YaleMail receives upgrade under the surface

YaleMail accounts are getting a makeover, and while the face of the program may not change, it is what is on the inside that counts.

Last week, Information Technology Services announced plans to update Yale’s entire e-mail infrastructure in early 2008 by upgrading the IMAP protocol to a more secure hybrid environment, Susan Grajek, senior director of ITS Client Support, said. ITS will also integrate calendaring — currently offered through the Meeting Maker program — and e-mail into the Microsoft Exchange tool, Yale Connect, she said.

Use of Meeting Maker is currently limited to Yale faculty and administrators, but the upgrades to YaleMail will allow the entire Yale community access to the feature.

Grajek said the e-mail upgrade will not be noticeable on the surface, but the service’s infrastructure will be more reliable.

“We are going to retain the benefits of the old IMAP protocol we currently use but implement changes to it by improving the back end of the program,” she said. “It will be more dependable for students.”

Grajek said she hopes expanding e-mail capacity will eliminate the occasional glitches of service slowdown, as a result of which individual post offices go offline because of traffic. She also said the new system will allow ITS to perform maintenance on the program without service outages.

For Yale administrators and select faculty, the improvements will extend beyond e-mail to include options like calendaring — currently offered through the Meeting Maker program.

The Yale Connect program will replace current e-mail software and Meeting Maker with a consolidated tool that can synchronize with mobile devices — so deans can whip out their Blackberries to check e-mail and schedule appointments without ever entering the office.

“The neat thing about this change is that instead of opening two software packages, you can open one for both your e-mail and calendar, and it is synchronized manually to your mobile device,” Grajek said. “It will definitely make things a lot easier.”

The Yale Connect software will also include increased spam filtering, integration with the Microsoft Productivity Suite and improvements in managing e-mails and appointments.

Michella Brophy, administrative assistant to Berkeley College Dean Kevin Hicks, said she currently uses the Meeting Maker program to keep track of all the dean’s appointments, but she thinks the proposed calendar and e-mail consolidation will simplify the system.

“Meeting Maker is a very easy program to work with, but I think the changes would expedite work in general,” she said. “It would also be easier if this information was accessible off campus through mobile devices.”

Despite the benefits of Yale Connect, however, the service is not currently available to students, Grajek said. She said initially Yale Connect will only be an option for people who previously used Meeting Maker — about 6,000 faculty and administrators. Eventually, the program will expand to include other faculty members who did not use Meeting Maker, she said, but ITS has not yet decided whether to include students in the expansion.

Students interviewed said, even with the changes in the e-mail software that will affect students, YaleMail will still be a less viable option than other mail services.

Some students said ITS should improve even more aspects of YaleMail, particularly access in foreign countries and the options offered by the service, such as calendar tools and instant messaging systems.

“Because of the problems I encountered with YaleMail while working abroad, I switched to Gmail,” Blair Epstein ’09 said.

Epstein said Gmail allows her to chat with contacts, organize her e-mails and build her own calendar.

Others said that despite the anticipated improvements, they are satisfied with the current program and do not think the changes are necessary.

“I think the e-mail system is pretty good as it is right now,” Michelle Glienke ’11 said. “I have yet to experience any problems with it.”

But after assessing options for over a year, administrators said the changes in the current e-mail software were much needed to ensure that Yale software stayed up to date.

Grajek said ITS decided to switch to the Microsoft Exchange software at the suggestion of clients who had worked with the program at other universities. She said there has been a general gravitation toward the software within the Ivy League.

“We lost confidence in the Meeting Maker software,” she said. “The vendor is not positioned to support an enterprise like Yale or other higher education institutions like the Ivy League.”

ITS is currently preparing its arsenal of technology for the implementation of all the upcoming changes. Students will receive instructions on how to update their YaleMail accounts, but the Yale Connect software will have to be manually installed on faculty’s computers by an IT support provider, Grajek said.

“It is unprecedented to have a change of this magnitude,” she said. “But a change of this magnitude is very exciting because [we] will be able to offer so much better systems to the Yale community.”

Comments