For those who haven't yet heard, it has recently been announced (not so recent at Microsoft) that OSU is in the process of outsourcing the central e-mail system to one of Microsoft's datacenters.1 Over this spring, OIT will migrate our e-mail accounts over to a new server at Microsoft. Once your account is migrated, you will no longer access your e-mail at webmail.osu.edu, but at buckeyemail.osu.edu which redirects to a live.com login page. While your old address will still forward to the new one, your e-mail address will be changed from email@example.com to firstname.lastname@example.org. The program they are using is called Live@edu and is, at a glance, a custom student form of Microsoft's hotmail. This article takes a look at some of the advantages of the migration (which are certainly nothing to blow off), but then at some serious concerns that need to be addressed.
Those who know me probably know that I'm going to give a rather harsh review to this new service. To be fair, the new e-mail system will offer a number of advantages over the e-mail service currently provided to students so let's start with those. In particular, we currently have a quota limit of 15 MB, but new storage will offer 10 GB, or 10,000 MB, which is comparable to GMail. Microsoft boasts the following benefits to universities who outsource e-mail to them, and are not trivial:
Another concern is the possibility that the Buckeyemail login page won't remain accessible to users of non-Microsoft software such as Mac/Linux users. While they boast that their page is fully accessible to users of Safari and Firefox, and e-mail can currently be accessed securely by POP and IMAP, Microsoft has a long history of vendor lock-in by a policy they define as the 3 E's: Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish. Microsoft embraces a new technology by developing software of their own as a public standard or at least full interoperability, extends on this technology with proprietary features to prevent or limit compatibility with non-Microsoft products, and finally extinguishes competition by using this lack of compatibility to drive customers away from competitors. In summary, this means that once people are used to the new service or depend on it, Microsoft can feel free to remove that compatibiility for anything but their own web browser. This means that college students may in the future be forced to use the latest Windows operating system with Internet Explorer, or simply find themselves locked out of their school e-mail. It's not a very unrealistic possibility since the premium features of Live@edu are only available to users of Microsoft Internet Explorer, and several of their related pages [1, 2] are already requiring use of the latest version of Silverlight™ which is unavailable for Linux.
OSU has had a great many problems with their e-mail. Their quota is among the lowest offered by universities, compared to the largest sum of students in the country. The servers are malfunctioning at a rate only someone who had no life (wasn't in college) could keep track of the downtime. OSU's IMAP servers still don't have proper SSL configuration.3 In conclusion a change in the way our e-mail is handled may be much-needed, but I don't think this is what we're looking for. Basically, all they're doing is giving up managing e-mail for us and replacing our accounts with customized Hotmail™ accounts, which you can normally get for free here. In fact, aside from having a .edu domain, and (supposedly) no ads, there is no difference between these accounts and hotmail accounts. I admit that OSU's tuition is cheap compared to other schools, but I didn't think that's what we were paying for. It seems, in summary, too many students are forwarding their messages to GMail, so Microsoft is giving them Hotmail accounts before that happens...