integrated calendaring and chat, and it was all built on open standards with easy accessibility through a set of APIs. Google decided that anyone could use their suite of online applications to manage the communications within their domain. I'm not sure I can express how significant this is for a small business trying to manage an email server. In a simple gesture, Google is alleviating a huge strain that small businesses can feel on a mission critical system. Having access to these hosted applications means that a business can manage a large portion of it's infrastructure through a browser, while leaving the hardware administration to the experts in the massive data centers scattered around the globe. What this means is that, with a personal computer and an Internet connection, anyone can register a domain and setup a basic business infrastructure. It also means that a huge portion of the administrative headaches that go along with maintaining your own email server go out the window. Instead of worrying about backup sets, intrusions and spam, you just worry about protecting your own computer. Does this mean that you don't use offline software any more? Of course not! While you can use all the Google Domain Apps in a browser window, most of the applications can also be used with traditional, installed software. Your email can be accessed using POP and downloaded to a local mail client, like Outlook or the free and excellent Thunderbird, for offline viewing and response. You can sync your Google Calendar with applications like Outlook or Apple's iCal, and GTalk works with a free IM client provided by Google, or any number of third-party IM applications, like Trillium or Apple's iChat. For most businesses, this is a paradigm shift for the IT department, and some managers might initially reject relinquishing control of something they have had a long term maintenance relationship with. This is an understandable response, as there is a measure of control that is being traded for these new capabilities. In addition, some IT personnel might see this as a threat to their job, as the majority of the service support and administration is done at the user's desktop, not in the server room. I think Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, put it best when he equated Google's services to those a bank offers. Your business doesn't have a safe on-site where it keeps all it's liquid assets, nor do you take your cash home to stuff in your mattress or bury in the back yard. You trust a financial institution that specializes in asset management to ensure your money is safe and sound. Why wouldn't you do the same thing with your important data? Visit Google Domain Apps to see what they offer. * * * * * About: Aaron Smith is the owner of Mixotic Technology Solutions.\u00a0 Aaron started his own business after seeing so many of the businesses he had worked for struggling with their technology, trying to figure out what tools to use, how to use them, and how to train staff. He believes that companies that don't explore new technology solutions give up a competitive advantage.