Recent changes to the webmail system are the fruit of Information Technology's (IT) nearly summer-long labor. For roughly 33 days from the first of July into August, IT worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week to convert the College's e-mail system from Exchange 2007 to the current 2010 edition of the program.
The upgrade, which required the IT team to transfer the entire community's stored e-mails over to the new program, was a time consuming project, but one that the team hoped would lead to a more consistent experience among users and ultimately a more satisfied community.
"We had to get it to a place where everyone was using the same system," said Chief Information Officer Mitch Davis, discussing the incongruity that the old Webmail displayed between different operating systems.
"The people that suffered the most through that were the students who use Macs, because when they saw what they got compared to what the Windows people got, they were very upset. And I sat here with them and I agreed with them," said Davis.
IT began working on this issue in January of 2010, and were ready to implement the change in July.
"The goal from a client perspective is that you can sit on any computer and have the same experience," said Director of Systems and Programming Adam Lord. "The core functionality of the entire system hasn't really changed, but really the view into it is where you should see improvements-what you see at the front end and with the tools available to you."
Notable points in the change include e-mail conversations appearing grouped together, increased calendar capabilities (particularly for Mac users) the ability to scroll through mail, and the consistent appearance of the system to all clients.
The calendar function is now a more helpful tool, noted Systems Engineer II Mike Bowden.
"The real problem was for the Mac users on the old version," said Bowden. "They could only see, I think, seven days out in the calendar, so they didn't really have a month view."
This upgrade came just a year after the College switched to the 2007 edition, citing slowness and database sizing issues as the reason for the departure from the previous system.
IT was actually able to save money by using the same equipment to make this change, as was used in last summer's crossover. This, however, required precision and efficiency in data migration from the team—a challenge that Bowden likened to "changing the tires of a moving car."
After the work though, IT staff members have said they are pleased with the results.
Deputy Chief Information Officer Rebecca Sandlin said that "no complaints from students have been brought up" in weekly IT meetings and noted that "for people who just want to self-support, going out to the website and getting instructions is so much easier now."
Student reaction to the update has been relatively quiet.
"I feel like it's really nice being able to see the other conversations you've had, because it shows up with all the past e-mails with that person or that group," said James Chen '12. "I think it's very easy to use and very user-friendly." Chen added that he has not heard any issues with the upgraded system.
Steph Ludy '13 said she initially was unhappy with the grouping of conversations.
"I noticed the conversations have been grouped together and, at first, I didn't really like it because I didn't notice that if three people do the same conversation, you cant really see your new mail," Ludy said. However, after using it for a month she said, "Now I like it because it's easier to delete stuff."
Sarah Fiske '13 said her Outlook experience was unaffected by the upgrade.
"I think it looks different but I think other than that, I haven't noticed very many differences," Fiske said. More impressive, according to Fiske, was the initiative taken in updating the system.
"I think it's great that Bowdoin keeps changing stuff and working on it if some people don't like it," she said.
Manager of the IT Help Desk Juli Haugen said that the move has been a smooth transition for students.
"I have not gotten any problems," only easy-to-answer questions, Haugen said. "Many of the difficulties have been 'I used to do it this way in the old webmail, how do I do this in the new webmail?'"
IT does, however, recognize that there will be some users who prefer the 2007 edition.
Davis suggested holding a quick meeting to brief students on how to take advantage of the new features of the upgraded system and emphasized the importance of student input.
Davis said, "I think that since I'm not a student, I try to look for students to say, 'hey it would be great if we had this.'"
Sandlin echoed this sentiment.
"We definitely had a lot of input from students over the past few years" to note concerns and problems, she said. "We really had kind of a list that we were working from to fix all those things and it wasn't acceptable unless we could fix those problems and concerns that students had."