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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Google has solved a problem that affected the layout and functionality of the "Start" pages

Prolonged Gmail outage stressing Google Apps administrators
Google Fixes Problem With Apps Start Page........
Google has solved a problem that affected the layout and functionality of the "Start" pages of its Apps hosted collaboration and communications suite.
Although the bug had the potential to affect many customers, it manifested itself only in instances when Apps administrators had customized their organizations' Start page, said Rishi Chandra, Google Apps product manager.
The problem arose apparently Thursday afternoon U.S. Eastern Time and was finally solved at around noon on Friday.
Apps administrators who reported problems in the official Apps discussion forum described what they perceived as being an erratic Start page update designed to make it look and act more like iGoogle, the company's personalized home page service for consumers.
However, Chandra said that wasn't the case, although he understands why the administrators would interpret the incident that way, since the iGoogle logo replaced company logos in affected pages. The problem was caused by a system bug that altered Start pages layouts, broke some links and interfered with some "gadget" applications, like the one for Gmail, he said.
With a permanent fix now in place, all affected Start pages should have reverted back to their normal layout and operation without any loss of data or functionality, Chandra said. Google had prematurely declared the problem solved at around 8 p.m. on Thursday, but problem reports kept flowing in.
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. Apps' Standard and Education versions are free, while its more sophisticated Premier edition costs US$50 per user per year.
The problem was disruptive at New Hope Fellowship in Springdale, Arkansas, which uses the Apps Education edition. The church's Start page was hit intermittently by the bug between Thursday at around 2 p.m. and noon Friday.
"Our users were trained to access their mail through the Start page. Once that didn't work, they could not access e-mail, which is critical to our work. We had to send paper memos around on how to access the mail without going through the Start page. Very frustrating," said Josh Jenkins, New Hope Fellowship's media director and Apps administrator, in an e-mail interview.
This wasn't the only problem New Hope Fellowship's 40 Google Apps users encountered this week. They also lost access to their e-mail due to an unrelated and prolonged Gmail outage that hit some Apps customers this week.
"Google must improve communication with business customers if they wish to be competitive in the corporate IT space. The 2-sentence 'we're working on it' blurbs posted in the [online discussion] groups are an unacceptable way to treat business clients," Jenkins said.
Susan Novotny, Apps Standard edition administrator at a national nonprofit with 30 users in Ontario, Canada, said via e-mail that the occasional bugs that hit Google Apps "do shake my confidence a little."
"I guess I expect a spectacularly wealthy company to be as reliable as the average e-mail provider," she added. "But they're providing tools no other provider can."
Nelson & Co. Engineering in Birmingham, Alabama, also experienced the Start page bug, but it wasn't too disruptive for its four Apps Premier users, said Apps administrator Ryan Nelson in an e-mail interview. The company feels that, despite the hiccups, Apps provides it with a great value at $50 per user per year.
"As a Premier user I would think that these issues would not happen. In the long run, Google Apps has been the best technology move we've ever made. Little issues crop up a couple times a year for less than 24 hours: not ideal, but better than anything else we've ever used," Nelson said.
Others were more frazzled, like an Apps administrator identified as Jay in the official discussion forum, who wrote Friday morning: "I now have over 1,200 users that have no idea how to get into their e-mail. The phones are ringing off the hook. What is going on with customer service these days. This really stinks."
The problem wasn't related to a major iGoogle upgrade the company rolled out on Thursday, Chandra said.
The unrelated Gmail problem this week kept users from accessing their e-mail in some cases for more than 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday. Google declared that problem solved late on Thursday.
During Google's third-quarter earnings conference call on Thursday, cofounder 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 centers and accessed by end-users via a Web browser. 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.
In August, Gmail had three significant outages that affected not only individual consumers of the free Webmail service but also paying Apps Premier customers. As a result, Google decided to extend a credit to all Apps Premier customers and said it would do better at notifying users of problems.


Stories About Google Apps
Apple's new MacBooks are finally here, and the upgrades they feature are more than modest. The new Apple laptops sport slimmer designs, brighter and more power-efficient LED-backlit screens, new graphics systems, buttonless trackpads, and more. The updates have led some people to wonder whether now is the time to switch from a PC to a Mac.
But as cool as the updates are, Apple has not achieved MacBook perfection. Here's a look at what Apple got right and what I would have liked to see.
Construction Done Right
Apple stressed studier construction as a reason for developing its "unibody" manufacturing technique, and sure enough, the new MacBooks are as sturdy as they come. Compare the new design with the previous one, which had an annoying tendency to crack. The two different styles of MacBook are like night and day; the old MacBook seems creaky and cheap in comparison.
Simple, Quick Access
Apple has done a good job making the MacBook's components easy to access. Just pop off the battery cover to reach the hard drive. Remove a few screws, and boom, there are the memory, motherboard, and optical drive. Do-it-yourself upgraders will be happy with a new MacBook, although we would like to see Apple reduce the number of screws guarding the way to the innards.

