April 27, 2009

Cmail – Dawn of a New Era

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So as many of you already know through reading the Sun or word of mouth, Cornell WebMail has now been skinned with Gmail to form Cmail. Curious, I decided to take it for a spin and try it out.

Once I had set up the account, the resulting page looked a lot like my iGoogle home page, only with a giant banner on the top of the page reminding me that I’m looking at a Cornell-run page instead of my own.

Certainly this is a general improvement over the fiasco that is Cornell’s own server (remember when course enroll started and the server went down several times?), but it’s not perfect, and I’ll tell you why:

The first question that popped into my head when I had to change my password to activate this was “Why?” Cornell doesn’t actually maintain these servers – rather, the university acts as the local administrators of the server, which includes setting up student accounts and managing mail routing. With that in mind, changing our passwords seemed plain dumb when CIT has basically created all our accounts and all we really needed to do was to activate them. Instead, we had to go through the setup process all over again, which seemed like a waste of time.

The homepage, while looking a lot like the iGoogle homepage, does not actually work like iGoogle for some odd reason. Basically, if I wanted to check my mail, rather than using a javascript function to open my mailbox in the page itself, it opens up a gmail account page and I have to browse through there. A minor complaint, though a definite usability issue.

Finally, because the service is offered through google, it will be logged as outoing data and contribute to your off-campus traffic. I’m not sure how much that is, but considering I’ve been using iGoogle for a good few months and have only gone over the limit once, it’s fair to say that this won’t make a significant contribution to the 10 GB per month allowance.

Overall though, there are really not many bad things with this new service and I welcome it with open arms. The interface is fairly intuitive, it supports IMAP and POP so you can hook your Cmail account up to a mobile device, and there’s more space to store your mail. And because it’s using off-campus traffic to check mail anyways, it’s now easier to just use Cmail as a primary email source rather than routing all campus mail to other email accounts. Finally, we are allowed to keep these accounts after graduation as far as we know, so if you want to keep flaunting that @cornell.edu email for future resumes, you still can.

For more information, go here and be enlightened.

P.S. Cornell is also working on another system called Umail that should be available in Fall 2009 for all students in conjunction with Cmail. It features an extended mailbox and even more capabilities. This will still probably count against off-campus traffic, but definitely will be a good addition to Cmail and a vast improvement on the atrocious system that is the current server.