NU Gives WebMail Facelift, Upgrade

Abha Bhattarai

By Abha BhattaraiThe Daily Northwestern

Despite plans to switch student e-mail to a solution powered by Google’s Gmail in June, Northwestern University Information Technology will unveil a more stable and functional version of WebMail Wednesday, according to a university-wide e-mail sent March 21.

The new system, which uses a popular freeware service called the Internet Messaging Program, will include an extra navigation bar, collapsible menus and support for text in other languages.

The university has been looking to replace the current WebMail system, which uses software from Massachusetts-based Emumail, for “a year or so,” said Dennis Sage, NUIT’s associate director of technology support services.

The university has used Emumail since 2002, but Sage said the service has been unreliable and unstable.

“Everyone across the board – students, faculty, staff members – had problems with it,” Sage said.

“Sometimes up to two or three users a week would access their WebMail and find that all of the mail in their inbox had been deleted. We weren’t getting the response we expected.”

Sage said the changes will improve performance and make WebMail more efficient.

“We made a point to carry over as many features and functions as we could,” Sage said. “Things will look a little different than they do (now), but it’ll be a cleaner, nicer interface.”

With the new system, students won’t need to choose their individual e-mail servers, such as casbah or hecky.

Sage said students whose WebMail address books include more than one email address per entry may face problems converting to the new system.

“But,” he said, “we’re going to be able to convert more than 99.9 percent of the addresses out there without any problems.”

NUIT officials announced in February that NU will abandon its WebMail service in June in favor of a service provided for free by Google through its Google Apps for Education program.

The new solution will include two gigabytes of space, a calendar and an instant messaging service.

Faculty and staff members will continue to use the new WebMail system.

“We needed to do something to have a more reliable system,” Sage said. “Between now and (June), hopefully students will have a better experience with WebMail.”

Students said they welcome the change.

“I use WebMail but I think it’s really horrible,” said Kelli Wilbert, a Weinberg junior. “There are a lot of little technical problems, and attachments are really slow sometimes. The whole system needs an update.”

However, some students said they would not be affected by the change because they route their NU e-mail to other programs.

“I don’t have any contact with the WebMail site,” said Communication sophomore Jenn Walsh, who forwards her e-mail to a Gmail account and then downloads them onto Microsoft Outlook. “It’s just simpler when you don’t have to worry about WebMail.”

Reach Abha Bhattarai at [email protected]