What Was Apple Thinking?
Now that Apple has removed FireWire from the MacBook (a decision that upset some users), the only peripheral connectors on the new models are two USB ports. If you own a printer, iPod, digital camera, external hard drive, or perhaps an external keyboard or mouse, you might run out of ports in a hurry unless you buy a USB hub. An additional built-in USB port or two would have been a welcome addition.

Annoying Smudges
It's a little thing, but Apple includes a soft cloth for wiping fingerprints and smudges off the MacBook. You may want to keep it in your laptop bag, because you're going to need it. The glass display is a fingerprint magnet, and the aluminum shell readily shows fingerprints as well.

Good-Enough Portability
At a mere 4.5 pounds, the MacBook is light enough and compact enough to toss into your bag and take with you wherever you go. And unlike its superslim MacBook Air sibling, the new MacBook includes an optical drive and a more powerful processor. Given the choice, I think I'd take the MacBook over the Air any day, even if it means another pound and a half of weight.

A Bright Idea
Love the gloss or hate it, the MacBook's screen is flat-out beautiful. The screen itself is bright and evenly lit, thanks to its LED backlighting. I found that the glossiness is less of an issue than some folks might think.

DisplayPort Dilemma
Apple's switch from DVI to DisplayPort--and a mini version, at that--means that users will have to attach a dongle to connect their MacBook to most current displays. Although the adapter situation isn't new to the MacBook (the older models include a mini DVI port), current Mac laptop owners will have to buy yet another adapter. I do wonder if Apple's adoption of DisplayPort will help the standard catch on with other manufacturers, though.

Tricky Trackpad
While a buttonless trackpad is a novel idea and it functions reasonably well, it doesn't work as smoothly as it could. The lower portion of the trackpad is nice and clicky when pressed, but the farther up the trackpad you go, the harder it is to click. If you use the MacBook's trackpad just as you would use any other--clicking the button at the bottom of the trackpad with your thumb--you probably won't notice much difference. But if you press the trackpad with your pointing finger, you'll run into areas where it's impossible to push.
My initial reaction to the new MacBooks? Apple put together one solid machine. In a world of $800 laptops, the aluminum-clad MacBook may seem a little expensive, but it's a winner. Stay tuned for our full review and lab testing of the MacBook and MacBook Pro.

An unknown number of Gmail and Google Apps users were unable to access their accounts for more than 24 hours earlier this week. According to some, the outage was negatively impacting their business.
Starting at some point Wednesday afternoon, users noticed that they were unable to log into their Google accounts. Rather than accepting their sign-in credentials, users were met with a "502 error" message from Google. The company acknowledged that there was a problem and said that it would issue a fix by late Thursday evening.
That did little to quell perturbed customers. One forum member said that the e-mail outage had been rough on his company and it was impacting business.
According to MacWorld, one customer wrote on the Apps Forum, "Support keeps telling me it is affecting a small number of users. This is not a temporary problem if it lasts this long. It is frustrating to not be able to expedite these issues. I have to speak with the boss again and he's po'd. This is considered a mission-critical issue here. We may have to make other arrangements. Apparently Google mail is not very reliable. I think I would have pushed for something else before we switched if I had known the level of unreliability."
I have to disagree with the writer's sentiment about Gmail not being reliable. In the years that I have been using Gmail, I've been locked out of it for perhaps 6 hours at most. Maybe I'm lucky and my account happens to be stored on a set of servers that don't have any problems.
In the decade that I relied on Microsoft Exchange to deliver my corporate e-mail, I experienced what probably amounts to months of outages. I distinctly remember not being able to get into my e-mail for one full week once due to problems with an Exchange e-mail server. In my experience, Gmail has been far more reliable.

That didn't stop a Microsoft spokesperson from reaching out to me to make sure I was aware of the current Google Apps problems. The spokesperson said to me in an e-mail, "The Gmail outage was reported (and buried) on a discussion board yesterday and a solution is expected

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