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New Buckeyemail at OSU

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 name.## [at] osu.edu to name.## [at] buckeyemail.osu.edu. 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:

  • 10 GB of storage for all users (over 5 GB offered to other schools)
  • Lifetime of full service, even after graduating
  • 25 GB Remote storage on "Sky Drive"
  • Instant messaging with other members of university
  • All of the above, while maintaining your .edu address and credibility
  • Full compatibility with non-Microsoft software such as Mozilla

As you can probably tell by the way the link above forwards to a Microsoft website, your e-mail is actually stored on one of Microsoft's own servers; it is no longer stored on OSU's servers despite the domain ending with "osu.edu". I may not be the only person who is worried about the outsourcing of our e-mail to Microsoft. While I admit that privacy in e-mail is often over-estimated, the only people who had the ability to read your school e-mails was OSU's e-mail administrators, who were relatively respectful of students' privacy and compliant with applicable laws. Now, with all the storage on Microsoft's own servers, it is Microsoft who has the ability to read your e-mails and there is no way to ensure they don't. In fact, according to their privacy policy they will. For those who are not concerned with their privacy, this is obviously a moot point. e-mail providers are able to stay in business because there is a market for reading people's e-mail, largely for the "marketing research". Google's GMail is a prime example of this, and as seen with Hotmail, Microsoft too is interested in this part of the advertising market. Given the privacy policy linked to from the sign-in page, (and from above), I can only imagine Microsoft would like to study college students from their e-mail accounts as well. For many, the nearly limitless e-mail storage and amazingly effective spam filtering GMail had was enough that people were not particularly unhappy about Google reading their GMail, but since we as college students are paying a considerable fee for our tuition we should at least have the privacy guaranteed under the FERPA.

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[2] 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...

Link to Self-Service to change your E-mail Forwarding: http://8help.osu.edu/3172.html

Direct link to Account Management for your E-mail Settings: https://acctmgt.service.ohio-state.edu/

FTA: "It seems, in summary, too many students are forwarding their messages to GMail, so Microsoft is giving them Hotmail accounts before that happens..."

One can still do that...

Not that I necessarily would have stated it that way, but the vast majority of new students don't even know they have the option of forwarding their mail elsewhere.

That, and there are still faculty/staff who insist on e-mailing user [at] buckeyemail.osu.edu instead of user [at] osu.edu addresses.