Microsoft’s new Internet Explorer 10 web browser is set to arrive Oct. 26. Shortly thereafter, on Nov. 15, Google Apps will no longer support IE 8. The move will make Google one of the first major companies to drop support for Microsoft’s 3-year-old browser.
That doesn’t mean that Google Apps sites will suddenly stop working in IE 8 — users will see a message suggesting they upgrade to a newer release — but don’t expect things to keep working in the long run.
The end of IE 8 support isn’t a change from the normal Google Apps browser policy — which is to support the two most recent versions of each browser — but unlike dumping support for IE 6 and 7, dumping IE 8 effectively means Google Apps no longer supports Internet Explorer on Windows XP.
Microsoft never released a version of IE 9 for Windows XP, so the only real upgrade path for those that want to stick with Windows XP (and continue using Google Apps) is either to install a different web browser or use Google Chrome Frame.
There is of course one other option — dump Google Apps. Google, however, doesn’t seem worried that Windows XP users are going to abandon Google Apps in droves.
Google has an early Christmas present for its Google Apps users. The company has opened up access to nearly the entire suite of Google services through any Google Apps account.
That means people who pay for Google Apps for Your Domain (now referred to as simply Google Apps) can now host Google Voice, Google Reader and some 60 other cloud-based applications and services, giving admins a way to integrate just about all of Google into their own custom domains.
While Google Apps users have long had integrated Gmail, Docs, Calendar and Contacts, other popular services like Reader, Picasa and Google Voice have been off limits. All of these free Google services have remained available to anyone with a free Google account — but not the Google Apps hosted service, which allows users to tie Gmail, Calendar notifications, document sharing and their contacts database to their own, custom domain name. Google’s paid Apps service starts at $50 per user per year.
The workaround for most people so far has been to sign up for, say, a Picasa account, using a regular Google Apps e-mail address. While that works, it lacks the tight integration you get with the rest of your Google Apps — namely shared contact lists, settings and links to other apps within each app.
If you’ve got administrator access to a Google Apps account, starting today you should see a message on the main Google Apps admin page that will walk you through the setup and allow you to chose which services you’d like to enable. If you don’t see the message, keep checking, Google is rolling out the new features to everyone over the next few weeks.
There is of course a catch. If you’ve already set up accounts with any of the newly available services using your Google Apps e-mail address (the old workaround described above), you may get a message saying that your account can’t be upgraded. The problem is that your old account is conflicting with the new one.
This problem doesn’t affect all Google services, and according to the Google Help Center, the company is “currently in the process of wrapping up some necessary infrastructure work to ensure that the transition for those users will be a seamless process.” In other words, you’re going to have to wait.
If you have Google Apps running on your domain, now you can install third-party apps that fully integrate with Google’s apps.
Google has debuted the Google Apps Marketplace, an online store where Google Apps users can browse different cloud-based applications and add the ones they like to their suite of online tools. The apps can share data with the standard Google apps like Gmail and Docs on whatever hosting environment you’re using. Basically, you get to build your own web-based productivity suite.
The apps currently in the store (Google launched with 50) are skewed towards the business and education customers, which make up the vast majority of hosted Google Apps users right now. If you browse the store, you’ll find gobs of apps for things like project management, customer retention and administration. No games just yet, sorry.
There’s a significant amount of buzz around Manymoon, one of the handful of companies that demoed at Google’s launch event Tuesday night and currently the most-installed app in the store. It’s a team collaboration app that divvies up tasks, sets project goals and tracks the progress of team members. The browser-based image editing tools from Aviary are cool, too.
Personally, I’m most fond of eFax — certainly an app with its eye on the future of communication.
Browser-based office suite maker Zoho has released some new integration tools for Google Apps, allowing you to use Google Apps within Zoho Projects, the company’s project management webapp.
Zoho Projects for Google Apps integrates Google services like its various document editors, Google Calendar and Google Gadgets with Zoho’s project management software. The result is a painless round-trip way to use Zoho Projects without abandoning Google Apps. We’re fans of both Zoho and Google’s office products, and we’re even bigger fans of broad interoperability between web applications, so it’s pleasing to see Zoho improving its toolset in this way.
To get started, just sign into Zoho Projects, link your Zoho account to your Google Apps credentials and from then on you’ll be able to sign into both services using the same username and password. Once the accounts are linked, you can send documents directly from Google Docs to Zoho Projects.
