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Google adds Start page to hosted apps suite

'Dynamic' alternative to home page

Google's Apps for Your Domain has a new component: an entry web page that organisations can use as a central point for users to access this suite of hosted applications.

Launched in August, Google Apps for Your Domain is a set of browser-based collaboration and communication applications for an organisation to provide for its employees using its own brand and internet address.

Today, Google plans to add 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 organisations package links to Google Apps services and other relevant content that they want their users to access, such as weather, news stories and RSS syndicated feeds. The Start page, whose layout and design can be customised via point-and-click interfaces, is intended as a more dynamic alternative to static home pages, which are more difficult to refresh and update.

With the new feature, Google continues beefing up this suite, which is one of several software offerings the company has for organisations. Others include Google Analytics, a hosted service for tracking websites' usage and traffic, and Google Docs & Spreadsheets, which consists of hosted word-processing and spreadsheet applications. The company recently bought hosted wiki provider JotSpot.

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.

This week at the recently-concluded Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, Google 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 stabilise the service for a week, Google temporarily shut the door on new sign-ups for Analytics.

The Google Apps for Your Domain suite includes the Gmail webmail service, the Google Talk IM (instant messaging) and voice-chat service, the Google Calendar scheduling service and the Google Page Creator web-page 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.

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