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Sky's Botched Google Migration In the UK 101

An anonymous reader writes "Rupert Murdoch-owned British ISP Sky is migrating their customers to the Google Apps platform, and the customer experience is terrible. Their 1 million customers were told that they need to change their client settings to enable SMTP Authentication and other settings on a certain date — but not to do it before then or their e-mail would break; but if you don't do it on the date your e-mail will also break. Oh, and if you're a POP user you also need to enable that manually in the 'Skoogle' interface, as seemingly they chose not to run a system-wide command to allow it for all users. In addition, if you want help then you're pretty much on your own. One user has made 7 support calls and still not been able to access his e-mail since the migration. Hardly surprising that the story has made the papers with their help-desk in meltdown. It does make you wonder why they simply didn't put proxy servers in place to proxy the new service by modifying the old settings in the network and give their customers time to switch over without their e-mail breaking in the meantime. Or even a simple ActiveX tool to help out the less technical users."
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Sky's Botched Google Migration In the UK

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  • ActiveX??? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25, 2007 @06:09AM (#21469839)
    Are you mad?
    • by paj1234 ( 234750 )
      Would it work with Mozilla SeaMonkey Mail?
    • Why not they are already mostly running windows. Thats enough of a security violation.

      What about those who are less technical on a mac ? Are they just stuck as well ?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by dotancohen ( 1015143 )
        Actually, it's mostly the _less_ technical friends of mine who have moved to Ubuntu/Fedora. The fact that they don't need to learn (or worry) about virus/malware (at least for the time being I am always careful to remind) is what draws them to it. And I don't that an ActiveX control will work very well on any Linux distro.

        Therefore, simple instructions are a must. These people set up their POP3 once, they can do it again. The lack of a proxy server, however, is rather surprising and disappointing.
    • The people who don't understand the details are almost all Windows users using IE, so an ActiveX is the logical choice.

      People running Linux, FF on Windows or even reading /. are very much the exception rather than the rule.
    • by Rimbo ( 139781 )
      Precisely my thoughts.

      The article summary seems to be overblowing the problems to me. Having email "broken" isn't even an accurate way to put things; it just means your email temporarily doesn't work.
    • by Rimbo ( 139781 ) <> on Sunday November 25, 2007 @07:49PM (#21474337) Homepage Journal
      In fact, come to think of it, the entire article summary is built in a certain way:

      1. Mention of Google Apps, a product that competes with Microsoft.

      2. Mention of something being "broken."

      A couple of important notes about that:

      2.1. The thing with a potential issue, E-mail sending, has nothing to do with Google Apps, however it's mentioned to create a negative association with them.

      2.2. The potential issue is exaggeration to the point of idiocy. Nothing actually gets broken; you just have to change a certain setting on a certain date, and if you don't, it's not like your house catches fire or anything. OR MAYBE IT DOES?!?!?! WHO CAN BE SURE?

      And then, the coup de grace:

      3. Mention of a Microsoft proprietary technology as a solution.

      And of course, can't let that go by without adding:

      3.1. A technology that forces everyone into vendor lock-in with the Microsoft Way Of Doing Things, and
      3.2. A cure that is far worse than a disease, a technology that opens your system up to all kinds of hacks and attacks for the sake of preventing something that Grandma can easily be walked through fixing. (If you don't believe me, look at all the Grandmas who are walked through setting up their Email by Apple tech help and Evolution e-mail wizards every day.)

      In other words, ladies and gentlemen, the summary above has all the hallmarks of a professionally-written Microsoft FUD-job.

      Someone was paid to write this article and submit it to Slashdot so that all of our geeky eyes can see it and wonder, "Oh, the horrors of Google Apps! They should have gone with Microsoft," when not only do Google Apps have nothing to do with the problem, the problem itself would have been made worse by the proposed solution.

      And they would have gotten away with it if it hadn't 've been for you kids!
      • 3.2. A cure that is far worse than a disease, a technology that opens your system up to all kinds of hacks and attacks for the sake of preventing something that Grandma can easily be walked through fixing. (If you don't believe me, look at all the Grandmas who are walked through setting up their Email by Apple tech help and Evolution e-mail wizards every day.)

        - Yeah Chief, take it easy. All the guy was suggesting was to create a custom ActiveX to help them out. You make it sound as if that suggestion means
  • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @06:26AM (#21469895) Homepage Journal
    is confusion among the less experienced. I was just looking at the instructions they provide and I will certainly admit it's less than just a few mouse clicks. Any user guide that is like 12 pages of interaction is probably a bit much to ask of the average user. Looks more like a user manual than a quick set of instructions for a "simple change".

