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Duke Webmail interface sees multiple upgrades

Changes to the Duke Webmail interface, in the works since February, went live last Thursday.  The new Webmail has improved features and increased security.
Changes to the Duke Webmail interface, in the works since February, went live last Thursday. The new Webmail has improved features and increased security.

Last Thursday morning, Duke Webmail users logged on to discover an improved look and some new features to the email interface.

Some of Webmail’s new features include increased security, the ability to drag and drop messages and the ability to select multiple messages for deleting or sorting. The changes to Webmail—the email access system provided for Duke students and faculty—also allow users to send messages from their other email addresses using their Webmail account. Many Duke students likely did not notice these changes, though because nearly half of students have their Duke emails forwarded to an alternate email system.

Planning for the Webmail changes began in February when a newer version of the interface became available, said Steve O’Donnell, senior communications strategist for the Office of Information Technology.

“Recently, we uncovered a security concern inherent in the older versions of Webmail, and we accelerated our move to the latest version to address those concerns before any accounts were compromised,” O’Donnell wrote in an email Tuesday.

The changes apply to both versions of Webmail­­—the more recent Webmail system, which has been around since 2009, and Webmail Classic, which predated Webmail by several years and was maintained because it includes certain unique functions such as access to shared folders, O’Donnell said. The changes also apply to the University’s departmental email systems.

Jill Rubin, a freshman who uses Webmail, said she likes the look of the new interface but noted some reservations, such as the seemingly slower speed of the new system.

“It’s pretty easy to use and self-explanatory, but I think we should have been notified about the change and informed about the differences before it appeared online,” Rubin wrote in an email Tuesday.

About 43 percent of Duke students forward their Webmail messages to a different email address, and 36 percent of the student body forward Webmail to Gmail specifically, O’Donnell said.

Some students said the changes to Webmail will likely not convert students who already forward their mail back to Webmail.

“Maybe [the improvements] will make a difference for incoming students,” Choi said. “People like me who are already forwarding the emails to Gmail wouldn’t even know that the website was being revamped, so we would just continue using what we were using before.”

In light of Gmail’s popularity among Duke students, Duke Student Government is working on a project to bring Google Apps for Education to the University, said senior Christina Lieu, DSG vice president for athletics, services and the environment. Lieu is spearheading the project.

DSG recently issued a survey about the possibility of switching from Webmail to Gmail. Of the roughly 540 respondents, 90 percent supported the change, she said.

“Although the Webmail interface has been improved, I think that Gmail is already so widely used by the student body that very few will switch back to using Webmail,” Lieu wrote in an email Monday. “In fact, many of the students I have spoken to weren’t even aware of the changes because they don’t use Webmail to begin with.”

Although Gmail might be more popular, O’Donnell said the University considers it important to give students Duke-affiliated email addresses.

“The address gives students and faculty and staff a certain legitimacy, reflecting the prestige of our institution,” he said.


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