Might the news that the Telegraph Media Group (TMG) is moving to Google Apps and phasing out Microsoft Office and Exchange be in future remembered as the end of the Microsoft desktop arm-lock? Nah, probably not, but the stakes are so high that it’s worth a little speculation.

To recap: TMG, publisher of the venerable Daily Telegraph newspaper, is to move about 1400 users over to Apps and has decided not to refresh its current Office, Exchange and Windows XP deployment.

In an exclusive interview with CIO magazine, TMG CIO Paul Cheesbrough told us why. Here are the highlights:

“We’ve got Office 2003, Windows XP and Exchange 2003 and we started to look at the refresh cycle at the beginning of this year. We had a decision to make as to whether to sign up for a three-year enterprise agreement with Microsoft or look at something else. [As a pilot] we put 10 per cent of our 1400 user seat estate and allowed them to use Google Apps alongside their Office and Exchange infrastructure. Overwhelmingly, the feedback was positive and there would have been uproar if we had said we were turning it off. We were faced with the decision of whether we pursued the same [Microsoft] path and paid the price for that or put more and more internal solutions in the cloud.

“We made a conscious decision not to refresh any of [the Microsoft infrastructure]. We’re not going to remove it but we won’t upgrade it. Some users might use Outlook as the client but we’re moving to migrate people from Outlook onto Google by the end of the year. We’re not going to rip and replace but we’ve decided not to refresh Office 2003 and we’ll sweat that asset. Google Apps is good enough and rich enough for us to do what we need to do. Collaboration has been very powerful [in Google Apps] and as people use Google Mail and Calendar they’ll naturally stray to use Google Docs.

“When I started the trial in February I probably wouldn’t have forecast this as the result but the user feedback meant that it was quite an easy decision to make. It fits quite well with other business apps, with things like Salesforce.com. Also, it allows our staff to spend less time on disk upgrades and password refreshes and more time being productive.

“We’re getting much more dynamic internally. Daily messages that ‘you’re over your mailbox limit’ were the only communication from IT to staff, so the department wasn’t seen as very strategic. Journalists are very collaborative and we had about eight people covering Wimbledon [the tennis tournament] and sharing information was quite cumbersome and mostly done over a mobile. The CEO’s challenge to IT was to stop being a beat-up group.

“We know we’ll be watched but the question mark hanging over Windows Vista made this an easier decision. People in my position have some doubts as to when it’s ready to run your business on. It’s not something you would bet your business on just because of stability and the hardware you need. All CIOs probably agree that there are two main challenges in their jobs: cut costs and do more innovation, although these can be contradictory. Email touches everybody so it’s a brave man who changes that but we’re a company that’s changing and it’s an interesting point in time. {but] we’ve eliminated most of the risk by having quite a long trial period.”