    I would not thoroughly enjoy following those instructions, and I'm quite certain it terrifies at least 15% of their customer base.

    And to the previous comment of "active x - are you mad?" I would add a "me too", for reasons too numerous to get into here.

    This is the kind of thing I'd expect to find on an install CD from an ISP, that configures your computer for their service when you insert the CD. Setups like that are either provided on disc or are a "deliver and setup" option for ISPs when they have this level of setup required. Expecting Joe User to do this is just plain crazy.

    I bet their phone support is buried for quite some time to come.
    • by sommere ( 105088 ) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @07:34AM (#21470121) Homepage
      I'm sure it isn't "change for sake of progress," it is almost certainly because it is MUCH cheaper.

      Running a responsive e-mail server has always been expensive. Now that google has set people's expectations at 2+GB quotas, it is just ridiculous.

      Google used their massive infrastructure to make scalability affordable, and ISPs can't compete. Most of their customers probably already use gmail, so why continue offering the service?
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        Most of their customers probably already use gmail, so why continue offering the service?

        At least among the technically inexperienced, Gmail usage isn't all that high in the UK. Even looking at my college IT class, most of whom were geeks of some description, it was mostly Hotmail or Yahoo.

        Of course this is anecdotal evidence, but still...
        • My experience is the same. I found that when Gmail was new, many people switched relatively quickly. (About 10% of my address book). After the initial influx, I only see the occasional person switch to Gmail. In-fact, in the last year, the only people in my address book that have switched have done so on my recommendation so I could get out of doing unpaid tech support for them fixing their ISP accounts :-P

          As an aside, Google should begin advertising their new IMAP service more, as it allows people to use t
    • In fact there's no need for ActiveX; Microsoft provide the INS/ISP file format [] for this very purpose, configuring ISP details. Of course it's really laziness to a) turn off the old servers whilst people are still migrating and b) not setup cname records to migrate after a certain time.
      • by jo42 ( 227475 )

        Microsoft provide the INS/ISP file format for this very purpose
        Yeah, that really helps people using Firefox or Safari.
        • I see no reason why other browsers should not ask the OS for proxy settings, it can be set from Control panel (internet options) without having to invoke Internet Explorer or Outlook.
    • Looks more like a user manual than a quick set of instructions for a "simple change".

      I had a quick look at the PDF, and I'll agree that while it's not pretty on-screen, reading a printed copy wouldn't be too bad. At least no more onerous than browsing the brochure-type instructions you get with many consumer products (Linksys routers, for example).

      For comparison's sake, the similar changeover by ATT for their customers was handled by a Yahoo-bot (I'm not making that up) email advisory:

      Dear AT&T Yahoo!

    • I cannot see why they wouldnt just proxy everything (either by actual proxies or by changing dns accordingly) so the old settings still work.
    •'s not that they migrated their customers to a branded version of gmail, it's that they *botched* the migration. as they botch everything technical.

      We were hit with this: first an email advising that we needed to change the settings on a certain day. Did this, didn't work. Phoned sky on a non-free number, was on hold for an hour, was eventually advised that their entire mail infrastructure was out of action for the week: try later. This wasn't communicated to anyone - Sky support are appalling.

  • Thats all it is, guesswork because nobody really knows what effects their changes will have on a system. Usually the response is it "should" work when asked a simple question of a developer.
  • Had a similar problem when BTInternet moved to Yahoo!. Took a month to get it fixed.
  • <troll>

    Wow... now I've seen everything. I mean, granted it was a kdawson post, but still... someone suggesting using ActiveX to help a Google migration... talk about crazy.

  • Risk Trifecta (Score:4, Insightful)

    by deniable ( 76198 ) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @07:04AM (#21470033)
    1. Crash transition with no fallback. Risky.
    2. Having less technical users handle the changes without ramping up the help desk. Risky.
    3. Breaking peoples' email. You're a bloody idiot. I used to be able to break almost anything and people could deal with it, but break the phones or the email and things get very bad, very fast.
    • by lev400 ( 1193967 )
      Very bad indeed. Sky have realy messed up here. They should of sorted this out before it happened!
      • by azrider ( 918631 )

