Oh Google…

Whimsy is all very well, when your obsession with irrational numbers gets you headlines about the Nortel patent auction by making your losing bid pi billion dollars. But perhaps there are more important things for Google to do than amuse the world?

Whimsy is all very well, when your obsession with irrational numbers gets you headlines about the Nortel patent auction by making your losing bid pi billion dollars. But perhaps there are more important things for Google to do than amuse the world?

For one thing it could have spent more time on doing regression tests on its Android 3.1 operating before hurriedly pushing it out the door. Because as it stands, Google's flagship tablet platform is unfit for enterprise use.

It was only last October we noted that a point update to FroYo made it incompatible with Exchange 2010 SP1's Exchange Active Sync protocol, a bug that took hours to find and replicate, but months to fix. It was a bug that significantly dented Android's reputation as a business-ready operating system. It was only the generally slow Android update process that prevented something that should have been found before release from affecting more than early adopters with Google Experience devices.

So when I updated a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet from Honeycomb 3.0.1 to 3.1 I wasn't expecting a repeat of the FroYo EAS problems. And for a while that was the case, as the tablet stayed connected to our mail server, getting push email.

But in the middle of the night it stopped working.

There was a bar on the screen telling me I needed to update the device's EAS security profile. But there was no way to actually do that. So I threw away my email account and set it up again. Mail started flowing, and I left things there, thinking that some server glitch had affected the tablet. After all, it's very easy to blame the old mail server and not the shiny new toy…

Twenty four hours later (or thereabouts, as I was asleep at the time) the same thing happened again.

I reset the account, and carried on as before. For a few days I shut the device off at night, and in the morning mail flowed in. Then one night I left it on again, and, well, no mail in the morning and the same black banner waiting for me.

It was time to do a little research. A post on a Xoom forum pointed me at a bug report on Google's site. Android 3.1's EAS client would fail if it received a policy refresh message from a server. There was a work around, but it required changing a setting on the Exchange server. It's a problem that's apparently not just related to Exchange 2010, as there are also reports of it occurring with Exchange 2007 installations.

So it was time to log on to my Exchange server. It's a good job I'm my own Exchange admin, as I would have been hard pressed to get any corporate admin to change the server configuration. The work around is, of course, to disable policy refresh. Once that's done, you'll need to throw away the account on the device and set up a new one. It'll then use EAS happily until the Ice Cream Sandwiches come home (or at least until Google puts out a fix).

Google has said that such a fix is in the works, but it could be months before it's released (and that's before it's certified and customised by device manufacturers). Until then your only option is to change corporate mail policies, or use a third-party mail client with tablet support like Nitrodesk's Touchdown.

One show-stopping EAS bug could be an accident, but two? There's a likely explanation when you look at the EAS-based sync tools Google provides for iPhone users. We suspect Google tests EAS against this Gmail implementation, rather than against live Exchange servers – meaning that some of the more enterprise-oriented features of EAS just don't get tested.

Whatever the reason is, Google definitely needs to change its EAS testing process. Otherwise more enterprise-aware devices like RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook, Apple's iPad and the forthcoming Windows 8 tablets will get the Exchange admins' seal of approval, and Google's hardware partners will find themselves locked out of a lucrative market.

Simon Bisson