Tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of Google Chromebooks, widely prized by schools due to their low cost and ease of configuration, were reported to be offline for several hours on Tuesday. The apparent cause? A seemingly botched WiFi policy update pushed out by Google that caused many Chromebooks to forget their approved network connection, leaving students disconnected.
Google first gave schools a heads-up via Twitter after the fact, indicating there was a fix.
That disclosure led to dismayed reaction by educators, some of whom had Chromebook installations in the thousands.
Reddit, too, suddenly had multiple discussions popping up with school tech directors offering advice and condolences to each other. Downdetector indicated a large number of reported outages roughly during the same period.
For its part, Google lists the Chromebook WiFi problem as a “known issue” on its business and education help site, adding, “We have addressed the root cause of this issue, but due to the nature of issue, the fix does not take effect until affected devices connect to networks and refresh policies. We are investigating additional options to resolve this issue.” (Update 6:20 pm: Google has published a linked help article providing five options for re-connecting Chromebooks to managed networks, and more specifics on who was likely affected.)
Some schools said they had found a workaround of their own: Creating an open, “guest” WiFi network, telling students to connect to it, and then forcing the corrected policy to the Chromebooks.
That’s not without risks, because students are connecting — even if briefly — to an open, unsecured network. Still, it may make for a better Wednesday for some schools.
GeekWire reached out to Google for more information about the cause and scope of the Chromebook issue, and will update this post if more details become available.