The integration works the other way as well, feeding project milestones, tasks and meetings back to your Google Calendar. You can also embed the new Zoho Projects gadgets within Gmail, iGoogle or any OpenSocial-compatible site for quick and easy access to your Zoho projects.
While Zoho offers services that compete directly with Google Apps, it also recognizes that not every wants to use those services. As Zoho CEO Raju Vegesna says in an e-mail to Webmonkey, “sure we compete with Google… but we compete in only a subset of apps we offer.” Vegesna goes on to add that the new apps don’t compete directly with Google, rather, they complement what Google Apps already offers.
Indeed, Zoho Writer, Spreadsheets and other apps align closely with Google Apps equivalents, but when it comes to project management tools, Google has yet to offer anything on the level of Zoho projects.
In fact, what Zoho Projects does compete with are the likes of Basecamp, or even Microsoft Project. The new integration with Google Apps gives Zoho Projects a distinct advantage for those already using Google services.
Of course, like Basecamp and Microsoft Project (and unlike Google Apps), Zoho Projects is not completely free. There is free option for Zoho Projects, but it’s limited to just one project. For something more robust you’ll need to sign up for one of Zoho’s monthly options which range from $12-$80 per month depending on the number of projects and amount of storage space you need.
For more information in how the Google Docs-Zoho Projects integration works, check out Zoho’s intro video, embedded below.
There’s a certain level of trust that goes along with using a cloud-based web application. You upload your photos and your documents so you can access them everywhere, but you also trust that you’ll be able to pull those photos and documents down any time you want.
It sounds like a perfectly reasonable assumption, but many web-based services make it difficult for you to export your data. Worse, they’ll charge you a fee for the privilege. Some offer APIs — a bonus if you’re technically astute, but a solution that leaves the average user short on options.
To prevent such headaches, Google recently launched the Data Liberation Front, an initiative within the company to ensure every one of its products has a clear, easy option for users to export their data in bulk and take their business elsewhere.
Leading this project is Brian Fitzpatrick, an engineering manager at Google. Brian and his team launched an educational website at dataliberation.org in September where you can track their progress and find instructions for exporting your Blogger blog, your Picasa photos, your Gmail inbox, or whatever service you want to bail on.
It may seem odd as business strategies go, but as a practice, data portability and the trust it engenders are key to fueling the growth of the open web. In the following interview, Brian explains why this concept is especially important now, as more of us are sharing our data not only with Google, but with Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and other major players. He also hints at some new export features coming to popular Google products — like the ability to export all of your Google Docs files in a single, downloadable Zip archive.
Webmonkey: What led to the creation of this initiative within Google?
Brian Fitzpatrick: Even before I joined Google, I heard (CEO) Eric Schmidt speak. And one of the things I heard him say time and time again is, “we don’t lock our users in.” If they wish to leave, they are free to do so, and they can take their data with them. After I started, the one thing I kept hearing over and over again from the team was that we focus on our users first, and everything else follows that principle.
In talking to other engineers here, I realized that we don’t lock our users in. But while the door isn’t ever locked, in some cases, it could use a little bit of grease. It’s a little stuck.
We asked various product people if they’ve looked into doing an easy bulk-export type of thing where users can take out their data — and put it in — en masse. The typical response was, “Oh, it’s been on our roadmap for four or five years, it’s just de-prioritized because we have to work on these things our users are demanding.” So, it just wasn’t getting done.
We decided to start a small team of engineers to do just that — go around to our various products and help build those systems.
WM: So it wasn’t a question of evangelizing data liberation since the product managers were already sold on it, but more of a mission to go install the plumbing?
BF: Yeah, but we’re also trying to raise awareness in general. Most engineers don’t typically think about data liberation. They’re more involved in launching products. But I think it’s important because it’s a way for our users to trust us more.
WM: How much do you see the Data Liberation project as good policy for Google internally versus good policy for the web in general?
BF: I would love nothing more for other companies to copy-cat us on this. It’s good policy because we’re in a different world than we were in ten years ago.
If you wanted a piece of software ten years ago, you’d go to the store, buy a box and take it home. If you wanted to try another piece of software, you’d have to go back to the store, buy another floppy and do the whole process over again. There’s a huge barrier to trying different things out.
