Starting today until April 12, when all official College communication will be sent to the new accounts, students and alumni will have the opportunity to activate the new WMApps account and try out the software package prepared by Google.
"Google can offer a level of service and a suite of applications to our students that we could never have hoped to match with internally developed and maintained systems," said Courtney Carpenter, William & Mary's chief information officer.
WMApps, essentially a Google account that has been modified to fit the needs of William & Mary students, will come bundled with such applications as Google docs, chat, video, and calendar in addition to the mail service. The WMApps service, which is only currently available to students and alumni of the College since 2007, will also be changing student e-mail addresses from the WMuserid@wm.edu format to WMuserid@email.wm.edu. Faculty and staff will keep their current e-mail addresses.
Bonnie Fleming, project and support services manager for the College's Information Technology department, said that the change came about because the existing Mirapoint "webmail" hardware was becoming quickly outdated and unreliable in handling the 15,000-plus accounts that the College manages every day.
"The change occurred because we've had some performance issues with our current email system in large part due to when we began keeping accounts for all alumni back in March of 2007," Fleming said. "So basically, the volume of our mailbox has continued to increase and it's just a lot of e-mail, and our current system just cannot handle it without a major upgrade."
When it came time to choose what system to upgrade to, the College decided to look to Google and Microsoft for webmail solutions.
"We had been looking at going to Google or Microsoft anyways, because they were much more sophisticated products than what we already had, and could offer a lot more capability," said Fleming.
In the end, a committee composed of students and Information Technology staff evaluated the pros and cons of both the Google Mail system and the Microsoft Exchange program and decided that the programs that Google had to offer were more appropriate and student user-friendly.
"The students chose Google largely because it was familiar to them, they liked all the applications, and they liked the interface better," Fleming said. "I think more than anything, it was just being very familiar and being comfortable with the system."
Fleming especially noted that, in addition to e-mail, students felt the inclusion of Google applications such as Google Docs and video chat were apps that students already used on a regular basis and thought were convenient and useful.
The new e-mail system will closely mirror that of private Gmail users. Students will be given the same seven gigabytes, or 140 times the 50 megabyte limit the current webmail allots to individual students, that regular Gmail users are given. However, there will also be some tweaks to cater the system towards college students. For example, unlike regular Gmail, the WMApps interface will not have any ads.
The email service, which is provided free by Google, has already been adopted at the University of Virginia and Old Dominion University. Colleges are simply instructed to reconfigure servers so that they can work with sending and receiving electronic mail to and from Google.
"It's a very easy set up process," Fleming said. "Google has done this so much at this point that they have a lot of documentation and procedures set up. It's not been an issue getting help from them at all."
Students and alumni that want to know more about the change are encouraged to visit the WMApps section on the William & Mary Web site found at www.wm.edu/WMapps. Since all communications will be switched over to WMApps starting April 12, all students and alumni currently using Mirapoint "webmail" must create an account and switch over by this date.