Google recently scored one more university for its loyalty base.
The School of Arts and Sciences Computing Department will use Google Apps for Education and switch the official University email service to Gmail from Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail.
Current undergraduate and graduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences and Liberal Professional Studies students will be able to switch their University email accounts from Penn Live to Google@SAS this summer, if no problems arise. Incoming students will be offered a Gmail account in May.
The new service will first be tested by members of the Student Technology Advisory Board in the next few weeks and will then be tested by 250 students.
SAS Computing made the decision to switch after observing student email trends.
“We just saw more than 50 percent of students forward emails from their Hotmail to Gmail accounts and thought it would be more convenient this way,” said Chris Mustazza, the director of Social Sciences Computing and Student Technology.
SAS Computing also observed that incoming students would often have Hotmail accounts, but then switch to Gmail later in their college careers.
Mustazza said, “one interpretation of this is that students switch to Gmail over time because they prefer it to the Penn Live offering. Thus, we’ve made the effort to formalize a partnership with Google.”
Incoming students will be given Gmail accounts, and current students will be able to maintain their Hotmail accounts if they wish.
Mustazza said students will no longer have to “toggle” between two email accounts, adding that most students have personal accounts on Gmail.
The service would allow students to maintain two Gmail inboxes — professional and personal — in one account.
Because all of Google’s data is stored through cloud storage, privacy issues took the forefront when negotiating the contract.
Over the past year, SAS Computing has been negotiating with Google to make the service as secure as possible for students.
The new system will be “going well beyond the commercial Gmail in terms of protection and security,” said Mustazza, confidently noting that the new system will comply with federal regulations on student data privacy. This will allow the University to officially use Google Apps software, such as Google Documents, in classrooms.
Both Hotmail and Google Apps for Education are free of charge to the University.
Many students believe this is a good choice for Penn.
College senior and Undergraduate Assembly speaker Cynthia Ip said, “this is definitely something [the UA] will be pushing because it’s just a lot more convenient than what we had before.”
She added that Gmail is the “most advanced system for email.”
Wharton junior Brett Levine, a member of STAB, said “with Gmail you’re not only getting mail, you’re getting access to the whole suite of apps.”
However, some students questioned how much more functionality using Gmail would add. College freshman Igor Baran said, “I think it’s going to be much more convenient now, but a lot of people already forward their Hotmail accounts to Gmail anyways.”
Though College freshman and STAB member Matt Gibstein fully supports the switch to Gmail, he noted that Hotmail offered more online database storage, providing more gigabytes of online space than Gmail does.
Gibstein added that Google is rumored to launch its own drive service that would offer more storage space.
There are currently no plans for the other schools at Penn to adopt Gmail.
“I believe that the plan offers some excellent options for College students,” Rob Nelson, executive director for education and academic planning in the Provost’s Office, wrote in an email.
“These kinds of projects happen on a school-by-school basis, so there are no plans to do anything like this for all Penn students,” he added.
According to the Official Google Enterprise Blog in October 2011, 62 out of the nation’s top 100 universities use Google Apps for Education. These schools include Yale and Brown universities and Harvard College.
The Stanford Daily reported on Feb. 10 that Stanford University signed a contract with Google.
Princeton University will also be testing Google Apps for Education, according to The Daily Princetonian.
This story has been updated to clarify that Gibstein is a proponent of the switch to Gmail.