Murray's Blog

Trying Google Apps For Education

At Liam’s new Kindergarten, I’m responsible for the computer stuff. So I thought I’d make things easier by using Google Apps, which is free for educational institutions.

My aims were to have:

I was really looking forward to playing with this stuff, hoping that it would quickly do useful things, and hoping that it would be easier for non-technical people to administer when I’m not around. But I’ve been rather disappointed.

The various problems lead to me having to choose between two options, both of them inadequate:

Option 1: Domain users

In this scenario, I would add accounts for all of the parents.


  1. We would be able to see all contact details for parents and teachers in the “Directory”. That would be available on peoples’ Android phones, too, and maybe on iPhones.
  2. We could use PicasaWeb to share photos and view them as galleries.
  3. System administration would generally be easier. The simplicity makes
    it easier to avoid sharing something publicly by accident.


  1. We would give everyone an Google account. That would give them a email address, using GMail, which would be useless to them. Parents would each have to manually set up GMail to forward to their personal email address, though I could tell them how to do that.
    (You could send email to, but when they replied, you would see them replying from their email address.)
  2. If parents already have a Google account, they would need to switch between them in the web browser. That’s fairly easy using Google’s multiple sign-in, but that does not work well right now. Sometimes you’ll find yourself using the other account suddenly.
    It’s a particular problem for Google Apps that don’t support multiple-sign in, but real people do use those apps. For instance:
    • If you click on a link to a PicasaWeb album, you’ll just be told that the album doesn’t exist, until you log out, log in as the other user, and try again. That is beyond the abilities of the typical user.
    • Google Checkout, used when buying from Google Play, will offer a choice of users to log in as, but I’ve regularly seen it ignore your choice and continue as the wrong user.
    • When going to the GMail site, if you are logged in as a user with no gmail email address, it will offer to create one for you with a “Add Gmail to your Google Account” page. If you try to switch users to the user with a GMail account, it will just take you back to the same page for the previous user.

Option 2: Non-domain group members

In this scenario, I would not add accounts for all of the parents.

Instead I would add their regular email addresses as members of groups such as The various Google Apps seem to allow sharing to group email addresses, understanding that that means sharing to the group’s members, though that’s not documented or hinted at.

The parents would have to create Google accounts for these non-Google email addresses, which is still possible via this link to create a Google account without being forced to have a Google email account, though that link might not work in future. (Update from 2013/04: Indeed, it doesn’t work now, so you have to disable the gmail email address after creating the Google account.)




For now, I find that Google’s multiple sign in is so awful that I cannot risk asking people to deal with it and cannot risk having to support them with it. Therefore, I have to live with sharing photos via Google Drive instead of PicasaWeb, and having no shared contacts list.

I feel that we wouldn’t have this problem if Google Apps really supported domains rather than just using redirects. For instance, I’d like to use email at, instead of typing that into my browser’s address bar only to be taken to . A real domain would have its own users and there would be no conflict with regular Google users. Obviously that would be harder for Google to do.

Things would also be simpler if PicasaWeb supported multiple-sign in, and if it supported sharing to groups. Or if Google Drive allowed image files to be viewed via PicasaWeb. It’s to be expected that educational institutions will want to share photos privately. I wanted to use that as an attractive way to get people into the system.

It should also be expected that educational institutions, like many organizations, want to deal with people who will never have an official email address for that organization.


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