        They should of sorted this out before it happened!
        Hasn't anybody over there heard of:
        Test on Development System (while you are at it, bring some of the worker bees over to try it.
        Sort out the problems (there will *always* be some).
        Rinse and Repeat as necessary.
        Final QA on Development System.
        Back up Production System.
        Install on Production System.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Epsillon ( 608775 )

          Hasn't anybody over there heard of:[snip]

          Yes, most of us have, especially those of us in IT. The problem is we have Murdoch's crap (Sky) with their don't give a shit attitude, Beardy Branson's Virgin Media (the name says it all) and Tiscali (Italian for crap) to choose from, along with the monopoly telco BT's offerings which, although they were haemorrhaging customers right, left and centre a few years ago, seem to have come out as the best of a bad bunch. The UK is very cost conscious (we're tight bastard

          • by Tim C ( 15259 )
            Well I'm with Eclipse and I'm not aware of any major changes to my ADSL service, but perhaps that's the point as there have definitely been changes - eg it went from 512Kbps fixed to user-variable up to 2Mbps to 8Mbps, all without any issues that affected me.

            Near the start of the year my ex moved out, and so one of the many things that had to be changed was the BT phone line - it was in her name, so I needed to change it to mine. BT couldn't just change the name on the account; oh no, they had to close the
            • Well I'm with Eclipse and I'm not aware of any major changes to my ADSL service, but perhaps that's the point as there have definitely been changes - eg it went from 512Kbps fixed to user-variable up to 2Mbps to 8Mbps, all without any issues that affected me.

              Yes, Eclipse here as well. I only stated I know categorically that Zen follow procedure because I know someone who works in the NOC. With Eclipse I've had three periods of downtime in the last three years, two of which were BT issues with the local MUX

  • It does make you wonder why they simply didn't put proxy servers in place to proxy the new service by modifying the old settings in the network and give their customers time to switch over without their e-mail breaking in the meantime. Or even a simple ActiveX tool to help out the less technical users."

    Its because they are incompetent or they want the whole project to fail. I'd put more faith in the first reason. You see, I have seen more incompetent "computer gurus" in the past few years than one can imagine.

  • This was obviously caused by stupid, useless instructions from Sky's tech support people, and not a Google Docs issue. All the same, I smell a big fat troll here... ActiveX? Are you out of your mind?
    • I strongly disagree.

      As a systems manager, in my experience any set of instructions which is longer than one page including screenshots is too complicated and liable to all sorts of breakage. If your process requires much more than that, it needs simplifying if you are to have a hope of it being followed properly.

      There are a few exceptions to this, but most of them concern systems which do something of a specialist nature, and you're describing it to an audience which will understand what the system is tryi
    • All I can say is: Feed the trolls, tuppence a bag, Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag.
      • Admiral Wiggin, sir! From your use of the expression "tuppence a bag" I take it you must be an old Brit?
        • Oh yeah... a bit of Googling revealed that it is indeed from a "Mary Poppins" song. How delightful!
          • Yeah, I can only wish I wasn't some kind of sad Geek reading Slashdot to pass the time, and were instead an "Old Brit". Great movie about taking sugar to get the drugs down, though! :)
  • Being an IT bod, people ask you about their home computers, and why has Sky BB email suddenly stopped with some bizare msgs.

    I told him, if you haven't changed anything and its been going on for a day or two give em a ring. So he did. Got through all the usual stuff. Only on the fourth call did they inform him he needed to change his settings. The guy didn't elaborate, but I wasn't that interesting.

    What a mess.
  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @07:42AM (#21470141)
    The guide or howto for the migration appears to be fool proof. But I wonder whether there could be any technical problem with the migration. Is it possible that Google servers have been overwhelmed by the change that appears to be abrupt?
    • I have to disagree with your comment that the guide is foolproof. While your average /. user would have no problems, the guide is just way too long for a typical non-technical user who's already going to be in a state of trepidation. One little step missed and reality diverges from the guide, and with that many steps it's not going to be hard for my grandmother to miss one of them.

      They're also committing the cardinal sin of giving users options that they're not going to understand:

      Choose what you woul
    • In order to read email or change POP settings you had to log into your account, jump through some hoops etc. etc.The servers went into melt down.

      As everybody got home from work to find that to even read their email, let alone change settings to allow POP, they had to login via Skys site - which just couldn't take it.

