In a move that's likely to ruffle Microsoft's feathers, Hewlett-Packard is partnering with Google on the productivity apps front. HP on Tuesday announced the first phase of HP SMB IT in a Box, which it bills as a "one-stop shop" technology solution for small and medium business Relevant Products/Services (SMB) customers.

Forwarding the new program meant HP becoming a Google Apps Reseller. The initial result: HP SMB IT in a Box combines HP's hardware -- including PCs and printers -- with Google Apps for Business, a suite of cloud Relevant Products/Services-based communication and collaboration tools that competes with Microsoft Office.

Recognizes the "constantly evolving needs of SMB customers in today's dynamic business environment," Ron Coughlin, senior vice president and general manager of Consumer PCs and Solutions at HP, said the company would work with its channel partners to offer customers a "bundle of PCs, printers and Google Apps for Business, enabling business owners to focus on their customers instead of worrying about IT."

Will SMBs Buy?

Although the numbers hardly compare to Microsoft's Office dominance, Google Apps for Business has made inroads in the cloud era. In fact, more than 5 million businesses currently run on the software Relevant Products/Services suite, which includes Gmail, IM, Calendar, Drive, Docs and other apps.

HP's spin, though, is SMBs. HP explained it is tapping into Google's cloud-based apps to help simplify the IT environment and reduce operating costs and infrastructure Relevant Products/Services requirements for SMBs. HP is also positioning the new product as a way to improve workflows and workforce productivity.

Affirming HP's reasoning -- and reinforcing its own -- Amit Singh, president at Google Enterprise, said, "By moving to the cloud and helping employees work the way they live, SMBs can serve their customers better -- and save money in the process."

Seeking Profitable Alliances

Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, said the HP-Google partnership is potentially a smart move for the PC giant.

"The industry is changing so quickly and the market for IT is changing so quickly that vendors of every kind are taking a look around and seeing what kinds of new alliances can produce potential business for them," King told us. "The HP partnership with Google is a good example of that."

King can't quantify the market for Google Apps among small businesses, but he sees Microsoft's decision to launch Office 365 as reminiscent of Google Apps. What's more, he said, Redmond's decision to reconfigure Outlook for Windows RT could be interpreted as recognition that the dividing line between Office and Google Apps is getting thinner.

"From a cost and feature basis, if you are looking for a fully featured Office application suite, Microsoft Office is still the best product out there," King said. "But many small businesses under continuing financial and economic pressure in the current climate are probably taking a closer look at Google Apps. A large majority of them may realize that Google gives the key features they really need to run their businesses."

HP SMB IT in a Box will be offered through HP's network Relevant Products/Services of reseller partners. The initial offering is expected to roll out in the U.S. in July followed by broader availability worldwide by the end of the year.