The University of Westminster is to deploy Google Apps to over 25,500 users, marking another stage in Google’s encroachment onto the desktop space owned largely by Microsoft.

The central London college will make the hosted applications, email and collaborative programs available to staff and students under Westminster’s domain name. Although the programs are provided free and Westminster says it only spent about £5,000 on external consulting, the deal is another small step in Google’s plan to challenge Microsoft’s desktop ubiquity.

IS director Professor Roger James said that using Google would help Westminster better engage with “Gen-X, Gen-Y” students brought up on the web, and the inherent collaboration abilities of web-based software would also be a boon.

“We provide students with a Microsoft Office environment but the students were using their own email largely so almost all our emails were going out with Google Mail, Hotmail or Yahoo,” James said.

James added that he expected many students to branch out from email to begin using more of Google collaboration and productivity tools. The Student Union had voted in favour of Google over Microsoft and “the importance of what the end-users think is higher than any technical evaluation”, James said.

Westminster marked Freshers Week last month by rolling out Apps to all new students and availability for remaining members of the 22,000-strong student body is scheduled to be completed by end of year. A phased approach to educating students on benefits of the programs will see features introduced to them month by month.

In a statement, Google said that the highly mobile nature of studying today will suit using a web-based suite.

“Students today aren't tied to a desktop; they have internet-connected MP3 players, laptops and smartphones and want to be in touch anywhere, anytime,” said Samantha Peter, business development manager, Google Enterprise.

The Westminster account follows on the heels of otherbig wins for Google Apps at construction giant Taylor Woodrow, Daily Telegraph publisher the Telegraph Media Group, and Washington DC.

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