A Brief History of Google Workspace

It took less than a decade for Google to dominate the internet search engine market.

Today, Google’s business productivity suite, Google Workspace, has over 6 million customers.

It all started in the mid-’90s when Stanford graduate Larry Page noticed something the other internet search engines were missing. Popular search engines at the time hadn’t accounted for the number of incoming links each webpage had.

Page believed that the number of incoming links should influence a webpage’s search engine results page ranking. This led to the creation of BackRub. BackRub was a program that indexed pages on the web and recorded how many links they had to other sites.

Once BackRub was up and running, Page teamed up with Sergey Brin, a fellow Stanford graduate, to create the PageRank algorithm.

The PageRank algorithm used data generated by Backrub to rank webpages based on how well they linked with other webpages. Combined, BackRub and the PageRank algorithm made up the foundation of the Google we know today.

In 1996, Page and Brin launched Google on the Stanford University website. While initially successful, the search engine quickly used up half of Stanford’s bandwidth, and once even brought down the entire site.

In September 1998, Page and Brin founded Google LLC. The name comes from the term “googol”, which is the digit “1” followed by a hundred zeros.

In the twenty-three years since its launch, Google has rapidly expanded to become the third-largest tech company in the world, by market cap. Google now has eight products that each have more than a billion users, one of which is Google Workspace.

But long before there was Workspace, there was Google Apps for Your Domain.

2006 – Google Apps for Your Domain Launches

On August 28th, 2006, Google launched Google Apps for Your Domain, which was free for all. The initial package included several apps that have evolved into the Google Workspace apps we use today, including:

Gmail – which was initially launched in 2004. Gmail was free and offered users 1GB of storage space, which was significantly more than its competitors at the time. It was also the first email client that strung related emails together in a conversation, a standard often overlooked today.

Talk – which was an IM application, providing users with text and voice messaging capability. The Talk app was eventually incorporated into the Hangouts app in 2013.

Calendar – Google’s fully online calendar. The app launched in 2006 and was designed to integrate with Gmail so users could quickly add events from their email into their calendar.

Page Creator – a website creation and hosting application. The app let users build basic web pages without HTML or CSS knowledge. Page Creator was eventually replaced with Google Sites in 2008.

In October 2006, Google introduced an apps package for schools, called Google Apps for Education. Later in 2006, Google purchased YouTube for $1.65bn.

October 2006 was also the official birth month of Google Docs, as evidenced by this celebratory video from October 11, 2021:

2007 – Google Apps Premier Launches

Up until 2007, Google Apps had been free for all users. But in February 2007, Google released its first paid version of its app platform, called Google Apps Premier.

The paid version offered 10GB of extra storage per user and APIs for businesses to integrate Google’s apps with their existing software.

The premier edition cost $50 per user per year, and early adopters included Salesforce, and Procter & Gamble.

Google also released the first full versions of Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations for both paid and free Google Apps users.

Docs was built on a foundation called Writely, which was built by a team led by Sam Schillace 2005. Google acquired the company and its software in 2006. Unlike its rival, Microsoft Word, Docs is an onlinef-first word processor.

Presentations was Google’s version of Microsoft PowerPoint. It came from Google’s acquisition of Tonic Systems in April 2007. Presentations was renamed Slides in 2012.

Spreadsheets, which was rebranded as Sheets in 2012, was Google’s answer to Microsoft Excel. The program was released by Google following its acquisition of the app’s developer, 2Web Technologies.

2008 – Google Sites introduced

In February, Google announced the replacement of Google Page Creator with Google Sites. Sites was based on an acquisition of JotSpot in 2006. Sites is a web-based app and provides features like team websites and intranets on top of the site-building functionality in Page Creator.

2009 – The Full Launch

Google announced that Google Apps was no longer in beta testing.

2010 – Marketplace and Government Edition Launched

In March, Google successfully launched Google Apps Marketplace. The Marketplace allowed third-party developers to build applications to work with Google Apps.

In July, Google released Apps for Government Edition. Google designed this edition to meet the hyper-strict security guidelines of public sector software.

Google Apps was the first cloud-based app platform to receive Federal Information Security Management Act certification. This showed the Apps met the highest information security standards.

Google also acquired the software company DocVerse in 2012. DocVerse helped users collaborate live on Microsoft Office programs like Word and Excel. At the time, Google (correctly) believed that the future of office work was in the cloud. The DocVerse plugins greatly helped Google Apps to compete with Microsoft Office.

2011 – Reduced Free Features

From April 2011, companies with more than 10 users were no longer eligible for the free version of Google Apps. Instead, they would have to sign up to Google Apps for Business.

Google Apps for Business cost $5 per month per user and allowed for flexible billing, which was uncommon at the time. Microsoft was still selling its Office products for hundreds of dollars upfront.

2012 – Google’s Answer to OneDrive

In April, Google launched Google Drive, also called G Drive. Each user was given 5GB of free storage space with the option to buy more.

The storage space was later unified between Gmail and G Drive, and each user could access 30GB of storage spread out across both apps.

2013 – Improved Collaboration

Google released Hangouts as a standalone communication and collaboration product. Although Hangouts was popular, it was replaced with Talk and Meet in 2020 with the release of Workspace.

2015 – Restructuring the Business

In August 2015, Google announced its plans to create a new holding company called Alphabet. The restructuring would move Google’s subsidiaries to Alphabet’s control, narrowing Google’s focus and scope. The move allowed Google and other Alphabet subsidiaries to be managed by separate CEOs.

2016 – Google Apps Rebrand

In September 2016, Google Apps was renamed G Suite. Google wanted to promote Google Apps as comparable to traditional office program suites, like Office.

2020 – Google Workspace Announced

Google announced G Suite was to be renamed Google Workspace, to reflect the changing nature of office work. Workspace unified all of Google’s production and communication apps into a single platform.

Workspace was repositioned as a hub designed for remote teamwork. As of April 2020, Google Workspace had 6 million paying customers.

2021 – A Collaborative Remote Work Platform

Meet was released in May 2021 and was free to use. Meet and Chat eventually replaced the team communications app Hangouts.

In June 2021, Google announced that Workspace would be made available to anyone with a Google account.

Google Workspace is like a "business version" of consumer Gmail

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