Wising up to Gmail

On Wednesday, August 26, at 7:59 a.m. Albion students, faculty and staff logged onto the familiar Novell GroupWise e-mail system for the last time.

From 8:00 a.m. on, all Albion users would be accessing their e-mail through Gmail, the free e-mail service provided by Google. The college chose to switch for financial reasons—the move saved them about $18,000 annually—as well as the additional features and ease of management offered by Gmail, according to Scott Stephens, associate vice president for information services.

“It also simplified a lot of what we did because we maintained for alumni a separate e-mail system (called Imail) that was apart from GroupWise because our GroupWise agreement only allowed active students, faculty and staff to participate,” Stephens said.

Albion is not alone in its decision to switch to Gmail. Hope College, Oberlin College and Notre Dame University have also made the transition.

“A lot of educational institutions are using it,” said Kurt Ashley, director of systems and networking. “Notre Dame is one of the larger ones that use it. If it’s good enough for Notre Dame, I think it’s good enough for us.”

Because the college has been using GroupWise for 10 years, the changeover has required adjustments on the part of both students and staff, according to Ashley.

One of the biggest changes is the inability to create shared folders in Gmail, a tool available in GroupWise that was commonly used by student organizations and professors to keep their members and students up to date.

“It’s not right in the mail browser like it was in GroupWise, unfortunately, but we’re going from a product we paid a significant amount of money for to a free product,” Ashley said. “There’s going to be a few things that are going to be different and maybe even a few features specific to GroupWise that we’re not going to get.”

Ways to work around the absence of shared folders include using Google documents to create files that can be edited by anyone they are sent to or using on-campus servers to create shared folders, according to Ashley.

Switching to Gmail has also allowed users to store much more content in their inboxes, which is one of the best features of the new system, according to Ashley. Gmail offers seven gigabytes of storage, while GroupWise only offered 250 megabytes for students. (One gigabyte equals one thousand megabytes).

“So going from (250 megabytes) to seven gigs, just the amount of disk space we would have had to purchase would have been an astronomical amount of money,” Ashley said. “Now, instead of telling people to archive their mail, we can say, ‘You have seven gigs. Save whatever you want and you’ll be fine.’”

According to Stephens, the ability to attach and send larger file sizes in a single e-mail increased from seven megabytes in GroupWise to 20 megabytes in Gmail.

Shu He, Guangzhou, China junior, said that at this point, she prefers GroupWise to Gmail.

“You don’t have address groups, really; you can download from the IT Web site, but it’s still not very convenient,” He said. “The other thing is that with GroupWise, you can add people to a shared folder. Now we don’t have that.”

However, He said she enjoys some of the features specific to G-mail.

“There’s more space, and it’s faster,” He said. “You can attach a large file, so it’s very good. With GroupWise, you could only send two or three photos at the same time.”

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