Bye-bye, "beta" tag. It's time for Gmail to play hardball with the big boys.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has been the butt of many jokes for its refusal to move Gmail out of beta testing status for several years now. Now the beta tag is finally gone. (But you can get it back through a Labs plug-in, if you miss it too much.)

Some might say that the lack of a beta tag makes no difference. But when was the last time you saw a major corporation buy beta software and take it into production use? Beta is supposed to mean "testing," so CEOs and IT directors tend to avoid using beta software for anything meaningful.

Google opened the door to corporate use of Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and other productivity tools a couple of years ago. The premier edition of Google Apps comes with 24/7 support and service-level agreements, and businesses have to pay a fee to use it. But that darn beta name loomed large over the whole package, so very few businesses dropped their Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Exchange or IBM (NYSE:IBM) Lotus Notes setups in favor of Google's offerings.

That's why this announcement suddenly kicks those doors wide open. Gmail and its fellow Apps tools have been around long enough to prove their mettle. The service-level agreements look solid when you remove that "testing" status. Google's tools are a heck of a lot cheaper than Lotus or Exchange. And don't forget that all of these tools live in the Internet cloud.

Enterprise software company salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) and electronics manufacturer Sanmina-SCI (NASDAQ:SANM) bucked the trend and gave Google Apps to thousands of employees while the software was still in beta testing. General Electric (NYSE:GE) is taking a serious look at the package, hoping to save money and centralize information management in one easy step. Privately held software developer Serena Software (no, I don't know if there's a sister company called Venus) says that its switchover for 800 employees worldwide took 6 hours.

I wouldn't be surprised to see a flurry of new, paying customers for Google in the next couple of months, as IT managers get a chance to evaluate and implement their Googlish environments. If Steve Ballmer isn't shaking in his boots now, he's a bigger fool than I.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.