Today, if you want to try something else out, you just type another URL in your web browser. We want people to try our software, and if we’re going to encourage people to put data in the cloud and use more cloud-based apps, it’s important to show that it should be easy to get that data out as well. I want more people to think about this. It’s an important thing, and most people don’t think “I want to get my data out,” until it’s too late.
To be very clear: It’s not that Google is just an altruistic, lovable, huggable company. I think we’re a good company, but we get a benefit from this. We benefit from the work we do with open web standards, open-source and data liberation. But if you’re using a Google product now and you decide to go somewhere else, the easier we make it to leave and take your data with you, the more likely you are to come back and use something we come out with in the future.
There’s also the “rising tide floats all boats” analogy — the more we contribute to the success of the internet, the more we contribute to our own success since we’re such a big player.
WM: So, are you taking steps to future proof your products as well? Like in the case of Google Docs, or in the case of feed-based data, are you making sure what’s supported today will be supported in 10 years?
BF: We’re focusing on open formats wherever possible. So, you’ll see things coming out in open-documented Atom feeds, XML feeds.
In the case of Docs in particular, there’s something great we’re working on at the moment. Right now you can get your docs out one at a time. We’re working on a way for you to be able to select multiple docs at once, choose whatever format you’d like — ODF or MS Word or whatever — and our server will convert everything for you, create a Zip file and stream it down to you. (Brian says this feature will launch within the next couple of months).
WM: That’s great for backups.
This is interesting, too. Last winter, we launched Blogger liberation. When you log in to Blogger, there are options for “import blog” and “export blog.” It’s a nice, user-friendly experience, an easy download. We noticed some people were exporting their blog every other day — they were just creating a back up. We have several copies of their blog across several data centers, but these people felt more comfortable having their own copy on their own computers.
WM: There are other Google tools that run back ups automatically, like Picasa, where you can sync your photo library in the desktop app to your album on the web, right?
BF: Right, and we’ve been doing some additional work with Picasa because we’ve recognized we can do a better job with syncing things like your photos’ metadata.
WM: That’s interesting because data portability on the social web isn’t only about your data, it’s also largely about your metadata — your tags in Picasa and who they’re attached to, who you follow in Blogger and your ratings and comments for their posts. Are those bits of metadata being taken into account?
BF: It’s really hard to keep up with the features of individual services and the smaller bits, since they’re all so different. I don’t know if Blogger is exporting follow data. I know in Reader, you can get a list of the blogs you follow if you export your reading list to an OPML file, but you don’t get a list of the posts you’ve starred. There’s some education needed there, and some things that merit more attention. I don’t think we have the answer for all that yet.
WM: It also raises the question of interoperability among social sites. There are emerging standards that don’t yet have broad support but are gaining steam — things like Portable Contacts, OAuth, Activity Streams. How much attention is Google paying to making sure its import and export systems play well with smaller social sites who are adopting these new open standards? Versus, say, the attention being paid to bulk data export?
BF: I think that’s more relevant to the teams working on products that touch on those standards. Our team currently has a pretty sharp focus on data you create in our apps or that you’ve imported into our apps — making it so you can get that out. As far as interoperability, we’re obviously big supporters, and anything we can do to make it any easier to build on the open web, we’re doing.
For example, on OpenSocial we make it easy for developers to write apps that can be shared among different social networks. Google has also done work with OAuth. But the Data Liberation team is primarily concerned with helping you get your data in and out. It’s sort of step one of n steps.
WM: OK, so that’s your first order of business. Is there a list of tasks related to data liberation you’ve lined up to accomplish in your downtime?
BF: One thing we’re studying is the fact that your hard drive capacity is expanding way faster than your network capacity. Your hard drive capacity increases by an order of magnitude every four years. So that means by 2017, you’ll have a multi-terabyte iPod in your pocket.
Network capacity has only increased a little bit by comparison. Ten or so years ago, you had dial-up, or if you were super-advanced, you had DSL. The network speeds we have now are not a lot faster when paired with the growth of hard drive capacity. So, there are a lot of difficulties when dealing with larger data sets. How am I going to get 20 terabytes from Chicago to Mountain View quickly? I’m going to put it on hard drives and FedEx it.
We’re brainstorming about making it easier for people to move that size of data set around, or to gain access to that data.