Google Apps for Business is no longer free to small businesses that sign up for 10 or fewer users, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) disclosed in a blog from Clay Bavor, director of product management. The move comes the same week that IBM launched SmartCloud Docs, a potential Google Apps and Microsoft Office 2013 alternative.

Some entrepreneurs and bloggers are complaining about Google's new strategy, which includes a free version for individuals and a paid version for businesses. What's the view here at Talkin' Cloud? We think Google Apps remains a high-value solution even with a $50 per user, per year fee for all businesses. And by switching to a paid model for all buisnesses, Google will actually inspire more channel partner opportunities. Here's why.

All That And Phone Support?

Think about the econimics here. Businesses that pay Google's nominal fee -- again a mere $50 per user per year -- will receive 24/7 phone support and a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee. For a 10-person company, that's $500 a year for an entire desktop suite plus a help desk for that suite. If a small business can't afford $500 per year to support productivity apps across 10 user accounts then the small business isn't sustainable anyway.

Don't get me wrong: I know some small businesses may object to the new fee. But our own business, Nine Lives Media, started leveraging Google Apps internally the day we launched the business on January 1, 2008. From the start I tolk peers here at our company that I couldn't believe Google Apps was free to us, and that someday we should expect to pay for the service. So now that day has arrived. 

Fine by me. I can't do my job without Google Apps.

Google Apps Channel Partners

Now look at the situation from the perspective of Google Apps channel partners. When dealing with extremely small customers -- micro businesses with 10 or fewer employees -- how can a Google Apps partner expect to charge "consulting services" to deploy or manage a free suite?

Now that Google Apps is no longer free to micro buisnesses that sign up for the suite, those businesses will get into the "paid" mindset. Gradually, they will understand that Google Apps and associated services are high-value items rather than freebie offers.

We're starting to see an ecosystem of integrators and consultants that string together multiple applications from the Google Apps marketplace. Those integrators are testing, implementing and tweaking pricing models all the time. "Free" can't be part of the conversation.

Thanks to Google's new pricing model, that issue has now been addressed.