Ouch. Google Apps has ditched its free version, meaning anyone who wants to use the business version of Google's mail, calendar and office suite will now have to pay $US50 a year per user for the privilege.
Google's announcement, via a blog post, makes it clear that the change doesn't affect individual Google users, who can continue using Gmail and its sibling for free with a personal account. However, the previous option which allowed companies with less than ten employees to use apps for free (while utilising their own domain) has been retired:
For Businesses, instead of two versions, there will be one. Companies of all sizes will sign up for our premium version, Google Apps for Business, which includes 24/7 phone support for any issue, a 25GB inbox, and a 99.9% uptime guarantee with no scheduled downtime. Pricing is still $50 per user, per year.
Existing free customers won't be forced to move, but it looks like that ride is over for everyone else. It's been quite the year for Google reducing the scope of its free offerings; in September, it cut back on its free storage option.
Changes to Google Apps for businesses [Google Enterprise Blog]