Google's Workspace suite is now available to anyone

Plus, Google Chat is getting more Slack-like.

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An image showing Spaces in Google Chat. A column takes up the left third of the screen, showing a conversation between teammates. The remaining two thirds of the screen shows a Google spreadsheet titled Family Reunion Schedule.
Google

Google is making a huge change to its online services. It's opening up the Workspace offering (previously called G Suite) to all users with a Google account, meaning you no longer need to have an enterprise profile to use extra features in Drive, Meet, Docs, Sheets and more. According to a press release, "now, all of the company’s three billion-plus existing users across consumer, enterprise, and education have access to the full Google Workspace experience."

You'll have to turn on Google Chat in Gmail to enable this integrated experience, which frankly might not feel like a big change since free accounts already had access to things like Drive and Docs. But Workspace brings with it features like smart suggestions in emails or documents, the ability to @-mention other users to add them to tasks and present Google Docs, Sheets or Slides directly within your Meet calls. 

While most of these features are now becoming free, the company is introducing a paid version today called Google Workspace Individual. It's targeting small business owners and provides "premium capabilities, including smart booking services, professional video meetings, personalized email marketing and much more on the way." 

Google Chat gets more Slack-like with Spaces

Google's not just opening Workspace up to everyone today, it's also introducing some new features. First, it's evolving Rooms in Chat (formerly known as Hangouts). "Over the summer, we’ll evolve Rooms to become Spaces and launch a streamlined and flexible user interface that helps teams and individuals stay on top of everything that’s important." These one-page destinations will contain presence indicators, custom statuses, "expressive reactions" and offer collapsible views and the ability to pin messages. 

Basically, it sounds like Google Chat is becoming more powerful for work, and quite a bit more Slack-like. Though it does offer more collaboration tools than the messaging app. Google also said "Spaces will seamlessly integrate with files and tasks," allowing for "all the relevant information, conversations, and files for a project [to] be organized." This consolidation of materials for topics can be moderated at an organization-wide level, too.

In some images the company provided, it looks like Spaces lets you have a column on the left for chatting with your coworkers while the other two thirds of the screen shows the Google Doc you're all editing together. At the top of the chat column, you have the option to look at the conversation or switch to see your Files or Tasks. You could also pick a different group of collaborators altogether through a dropdown menu at the top of the page, which would open a new chat with its own set of files and tasks.

This is pretty much the Smart Canvas that Google teased at I/O, and is similar to Microsoft's Fluid Framework that has similar notions of putting all your productivity tools on the same page. 

Google Meet gets more Zoom-like

An image showing Google Meet on the web with Companion Mode.
Google

Video calls are also getting an upgrade, as the company continues to add more features that other services like Zoom and Microsoft's Teams already offer. Google Meet will gain a Companion Mode, new moderation controls and updated Calendar RSVP options. Companion Mode, which was previewed at last month's Google I/O, will let meeting participants access features like polls, in-meeting chat, hand-raising, Q&A, live captions and more regardless of the device they're using. According to the company, "Companion Mode will be available on the web and Google Meet’s upcoming progressive web app in September, and it will be coming soon to mobile."

To accommodate hybrid work forces as we transition back to working in physical offices, Google is letting people indicate their locations in RSVPs to Calendar invites so they can share if they'll be joining a call remotely or in a conference room. Hosts will get new moderation tools that'll let them mute and unmute participants, as well as block non-hosts from presenting during the meeting. They'll also be able to suspend the in-meeting chat while a presentation is going on. 

On the back-end, Google is also improving some security features in Workspace. It's adding client-side encryption and new "Trust rules" and labels for Drive. The latter will let administrators "classify files and apply controls based on their sensitivity levels." Finally, Google said it's enhancing phishing and malware protections in Workspace, too.

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