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.

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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 on Thursday afternoon (US 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 8pm 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 $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 2pm and noon Friday.

"Our users were trained to access their mail through the Start page. Once that didn't work, they could not access email, 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 email interview.

This wasn't the only problem New Hope Fellowship's 40 Google Apps users encountered this week. They also lost access to their email due to an unrelated and prolonged Gmail outage that hit some Apps customers this week.