Google's Apps for Your Domain has a new component: an entry page organizations can use as a central point for users to access the suite of hosted applications.
Launched in August, Google Apps for Your Domain is a set of browser-based collaboration and communication applications for an organization to provide to its employees using its own brand and Internet address.
On Monday, Google added the Start page option, whose technology and user interface is based on the Personalized Home Page service Google offers to consumers.
The Start page lets organizations package links to Google Apps services and to other relevant content that they want their users to take note of, like weather, news stories and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) syndicated feeds. The Start page, whose layout and design can be customized via point-and-click interfaces, is intended as a more dynamic alternative to static home pages, which are more difficult to refresh and update.
Arizona State University launched its start page on Monday for its 65,000 students. This is an extension of the university's adoption, last month, of the Google Apps suite. Not only will the students be able to customize their entry pages, but they will also be able to include "gadget" mini-applications provided both by Google and the university, said James Vito Palazzolo, communications coordinator for the university's technology office. "We firmly believe this puts our students ahead of the game," Palazzolo said.
With the new feature, Google continues beefing up its suite, which is one of several software offerings the company has for organizations. Others include Google Analytics, a hosted service for tracking websites usage and traffic, and Google Docs and Spreadsheets, which consists of hosted word processing and spreadsheet applications.
Google executives have been clear about their intention to have the company play in the hosted applications market for consumers and businesses, a model that many see as a big threat to the packaged-software model upon which Microsoft has built its empire.
At the recently-concluded Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, Google's CEO Eric Schmidt again championed this software-as-service model in which users access applications remotely via the internet. Hosted applications are more robust, reliable and simpler to maintain, he said. In the hosted model, it is also easier to search for data across applications and share documents, he said.
Of course, the hosted model isn't a panacea. For example, users of Google's Blogger have complained about persistent performance problems that have hobbled that popular blog hosting and authoring service in recent weeks. Likewise, Google Analytics suffered crippling performance problems when demand for it surged after Google made it a free service in November. After being unable to stabilize the service for a week, Google temporarily shut the door on new sign-ups for Analytics.
The Google Apps for Your Domain suite includes Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar and the Google Page Creator webpage design service.
Google Apps for Your Domain is free, but Google is preparing an advanced fee-based version for larger businesses with more sophisticated needs.
More information can be found here.