University Information Technology staff are in the process of deciding on a new e-mail vendor to replace WebMail. After surveying students, IT found that the current system has many weaknesses and student complaints, ranging from slow speed to too much spam, although IT has been trying to put a stop to spam as of late.

“Key drivers under consideration include improving the quality of service, strengthening the range of what we can offer in an e-mail service and modernizing the environment in a way that students see an improvement over what they are using today,” Assistant Director of University Information Technology Norm Acunis said.

However, the biggest issue with WebMail seems to be its lack of other functions besides receiving and delivering basic e-mail.

“It’s just not a dynamic system,” Students’ Association Vice President and junior Janna Gewirtz said. “E-mail systems include much more than just e-mail.”

IT has been working all year to find a better solution to undergraduate student e-mail. In the fall, IT collected data from information and technology research and advisory firm Gartner, Inc. IT also received information from EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology.

In addition, IT has been looking at peer institutions and their e-mail providers. Northwestern University, University of Arizona, Columbia College, Houston Baptist University, Abilene Christian University and Chowan University already use Gmail. Soon, Oberlin College and Rochester Institute of Technology will join them. University of Pennsylvania uses Microsoft as their e-mail provider, soon to be joined by Pomona College.

Google’s Gmail, Zimbra,Yahoo and Microsoft were all up for consideration. IT received proposals from these e-mail providers in February and has met with Gewirtz and surveyed many student groups, using the Student Information Technology Survey, which had questions regarding e-mail preference.

Analyst and Programmer for University Information Technology Steven Song met with the SA Senate on Monday, March 31.

“I brought him to Senate because he asked for feedback from students,” Gewirtz said. “IT had been really trying to make sure that they understand what students want before committing to any program. But they do recognize the issues with our current e-mail system and are certainly looking into ways to fix them.”

After this meeting, IT began to evaluate student feedback and the survey findings. The Senate seemed overwhelmingly in support of Gmail.

“Within the Senate, there was a consensus that Google was the primary service that students used,” Gewirtz said.

Song compared Zimbra’s, Google’s and Microsoft’s various attributes, such as costs and inbox size. Google emerged from this cross-comparison as a superior service. Zimbra costs $14.99 per mailbox, while Google and Microsoft are free. According to Song, this eliminated Zimbra right off the bat. Also, Google has unlimited inbox size, while Microsoft caps at five gigabytes. After this initial comparison, IT also compared calendar offerings, limits on attachment size in e-mails and advertising. Google offers GCal, while Microsoft has Outlook. Both e-mail providers have 20 MB limits on e-mail attachments. Both services have no advertising for undergraduates but alumni accounts are advertising-supported.

Lastly, IT compared issues such as service support and privacy terms. Google has a web-based support center with phone and e-mail support, for administrators. If Microsoft is chosen, UR would provide front line support and Microsoft also provides a web-based support service.

Privacy terms on sharing user information with internal sources and external partners differs between the two services. For Gmail administrators, Gmail privacy policies apply, whereas with Microsoft, UR’s security policies apply.

All services being considered will be expensive to switch to, and Acunis made clear that no final decisions have been made.

“If we go forward, we hope to do so by the fall, but [we] have not made a final decision,” Acunis said.

Schneier is a member of the class of 2011.



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