Ah, noble SquirrelMail. Since the turn of the millennium, the open-source system has been providing acceptable, free email services to users across the Internet. Mount Royal adopted it around 2005 because it was the most popular open-source email system at the time. It replaced a clunky system that the school only used for a couple of years, which in turn had replaced a nightmarish program called Pegasus that students could only access after downloading a mail application.
Now, we’re running SquirrelMail. It’s safe to say no student would choose SquirrelMail over their personal email system. The system is sluggish, has only 100 megabytes of storage, lacks a sent message folder and is terribly outdated. Good thing it’s free. SquirrelMail launched in 1999 and has changed little in the past decade. Meanwhile, the Internet has evolved.
While students can submit multimedia assignments to professors via Blackboard and on-campus servers, SquirrelMail is impeding our ability to learn collaboratively. Many students prefer to use their superior personal email for schoolwork. The roadblock is “many” students does not include all students and Gmail and Hotmail don’t play nicely together in the game of collaboration. So, when one enterprising student suggests using a Google word document to fine-tune a group essay, he or she will nearly always be thwarted by at least one Squirrel-dependent student.
The University of Alberta began transitioning from their webmail program to Gmail at the end of January. They are the first school in Canada to negotiate a specific contract with Google to ensure their security needs are met. Unlike public Gmail, the U of A’s mail system will not be scanned for keywords for targeted advertising. There will be no ads. Plus, they’ll get the benefit of all the Google apps that regular Gmail users have including word collaborative word processing and a plush seven gigabytes of space.
Luckily, Mount Royal is running a pilot program right now, with both Google and Microsoft, all for free. What’s in it for them? Well, after four years of using a cutting edge email system, what do you think grads will use in the workforce?
We think it’s worth the switch. The sooner the better. Our productivity depends on it.