      I wasn't able to change my settings until about 6 hours after I got home. It wasn't a snappy experience, each page took ages to load and often timed out...
    • The guide or howto for the migration appears to be fool proof.
      Every I make this fool proof, they build a better fool
  • I see where Sky mentions Google docs in their instructions, however the instructions they gave their users only pertained to changing a few email settings. What does this have to do with Google docs? I use Google docs; is this something different Sky has set up with Google to make their customers think they are getting something special? You know, like AOL use to do with their "free" virus "protection", and their super "fast" dial up, and all their "crappy" adware.

    Furthermore, unless Sky is a strange ISP,

    • ISPs have a wide range of customers. Asking an elderly customer or computer illiterate person to switch to webmail is like asking them to convert religions. Is Sky changing their customers' addresses too?
      • by mo^ ( 150717 )
        Reminds me of the time i created a Firefox shortcut to open up a webmail page and gave it an Outlook Express in order to get my dad to click it.

        New interface, no problem - getting it into his head that he no longer clicked the little envelope icon... impossible.
  • I had a similar experience when i migrated my personal domain to google apps personal (no fee) from dotmac.
    I had a set of family groups for my dotmac domain and email IDs.
    When i moved it to Google Apps i ended up trouble shooting homepage and pages issues so much that i stopped with mail, docs and pages.
    The homepage is still hosted by my dotmac.
    Secondly google apps personal does not allow you to upload a custom-made homepage.
    I use a PDF as a homepage for my family newsletter as it is easier for all browsers
  • I can't complain... (Score:3, Informative)

    by paj1234 ( 234750 ) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @07:48AM (#21470173)
    ...this problem has so far earned me GBP 70. I am a freelance computer repairer for home users. I have been to two homes to enable POP and alter the mail client settings. I charged them GBP 35 each. Enabling POP was a struggle because the Sky website didn't seem to want to work properly. After half an hour of trying in both cases I finally managed to reach the necessary check box on the webmail settings page and click Apply.

    Both the householders were completely baffled by this change that they never asked for. I told them both that Sky's helpline must be inundated by people literally crying on the phone, unable to understand what has happened and why their mail client doesn't work any more.
    • by 117 ( 1013655 )
      It earned me a bottle of Jamesons this morning for doing the same thing for a friend of mine - I too had the same problems with some of the Sky pages - no 404 or any other error, just a blank page which took several refreshes before it turned into an actual page. My friend had phoned Sky several times, one of which they were told that mail wasn't anything to do with them any more and to phone Google instead!
  • by The_reformant ( 777653 ) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @07:58AM (#21470197)
    This is one of many reasons most people I know don't use their ISP email. Apart from the obvious one that it doesnt usually follow you across ISPs.

    I have my work email for business / high priority stuff and web mail for my personal life, I thought this kind of setup was actually the norm.
  • by niceone ( 992278 ) * on Sunday November 25, 2007 @08:05AM (#21470227) Journal
    Might have surprised Mr Murdoch - he thought he owned all the papers.
  • Ownership of Sky (Score:2, Informative)

    by OAB ( 136061 )
    It's a bit misleading to say the Rupert Murdoch owns Sky, New International holds about 40% of Sky, and the Murdoch family hold just over 30% of News International. It's really an object lesson in how to maintain control with large but minority shareholdings.
    • by faloi ( 738831 )
      But it's true to form to only point out he's got some level of ownership when there's negative publicity. In the same way every negative story about Microsoft is going to include Bill Gates or Steve Ballmers name...regardless of whether they had anything to do with it. Positive stories (there are bound to be some, right?) don't include their names unless there's a direct quote from them. You can't continue to paint someone as evil unless you continually bring up their name in negative articles.
    • Yeah, but then it seem like Murdoch owns about 95% of TheEarth plc and so it's all his anyway.
  • Why POP? Why not IMAP? and secondly, why are there not Mail SRV Records in their DNS Tables to automatically redirect the E-mail clients transparently?
    • Your post doesn't make a lot of sense. MX and SRV are entirely different records. Could you give a real world example of how you'd configure DNS so that the clients were migrated transparently without causing chaos? Moreover, how can any of this impact things like Outlook?
      • Outlook may not support this, but some mail clients can use a SRV Record to determine Where its SMTP and POP or IMAP are. It can't affect authentication, but, it can affect redirection.

        $ORIGIN _tcp.domain.
        _imap SRV 0 0 143 mail.domain.
        _pop3 SRV 0 0 110 mail.domain.
        _smtp SRV 0 0 25 mail.domain.

