Google Apps Portal Pages Malfunctioning

Google Apps administrators are complaining that their Apps "Start" portal pages are malfunctioning and wreaking havoc in their organizations.

According to multiple reports Thursday night and Friday morning in the official Apps discussion forum, Google is apparently unilaterally and without prior warning updating both the layout and functionality of Apps Start pages.

In addition to causing confusion among Apps users, the changes apparently have also introduced bugs into the Start pages, causing them to malfunction.

Google Apps is a hosted collaboration and communication suite aimed at workplace use, and its Start pages are designed as a portal main point of entry for end users to their applications, such as Calendar and Gmail.

Among the most common complaints about the Start page upgrade are broken links that generate error messages, misconfigured buttons and application "gadgets" that prevent end users from reaching their e-mail inboxes, and layout problems that render pages unreadable.

According to the discussion forum reports, Google is apparently rolling back some of the updated Start pages and rolling them out again but without having solved the problems, compounding the confusion among end users and administrators.

The layout changes seem aimed at making the Apps Start page look and act more like the company's iGoogle, a personalized home page service primarily for consumers.

At a little after 8 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time on Thursday, a Google representative posted a message on the discussion forum acknowledging that there had indeed been a problem on Google's end affecting the Apps Start pages and saying it had been solved.

However, Apps administrators continued posting problem reports throughout the night and Friday morning.

"Why must Google change things without letting administrators know in advance? They have changed the portal page to be iGoogle now and the email gadget is completely different. I now have over 1,200 users that have no idea how to get into their email. The phones are ringing off the hook. What is going on with customer service these days. This really stinks," an administrator identified as Jay wrote Friday morning.

Another Apps user identified as Josh wrote: "Today, our homepages suddenly 'upgraded' to the new 'igoogle' interface. However, it doesn't work." He mentioned broken links and a misconfigured Gmail gadget that instead of taking him to his Apps inbox took him to his personal Gmail account.

It's not clear whether the problem is related to a major upgrade of the iGoogle service Google rolled out on Thursday with much fanfare.

Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Apps administrators were dealing with a Gmail problem that kept users from accessing their e-mail in some cases for more than 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Google declared that unrelated problem solved late on Thursday.

During Google's third-quarter earnings conference call on Thursday, co-founder and Technology President Sergey Brin said that there are now more than 1 million businesses using Google Apps.

Google Apps is one of the best known examples of a new wave of Web-hosted communication and collaboration suites that are emerging as options to Microsoft's Office and Outlook/Exchange suite.

Apps is hosted by Google in its data center and accessed by end users via a Web browser. Its Standard and Education editions are free -- a more sophisticated version called Premier costs US$50 per user per year.

The appeal of Web-hosted software like Apps is that it doesn't have to be installed by customers on their own hardware, reducing maintenance costs and complexity. Apps and others like it are also designed from the ground up for workgroup collaboration.

However, when something breaks on the vendors' data centers, IT administrators have little or no control over how or when to remedy the problem, and are left to appease their angry end users as best they can.

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