Microsoft to replace BlitzMail
By Elizabeth Sullivan, The Dartmouth Senior Staff
Published on Friday, August 6, 2010
Microsoft Online Services will replace BlitzMail as the College’s e-mail service provider, Vice President for Information Technology Ellen Waite-Franzen announced Thursday afternoon. College officials hope to fully transition to Microsoft Online Services for e-mail, calendar and collaboration tools by the end of the 2011 calendar year, according to Waite-Franzen, while the transition for students is slated to occur by Fall 2011.
College officials ultimately decided to adopt Microsoft as the new e-mail provider instead of Google due to Microsoft’s “integration and security” capabilities, Waite-Franzen said. The Communication and Collaboration Tools for Faculty and Students Study Group, chaired by computer science professor David Kotz, presented two alternatives to BlitzMail — one primarily involving Google and one primarily involving Microsoft — to the administration in May.
“We feel that Microsoft offers the most secure and best-integrated services for the campus,” Waite-Franzen said. “It’s a robust solution, and comparing it to Google, there’s more features to [Microsoft].”
The College needs to be able to “depend on its services working well,” and it is unclear whether all of Google’s resources are as reliable as those offered by Microsoft, according to Waite-Franzen.
“Google is ahead on a lot of the technologies that they develop, but if an application doesn’t get a lot of users, they just shut it down without notice — and you can’t take that in this enterprise,” she said.
College administrators and individuals at the Tuck School of Business currently use the program Microsoft Exchange On-Premises, a factor that contributed to officials’ decision, according to Waite-Franzen, because the new service provider will bring students and faculty under a single system. Parts of Dartmouth Medical School and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center are also already beginning to use Microsoft applications, Kotz added.
The study group’s majority proposal to the administration recommended that the College provide Google applications for students, faculty and staff under the College of Arts and Science, and to use Microsoft Online Services for Dartmouth Medical School. The majority proposal included, however, a caveat that if the administration chooses Microsoft for all of campus, the College should provide substantial support for the use of certain Google applications, according to the Computing Services website.
“There is a tension in providing two different platforms to the same campus — inevitably some people will be on Google and some people will be on [Microsoft] and this will lead to problems with interoperability,” Kotz said.
While the Class of 2011 will keep their BlitzMail accounts, the Class of 2015 will receive Microsoft accounts when they come to the College, according to an e-mail sent to the Dartmouth community by Provost Carol Folt Thursday afternoon. The Classes of 2012, 2013 and 2014, however, will make a “gradual” transition to the Microsoft program during the summer and fall of 2011, according to the e-mail.
Faculty members will also need to transfer their mailboxes to Microsoft Online Services “over a period of time in the second half of 2011,” and may choose their e-mail client from a variety of options including Microsoft Online Services, Outlook, Apple Mail and Thunderbird, the e-mail said. All users will still be able to forward their e-mail to other providers under the new system.
Computing Services will continue to support Google users by hosting training sessions within academic departments and with groups of students, Waite-Franzen said. Staff members will also be available to help students and faculty with any problems they might experience with the new system.
Since Microsoft’s calendar system does not sync with the Google calendar application, the College has encouraged users to transition to the new calendar system “as it becomes available,” according to the e-mail.
Computing Services will also support Microsoft SharePoint, which has similar applications and functions to Google Docs and has more options for sharing documents than Google tools, Waite-Franzen said.
Waite-Franzen said she expects that some students will be upset with the termination of BlitzMail.
“There’s a group of students who really love Blitz, and there’s no denying that,” Waite-Franzen said. “A lot of students use Gmail for personal accounts, and they really love Google. I’m sure there are students who will think that this is the wrong decision but we think it’s the right decision.”
Computing Services receives many complaints from freshman classes each year due to BlitzMail’s various shortcomings, Waite-Franzen said.
Several students interviewed by The Dartmouth said they were not looking forward to switching e-mail providers.
“In some ways, the old Blitz is outdated and needs to be given a boost, but old habits are hard to break,” Leni Marmarelis ’12 said.
Other students said they were not expecting the administration to choose Microsoft for its services.
“I’m surprised they’re not switching to Gmail,” Rachel Moncton ’12 said. “I know they gave some reasons, but everyone already has Gmail so it would have been so much easier to synchronize calendars, now we still have the problem of two e-mail systems.”
Kotz said that the group evaluated the Google and Microsoft programs “very heavily” in terms of privacy and security, but also considered interoperability with existing programs on campus.
“If you’re going to have your personal documents, term papers or calendars, you want them to remain private,” Kotz said.
Both Microsoft and Google offered “more than enough [storage] for most people,” so the issue of storage was never a focus among members of the study group, Kotz said.
“Details like that can change on a relatively frequent basis so it really couldn’t be a big factor in our decision,” he said.
The Microsoft client will offer each user 10 gigabytes of storage, compared to the half-gigabyte currently available to BlitzMail account-holders, according to Waite-Franzen.
Dartmouth alumni will still receive e-mail accounts through the College, and will maintain the option of forwarding e-mails to independent, private accounts, according to Folt’s e-mail.
The Office of Alumni Relations is currently carrying out its own process to explore possible changes to the alumni e-mail system, Kotz said.
BlitzMail nicknames will disappear under the new Microsoft system, but Dartmouth will developed a similar feature under Microsoft’s “alias” program, Waite-Franzen said. Students can choose alternatives to their full names, and other students will remain able to send messages to these alterative addresses.
“For many people, [Blitz nicknames have] been a problem,” she said. “It has been a reason why many people get spam mail or things get routed to the wrong mailboxes.”
The new e-mail service will function on any operating system, including Macintosh and Windows, and on all internet browsers, Waite-Franzen said.
Students, faculty and administrators — including members of the Council on Computing, appointees from the Student Assembly and Presidential Fellow Molly Bode ‘09 — composed the focus group responsible for finding BlitzMail alternatives.
Staff reporter Katie Gonzalez contributed to the reporting of this article.