Google has announced a change to Google Apps for Business - ending the free version of the product, offering only its Premium version which costs $50 per user, per year, regardless of the size of the company. The change was announced on Google's Official Enterprise blog. Existing Google Apps for business users who have free accounts get to carry on without paying the subscription fee but businesses wanting to sign up from now with have to pay.
Google Apps refers to Google's suite of web-based software services - which includes Gmail webmail and Drive for cloud storage and collaborative documents. Google is still offering individuals free versions of these software products, when they create a Google Account, but businesses no longer have a free option. The remaining Google Apps for Business product was formerly known as the Premium option, and includes 24/7 phone support for any issue, a 25GB inbox, and a 99.9% uptime guarantee with no scheduled downtime.
Mountain View says it's making the change to simplify its offering to ensure a better fit for both groups of users, individuals and business, noting in its blog;
When we launched the premium business version we kept our free, basic version as well. Both businesses and individuals signed up for this version, but time has shown that in practice, the experience isn't quite right for either group. Businesses quickly outgrow the basic version and want things like 24/7 customer support and larger inboxes. Similarly, consumers often have to wait to get new features while we make them business-ready.
Google is still offering a free product for schools and universities: Google Apps for Education. It will also be continuing to offer Google Apps for Government for $50 per user, per year.
If you're hoping to get round Google's paywall by signing up for a free trial of Google Apps for Business and then downgrading the account, it appears you're out of luck: a tipster told us doing this deletes the entire account.
Update: According to an email thread posted on Hackernews, it is still possible to get a free single-user Google Apps account - by going through Google's App Engine Admin Console