Google has launched a new service away from the company's core advertising and web search offering that puts it in direct competition with Microsoft.

Launching today, the search engine has created a software platform for company's to run basic business activities - based on programs it already offers separately.

The free set of web-based programs for small businesses, universities and nonprofit businesses goes by the name "Google Apps for Your Domain" (


Google has said it will offer a version to meet the demands of bigger corporations and government agencies.

Google Apps for Your Domain hopes to simplify account administration with an "easy-to-use" control panel just for administrators.

Those administrators will have access to email, IM, calendar and the company's web page creator software.

Google will host the applications, and resulting customer data, in its datacenters worldwide.

Initially, the package will be free, but later this year Google plans to begin selling a version that includes additional features as well as technical support.

"If we do it right, we get the best of both worlds - very consumer-friendly software, but also low-cost business applications", Dave Girouard, general manager of Google's enterprise division, which sells search software to companies told Reuters.

Individual office workers can sign on to Google Apps through their Web browsers and users don't have to download any software to their machine.

Google is planning on adding more services to the service over the next 12 months, with its word processing application Writely and its spreadsheet app, Google Spreadsheet key candidates for inclusion.