Google Apps beef up security to woo businesses

Google Apps have become more IT-friendly with the addition of new security features for iPhone, Nokia, and Windows Mobile users.

The new features allow administrators to enforce password requirements and remotely wipe data from mobile devices.

“With this change, Google Apps Premier and Education Edition administrators will be able to manage their users’ iPhone, Nokia E series, and Windows Mobile devices right from the Google Apps administrative control panel, without deploying any additional software or having to manage dedicated enterprise mobile servers,” wrote Bryan Mawhinney, a Google software engineer, in an announcement posted Wednesday on the company’s Enterprise Blog.

Premier Edition is the $50 per-user, per-year, version of Google Apps, which offers e-mail, calendaring, word processing, speadsheet, and other web-based applications.

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The paid version adds enterprise features, domain support, and greater storage to the free, basic version of Google Apps. Education Edition is a special version available free to schools.

The new mobile device management capabilities allows administrators to:

  • Remotely wipe all data from lost or stolen mobile devices
  • Lock idle devices after a period of inactivity
  • Require a device password on each phone
  • Set minimum lengths for more secure passwords
  • Require passwords to include letters, numbers and punctuation

Google said users should “stay tuned” for the new features to be offered for Android devices, including the Motorola Droid and Google Nexus One smartphones, but offered no specific timing.

BlackBerry devices were not mentioned, but have the ability to synchronize with the Google cloud.

Separately, it was reported Monday that Google plans to open an applications store to sell software that works with Google Apps.The company itself announced last week its plan to end support< for the Internet Explorer 6 browser.

My take: Google sometimes seems to be working harder on adding enterprise administration features to Google Apps than on improving the apps themselves. These changes offer some assurance to corporate customers that enterprise data from Google’s cloud can be safely stored on mobile devices.

Lacking, however, is the ability to automatically require password changes at specified intervals. The remote wipe feature is also less powerful that what Apple offers iPhone users through a subscription to its MobileMe service.

Apple allows users to query the phone’s location, send a message to the phone that is automatically displayed on its screen, trigger an audible tone to help the phone be located, and to wipe all user data from the phone.

Those features, however, are intended for use by the phone’s owner, not corporate administrators and a MobileMe account, at $99/year, costs twice as much as Google Apps Premium Edition.

Google’s remote wipe is triggered when the device synchronizes with the Google cloud, theoretically allowing it to be bypassed and for corporate information to remain on the phone. Thus, it is better for thwarting a casual thief than corporate espionage.

Apple’s remote iPhone wipe feature is triggered by a message pushed to the phone over the wireless data network and is independent of data synchronization.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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