By Alfea Donato
On the heels of considerable hype, Ryerson will officially make the switch to the Google educaton suite Thanksgiving weekend.
In addition to the Gmail e-mail client, which will include 25 GB of storage (RMail was only equiped with one GB), users will have access to a number of google apps including voice calling, instant messaging and document sharing.
Students who want to use Gmail will need to opt in through my.ryerson and follow the instructions that will be available on Oct. 5.
Brian Lesser, Ryerson’s computing and communications services director, says that the switch to Gmail emerged from financial hurdles and ongoing frustrations with RMail.
In 2011, an advisory committee was formed to look over alternatives to the school’s current email system.
At first, hosting with Google was not considered because of the United States Patriot Act, an antiterrorism measure that allows U.S. law enforcement to view personal records without an individual’s knowledge or consent.
With privacy being the school’s primary concern, Ryerson was initially hesitant to switch to Gmail.
But after a detailed meeting with Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, Lesser was told that the government would be able to access any of the school’s information regardless of which client they chose.
“She told us the Patriot Act is a red herring,” said Lesser. “If you’re hosting in Canada or the States, there’s little difference… [the] Secret Service can do anything.” Microsoft was another company in contention for Ryerson’s virtual affections, but while they were offering free services for students, they wanted payment for faculty and staff accounts.
Another possibility was for Ryerson to host and expand RMail, but that proved to be too costly.
“The normal model of ‘let’s go buy something’ wasn’t going to work,” said Lesser.
In the end, Google’s user interface, document collaboration, features and free services won Ryerson over.
However, the relationship is far from idyllic. Even after three rounds of beta testing, involving around 330 students, faculty and staff, problems have subsisted.
Configuring Google Apps to mobile devices though the use of a Google Token (a randomly generated string of characters required to set up certain clients) was a common concern. But overall, Lesser is pleased with the criticism.
“It’s really great to get feedback from a lot of people,” he says, adding that a mailing list and the student help desk will field future complaints after Google Apps’ launch.