I suspect the “subscription fee amounting to a few dollars per person per month” described in the article is to allow Google to offer support for these products, which will encourage more companies to adopt Google’s office applications (Gmail, Docs, Spreadsheets, etc.) in their main work environment.
This becomes a more likely reason given Google’s recent troubles with some of their applications not being up for several hours last week. A paid subscription will give users of Google’s applications a way to reach someone who can give them a status report on the fix.
In fact, in 25 Things I Hate About Google by Danny last year, he asked in #23:
Charge for things! Seriously, I’m getting frightened. I love that anyone can get free analytics, email, you name it from you. But I’m fearful that people also can’t get support for when things go wrong. I think this guy’s still trying to get an official response on what happened to his lost Gmail account. Meanwhile, I worry that companies I want competing with you, to keep you on your toes, can’t do so when you use advertising to underwrite everything. It just feels anti-competitive. Plus, aren’t you kind of sick of shoving ads at us everywhere? Don’t I have enough ads on the floor of my supermarket already? Can’t part of Google’s mission be to help reduce advertising in places where I don’t need it?
Currently applications such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets are free for use but they are not part of Google Apps. One would suspect that those applications, and others, will be rolled into Google Apps and companies will be able to pay a fee for support contracts.
It’s also entirely believable that Google is creating an online presentation software, similar to PowerPoint. The Google Operating System blog recently found evidence of such a product.