Two interesting pieces of news this week have gotten me thinking about the future of office productivity software for nonprofits. First, Google has just added voice and video chat to its email service. Second, a new open-source Web application called OpenGoo has been released to the public.

I've been a fan for some time of Google Apps, Google's Web-based email-server-slash-calendar-slash-collaboration-hub-slash-instant-messaging-tool. Google Apps makes it possible (though not necessarily felicitous) for a small or medium nonprofit to operate cohesively without an in-house server, something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. The Premier Edition of Google Apps costs $50 per user per year, but a comparable version is available to qualifying nonprofits for free.

If you use Gmail for your personal mail, then the benefits of an organization-specific version of the service are probably apparent. But Google Apps also includes Google Docs and Google Calendar, both customizable to fit the needs of your organization. I've written about Google Docs here before, and although I'm not quite ready to let go of Microsoft Office, Google's service has grown into a usable, on-the-go substitute for a traditional word processor or spreadsheet.

With the introduction of the voice and video chat service, maybe Google wants to replace not only your email and collaboration servers but your voice over IP service too. There are already third-party plugins that let users dial telephone numbers from Google Talk; it seems unlikely that a full-fledged foray into telephony will be far behind.

Not to be outdone by the for-profit world, the open source community just released OpenGoo 1.0. Billed as an "open-source Web office," OpenGoo includes a webmail server as well as a Web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program, shared calendar, to-do list, contacts organizer, and bookmarks manager, all accessible through one unified Web interface. If your Web server meets the minimum PHP and MySQL requirements, then you can install OpenGoo and start using it to keep your entire nonprofit organized and connected.

If you'd like to see what OpenGoo looks like, you can try the demo right now (remember that this is a public demo, so it may contain inappropriate content). I spent a fair amount of time trying out OpenGoo's features, and I'm impressed. It doesn't have the shiny look and feel of Google Apps, but it's functional and—at least on OpenGoo's server—surprisingly fast.

I'd love to see a nonprofit try out OpenGoo and report back to us. Of course, keep in mind that this application was released to public just this month. As with any new piece of open-source software, be prepared for some troubleshooting.


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Is Google Apps ready for primetime as a replacement for a traditional email server in a nonprofit environment? What do you think of OpenGoo? What other new hosted apps should nonprofit techies be keeping an eye on? Share your insights in this Emerging Technologies forum discussion.

Elliot Harmon
Staff Writer, TechSoup