Google+ ready for business with IT-friendly bells and whistles

Google(s goog) is now pushing its Google+ social networking platform as part of its business-focused software. That should come as no surprise. It’s been apparent for months that Google was linking Google+ to everything and tightening ties between its social network and the Google Apps suite of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications.

As of Wednesday, the company launched a set of new features for business users and is previewing them for Google Apps customers. Use of the features will be free through the end of next year, according to the Google Enterprise Blog.

There are the usual nods to IT. Administrators can now set company defaults for post restrictions and enable restricted Hangouts to facilitate private company-only meetings.

And Google Apps users will now get more control over the content they put on Google+. They can mark some posts as “restricted” which means they will remain private to the user’s organization and cannot be shared outside. And, Google Hangout video meetings are integrated with Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs.

Google Apps, the company’s response to the Microsoft(s msft) Office juggernaut, used to be perceived as a lightweight among business users, but it has gotten considerable traction and has forced Microsoft to respond with Office 365.  Companies like Backupify are banking big that Google Apps momentum will continue — offering ancillary services to the product.

Small companies and startups like the low price of Google+ and especially its Google Hangouts, which enables up to 10 people to video chat easily. Hangouts poses a challenge to Skype, which Microsoft bought last year and is busily tying it into its Office franchise. It’s also a way for Google to differentate Google+, which has met mixed reviews, from Facebook(s fb) which has much less a business focus.

The fact that Google is touting Google+ for business users means that it will eventually start charging for the service, just as it morphed the freebie Google Apps into a commercial offering.