USG program evaluates Gmail, Office 365 as possible replacements for current webmail
Students participating in the program are assigned to test either Google Apps for Education, which offers Gmail and other Google products, or Microsoft Office 365, which offers Exchange 2010, SharePoint and Office applications like Word and Powerpoint.
Former USG president Michael Yaroshefsky ’12 announced the program to students in an email sent Feb. 2 and encouraged students to sign up to test the products.
Yaroshefsky said that the motivation behind the webmail improvements reflects students’ frustration that free services such as Gmail are better than the current service.
“This is an issue that students have said is a priority over the years, and especially if you compare the webmail provided by the University and the webmail students can get for free by Gmail and Microsoft, it becomes clear that these systems have features that make them more attractive,” Yaroshefsky said.
The need for an improved webmail system is not a new issue. Yaroshefsky said the USG has been working with OIT to reform it since he served as the USG IT chair in 2009.
He acknowledged, however, that technological and policy changes hindered any changes from being quickly implemented.
One policy obstacle is privacy concerns over what companies like Google would do with student data and the University’s ability to access data from student accounts.
Yaroshefsky said that the University would need to monitor student emails if a student and a professor disagreed about whether an assignment submitted by a student to a professor arrived before a deadline, for instance.
Under the current WebMail system, the University is able to use the server to access such correspondence.
The pilot program is intended to help OIT figure out which system, Google or Microsoft, is the most manageable according to the needs of the University.
Joseph Karam, the manager of enterprise services at OIT, said that the pilot program should be concluded in early March. At that point, OIT will collect feedback from all students involved and hopefully make a recommendation about how to proceed by April. He noted that the piloted systems were chosen based on how easily they can be supported by OIT.
OIT is still in the process of setting up this program, Karam said. Joshua Haecker ’13 said in an email that, though he applied to be part of the pilot program, he has not yet heard from OIT about how to begin the process of setting up his email under the new Microsoft system.
“Although I applied to the program, I never actually got an invite to it, so I have no idea how the Microsoft 365 version is,” he said. “Or perhaps they just forgot to send me information on how to access it.”
Stephen Pollard ’12 also said in an email that, though he signed up for the program, he hasn’t heard any further information from OIT.
The new webmail offering will be available to the Class of 2016 and for all existing undergraduates as well.