Google is to start charging small businesses for Google Apps, including Gmail and Google Drive.
The company plans to start charging new customers with fewer than 10 users $50 per year for the package, which is used by millions of businesses worldwide. It says the reason is that customers are quickly outgrowing it.
"When we launched the premium business version we kept our free, basic version as well. Both businesses and individuals signed up for this version, but time has shown that in practice, the experience isn't quite right for either group," says Clay Bavor, director of product management for Google Apps.
"Businesses quickly outgrow the basic version and want things like 24/7 customer support and larger inboxes. Similarly, consumers often have to wait to get new features while we make them business-ready."
From now on, individuals will still be able to create a free personal Google Account. Businesses, though, will all have to sign up for the company's Premium version, Google Apps for Business. This includes 24/7 phone support for any issue, a 25GB inbox, and a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee with no scheduled downtime.
Google Apps for Education will still be available as a free service for schools and universities, and Google Apps for Government will cost $50 per user, per year.
"With focus we’ll be able to do even more for our business customers," says Bavor.
Google Apps was born in 2006, but has never reached anything like the success of Microsoft Office, which holds over 90 percent of the office software market.
In July this year, Google's senior vice president and chief business officer Nikesh Arora described businesses as a 'future growth engine' for the company - and this latest move shows that the company is hoping to start making more money from them. It recently started charging retailers for inclusion in its Google Shopping service, and now charges heavy users for its Maps app.