College to release new Blitz for Macs
By Kate Farley
Published on Friday, September 28, 2007
Computing Services plans to roll out a new version of BlitzMail for Mac computers, an update that will feature encrypted messaging for the first time, but most students won't notice the behind-the-scenes changes. Developed in May 2006 by computer science doctoral candidate Chris Masone '02, the software should be available in late 2007.
Broader changes, including the possible introduction of an entirely new campus-wide e-mail system, may occur after a planned student-conducted study.
The use of encryption in the new BlitzMail software ensures that users on the wireless network cannot intercept and read other users' messages. Because the current version of BlitzMail does not encrypt messages, interception is theoretically possible.
The new software was first implemented through a pilot program in College President James Wright's office, but expanded only recently. David Bucciero, the director of Technical Services, said that more widespread distribution of the new software was delayed because Computing Services had to devote resources to upgrading the wireless network and the preparation for the Dartmouth-hosted Democratic debate.
Bucciero said that the software was further delayed by Apple's recent switch to Intel processors in new Mac computers. The switch necessitated changes to the program's code that ensured that the software is supported on both Macs with PowerPC processors and on those with Intel processors.
A full timeline for the campus-wide upgrade is still in the works, Bucciero said. The computing staff will likely be the first to make the switch, allowing them to further test the product in a real-world environment. Then, the new program will be made available to students, faculty and other staff of the College.
Security updates to the BlitzMail software are purely internal and do not affect the appearance of the program or the user interface.
"Behind the scenes, though, it will be a better product," Bucciero said.
A comparable version of the software has not been released for Windows computers. Buccerio said that he does not expect that one will be developed, as Windows users currently have the option to send encrypted BlitzMail messages using the existing software by first logging in to Kerberos.
Doug Hornig, senior programming director at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, which owns the code for the Windows edition of the BlitzMail client, confirmed that updates to the that version are unlikely.
"In terms of updating the software, we really have no plans at this point," Hornig said, though he added that a change was not outside the realm of possibility.
Hornig said that since all DHMC users log in first with Kerberos, he has no concerns about unencrypted messages.
The Dartmouth e-mail system as a whole may also be changed, an effort which may include a thorough update of BlitzMail.
BlitzMail was last updated in 2000 and its interface lags behind comparable e-mail programs such as Mozilla Thunderbird and Microsoft Outloook. Most notably, BlitzMail messages cannot display formatting or embedded links.
Bucciero said that in his opinion, the change may take time.
"It's outdated software, but it's ingrained in the Dartmouth culture," he said. Bucciero said that Computer Services was still unsure if BlitzMail would be upgraded or entirely replaced.
"We have to make a decision," he said. "Do we do something new, or build up what we already have?"
Bucciero said that the results of the planned study by a yet-to-be-determined student group will be a key factor in the decision. The study is scheduled for later this academic year.