Google has launched a rival to Microsoft's ubiquitous Office suite of software applications.

Google Apps for Your Domain comprises already released Google services but packaged together: Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar and Google Page Creator.

Notably absent however is Writely, and Google Spreadsheets - Google's answer to Microsoft's Word and Excel. And Google has yet to unveil an application to rival PowerPoint.

With Google Apps for Your Domain, companies can tailor the applications' interfaces with their own branding, and they pick and choose which to use. There is also a Web-based management interface through which admins can manage their user account list, set up aliases and distribution lists, and enable the services they want for their domain. End-users will be to access their apps over the Net.

For the time being, there's one package available, the Standard Edition. Still in beta and free to use, it offers 2GB of e-mail storage per user as well as customer service for admins via e-mail or an online help center. According to Google's announcement, organisations that sign up during the beta period will never have to pay for users accepted during that period (provided Google continues to offer the service).

A premium version of the package is under development "for organisations with more advanced needs". More information, including details on pricing, will be "available soon". Google said. Google also acknowledges that it will eventually reach out to business, as well as ISPs and universities.

"A hosted service like Google Apps for Your Domain eliminates many of the expenses and hassles of maintaining a communications infrastructure, which is welcome relief for many small business owners and IT staffers," said Google general manager Dave Girouard. "Organisations can let Google be the experts in delivering high quality e-mail, messaging, and other Web-based services while they focus on the needs of their users and their day-to-day business,"

At the same time however, relying on the Google suite means putting your communications at the mercy of Google, relying on it to remain committed to supporting the product, and to maintain uptime.