        Like that.
        • by jcuervo ( 715139 )
          I believe you can do the same thing with DHCP.

          option pop-server ip-address [, ip-address... ];

          The POP3 server option specifies a list of POP3 servers available to
          the client. Servers should be listed in order of preference.


          option smtp-server ip-address [, ip-address... ];

          The SMTP server option specifies a list of SMTP servers available to
          the client. Servers should be listed in order of preference.

          I don't know how well Windows c

  • How on Earth did this "plan" make it through to the execution phase? I'm sorry Sky techs, but when I read this, sitting as I am on a Sunday with nothing in particular taking up my sweet time, all I could think was "Ha ha...ha ha haa haaaaaaaa you poor bastards!"

    All I can imagine is that nobody who was anywhere near reality was behind this...i.e. consultants. Anyone with a passing regard for humans using computers would have come up with something better.

  • by phoxix ( 161744 ) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @08:47AM (#21470391)
    In Google there exists a paradigm that states email is all about the "conversation". Because email is all about the conversation the result is for people to not receive their own posts to a mailing list. (Instead they simply have a copy of it from their sent mail folder in the "stack".) This might work great for the web interface, but not at all for POP3.

    POP3 clients (simple or advanced) do not following this "conversation" paradigm, and by not getting a copy of their own post two things happen: A) You have no confirmation the post made it to the list and B) you break threading on the email client because now people are responding to a message that never made it on my list.

    The sad part is attempting to send yourself a copy of the message via CC: or BCC: does not work! Its like Gmail went out of its way to ensure you do not get a copy of your own post. Additionally while Google searching suggests there is an option to get yourself a copy of your own post, I was unable to find it anywhere.

    I feel sorry for any of these people who are being switched over to Gmail's POP3 and are on mailing lists.

    Others have written about the situation as well: Gmail + POP + mailing lists = broken []

    • That means Gmail is broken, period. If it /dev/nulls any message at all without your consent, it's broken. So, as usual, you get what you pay for.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      My experience with gmail has been that it ALWAYS gives you your sent mail when you access it on POP3. In fact, it's really annoying. It would be even more annoying if the mailing lists returned it too, since then you'd get it twice. That post you linked to is pretty old, so maybe it used to work the way you describe in January, but not now.
    • There is a solution: []. Just prefix your POP client's POP server login information with recent: e.g. would become

      However, there are a couple of caveats:

      1) It'll re-download all your mail for the past 30 days, so you'll end up with a bunch of duplicate mail in your POP client which you'll have to delete. This only happens when you change the setting, so you'll only have to deal with it the once.

      2) You'll start
  • I really don't get what all the fuss is about. For over a year now I've used gmail with an MUA (sylpheed) for all email. It was no harder than setting up ISP email. There are no magic tricks or anything, just enter settings and use email! I have to wonder, what would these people do in case of a real problem? And who set up their email the first time?
  • Let s be serious... Any Senior Sysadmin will have a better plan to migrate all this account. Currently in my University we have 4000 accounts and going to 44000 on December. We cant plan everything but the first batch was a success. What make the first migration batch a success: 1- More staff on Help Desk; 2- No choices ( the more choices the user has, more expensive it gets). 3- Communication, Personal Letters, Banners, Kiosks. 4- Feedback and control. What what is going wrong and fix it fast. Google apps
  • Good Lord. I thought we had it rough when the local ISP I work for migrated mail servers internally for 20000+ users this summer. Even shifting people over in small batches and providing instructions for multiple e-mail clients(unlike Sky), we still ended up with about half our userbase calling in over a 2-3 month period as we rolled it out. Regular staff was putting in overtime and some temps* were brought on to help out, but it was still quite the nonstop parade of callers. And of course, they're runn

  • I am a sky ISP subscriber and I hadn't even heard about this!!!

    Shocking service.


  • Well according to a doughnut at the BBC he seems to think it is the users and not Sky at fault But I am starting to think that anyone who can't follow the step-by-step guide to updating their Outlook account settings really shouldn't be using e-mail at all - they clearly have so little understanding of the technology in their hands that it's like letting a small child play with an unlicensed nuclear reactor. []
  • My company does Google Apps migrations as a service to ISPs and other companies. Yes, it is sometimes tricky. However, it looks like Sky did the right thing here in providing a service window for people to be able to access their old email, and use the new Google Apps (Gmail Client). There are some shortcomings to the Google Apps API that make some bulk management tasks cumbersome, but they are improving it all the time and for the most part the advantages to the ISP (low cost, reliable service) and the

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun