Gmail: Friend or foe?

UPDATE: Well, having Google’s Calendar go down unexpectedly for the day is definitely one reason not to work with Google.

For awhile, libraries have been struggling with the relationship that is, that was, and that will be with Google.  The books project has been the major source of library controversy, but even now Gmail is facing scrutiny by larger government and academic institutions.  For example, UC Davis has decided to NOT use Gmail or the related Google applications over privacy and data security concerns.  This follows after the hold Yale placed on a similar transfer to Gmail as the school’s email platform while the City of Los Angeles did go full-throttle with the deal.    One of the main sticking points and concerns even for LA was the location of Google’s cloud servers for their email system.  Given the hack UC Berkeley experienced from China a year ago, location, location, location is becoming a prominent factor in Google’s functionality.  Even Google’s own problems with China and hackers haven’t gone unnoticed in the early part of 2010.  Using Gmail as a student, an instructor, and an employee has been quite easy as I an chat with my students within my email, schedule meetings with myself and other co-workers, and even track and graph course feedback without manual creation of graphs and data plotting.  As an undergrad, my school’s email system was hardly searchable and lacked integration with other resources, such as course pages, calendars, or documents.  Graduate school had a similar system which led me to rely on Gmail for collaborating on virtual group projects, papers, and presentations. Just as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer contains security vulnerabilities, I suspect Microsoft’s ability to provide a comparable and more secure email product.  Furthermore, logical access and usability design has not been Microsoft’s current strength in its product line (ahem, still having to explain how to use Microsoft Word 2007 in 2010, anyone?).  Even now, I am dabbling with Microsoft’s SharePoint and find myself endlessly frustrated with odd configurations; even for simple tasks like adding an anchor link to another part of the same webpage, I have to manually set the anchor in the HTML since there is no Rich Text method.  What have your experiences been with university email systems? Would Gmail be an improvement or a setback?

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