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Google Offers Businesses Scheduled Release Of Features

Administrator can choose to have access to new Google Apps features immediately upon release or on a more leisurely scheduled release cycle.

Google has made much of the fact that it revises its online applications at breakneck speed. The company points to its ability to add new features to its products quickly -- it made more than 100 changes to Google Apps in 2009 and more than 130 in 2010 -- as one of the primary benefits of cloud computing.

Rapid iteration, says Rajen Sheth, group product manager in Google's enterprise division, "really is one of our biggest selling points."

It's also the source of a significant number of complaints from large businesses using Google Apps. Enterprise customers are used to software that gets developed over several years and then deployed over the course weeks or months. Large companies tend to tread carefully when it comes altering their IT infrastructure and they've been pressing Google to innovate in a more manageable way.

"This has been a major ask from our customers for a while," says Sheth.

So Google has built a slow lane for Google Apps users. On Tuesday, the company plans to announce a new process for releasing product features. It will offer a Rapid Release track and a Scheduled Release track for features in Gmail, Contacts, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Sites.

Customers on the Rapid Release track will see new features as soon as they're released from internal testing at Google. Customers on the Scheduled Release track will see new features appear on Tuesdays, with at least one week advance notice, so that IT administrators can test new features and plan for them.

Google is also launching a new Web site, whatsnew.googleapps.com, that it hopes will serve as the definitive resource for learning about new Google Apps features.

"With Google's new Scheduled Release track for product features, we can get the same rapid innovation we expect from Google, with the ability to do some extra testing and communicate changes to our more than 15,000 users ahead of launches," said Elliot Tally, head of Google Apps deployment at contract manufacturer Sanmina-SCI, in a statement.

Organizations that had "Pre-release features" enabled in the Google Apps control panel will be placed on the Rapid Release track. Other organizations will be placed on the Scheduled Release track.

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