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Monday, November 28, 2011

Hi Ho, a Googling we will go!

The University of Michigan announced (on Halloween! - I hope this is not a trick!) that it will be adopting Google as its collaboration platform.  The roll-out will happen over the course of the next year, and includes tools such as Gmail, Sites, Docs, Calendar, Blogger, and more.

I am delighted.

I've been using Google's Blogger technology (obviously) for some time to publish the Tech@ICPSR blog, and use Google Docs for almost any project where I would have used Microsoft Office in the past.  (I do still use PowerPoint from time-to-time if I need something fancy-schmancy, and don't have the time to conceptualize it as a Prezi instead.)

The biggest win for ICPSR, however, is with Gmail and Calendar.

When I arrived at ICPSR in 2002 we were running our own IMAP-based service with Eudora as the supported client.  And by supported I mean that we installed the free "hey look at these ads" version on each person's machine.  Off-site access was the responsibility of the individual, although we did hook it up to a campus webmail front-end eventually.  We were running MeetingMaker as our supported calendar client.  And by supported I mean that we installed the client on everyone's machine, but no one used it.

Sometime in 2005 or so we realized that it wasn't much fun running email and calendar services, and we also noted that we were already paying for an enterprise mail/calendar system that our parent organization, the Institute for Social Research (ISR), operated on the Exchange platform.  And so we dumped Eudroa and MeetingMaker and started using the Microsoft stack instead.

I was delighted.

However......

I soon experienced the harsh realities of life in the Microsoft stack.  Small mailbox quotas.  Feature-poor webmail experience.  Mailbox "archives" living in one-off files on my PC or file server.  And have you ever tried to find the full email headers in a piece of email stored on an Exchange server?  And like our days of running Eudora and MeetingMaker we continued to be isolated from the rest of campus since our Exchange system was local to ISR and not part of a campus-wide solution.

The honeymoon had ended.

I solved the problem for myself (sort of) by maintaining my "internal to ISR" meetings and email on the ISR Exchange server, but moving my "external" meetings and email to Google.  That is, I changed the U-M address book so that my bryan (at) umich.edu email address was routed to Gmail rather than the Exchange server.  And so when it comes to communicating with the world outside of the ISR, I have a rich email experience that works well in any web browser, superb mail searching, and despite not deleting a single piece of non-spam email in nearly three years, I have used less than 20% of my mail quota.  At this rate, I will need to delete my first email in 2024.  Nice.  Of course, the problem is that I now check email and calendars in two places:  MS Exchange (for my ISR world) and Google (for everything else).

And so I am looking forward to the day in 2012 when it all dovetails back together and there is just one place to check my mailbox and calendar again.

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