Start Page yanked from new Google Apps signups

Google has stopped offering Start Page for new users of its Apps hosted suite.

Google has quietly stopped offering the Start Page component in new accounts of its Apps hosted suite in favor of the product's Sites wiki and Web page creation application.

The Start Page got dropped from new Apps sign-ups as of Dec. 1, but accounts created prior to then will retain this component, said Rajen Sheth, Google Apps senior product manager.

In Apps, a hosted collaboration and communication suite for organizations, the Start Page acts as a portal main point of entry for end-users to their applications, such as Calendar and Gmail.

"The use case of Start Page has been almost like a corporate intranet, team page, personal page type of thing for people within an organization," Sheth said.

However, Apps administrators increasingly say Sites lets them do the same and more as Start Page, Sheth said. "People are gravitating more and more to Google Sites as a conduit for that."

Google didn't make a formal announcement regarding its Start Page decision, nor did it send an e-mail notification to current Apps administrators, instead opting simply to put a brief note in an Apps support page. The reason, Sheth said, is that for accounts that have the Start Page, nothing is changing.

However, to at least some Apps administrators, the absence of the Start Page in new accounts became a mystery, which they have discussed, along with other Start Page bug reports, for the past week in a thread in the official Apps help forum.

Threads like this notwithstanding, Sheth isn't expecting a backlash from Apps administrators and from IT consultants who set up the suite for clients demanding the return of the Start Page. Instead, Google is boosting its communications with Apps administrators regarding the features, benefits and success stories of Sites, he said.

In the consumer market, Start Page is equivalent to the iGoogle personalized home page. Both products are configured and populated using light "gadget" applications.

In Google Sites, on the other hand, people can put not only gadgets but also text, presentations, pictures and videos, and even embed Google Docs files like spreadsheets, he said.

In addition, Sites offers IT departments much more control over the look and feel and formatting of Web pages, he said.

Thus, Google is focusing more on improving Google Sites, which is based on the wiki application Jotspot that the company acquired. Sites was re-launched with its new name in February of this year.

Apps administrators who are happy with their Start pages need not worry, because Google has plans to support the service indefinitely, Sheth said.

"We're not eliminating Start Page by any means," he said. "What we're trying to do is move new users coming into the platform towards Sites, which will better fit their use case."

Likewise, iGoogle remains in place, as it is one of the most popular Google products in the consumer market, a company spokesman said.

The decision to take the Start Page out of the Apps lineup isn't related to a glitch that made this service malfunction in October, Sheth said.

Back then, a bug affected Start pages that had been customized in any way, distorting layouts, breaking links and interfering with some gadget applications, including the one for Gmail.

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