The University decision to migrate student email services to Live@edu (branded as MercerLive) versus Gmail was made only after a lengthy and well-thought-out process. This process was started in the spring of 2008 and included demonstrations and pro/con discussions with prior SGA representatives. With the input, review, and approval of SGA, the decision has been made, and many months of work have been completed in preparing for the migration. We are not currently reviewing other options for student email for either current or incoming students.
Our decision process focused on four main concepts: (1) Student experience for the core applications of email and calendaring; (2) Feature and Benefit Availability; (3) University Integration Capability; (4) Ability to Support. In reviewing these four concepts we carefully weighed Live@edu against Gmail.
We were eager to provide a new, current, and fully functional email/calendar experience for Mercer students. For this comparison we isolated the two core components of Google’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Live@edu platform which is based on Microsoft Exchange and compared them directly. The actual “look and feel” from a usage perspective was essentially the same. Ultimately, the Live@edu interface delivered a slightly more updated and active look than Gmail. The Live@edu interface also included standard client-like functionality (right-click, drag and drop, etc.) that Gmail did not. Although there are still elements under development from Live@edu regarding Safari and Firefox, the core functionality is available for all browsers from each platform.
We also felt that it was very important for us to provide the same type of interface, functionality, and capabilities that our students will encounter once they graduate and begin their careers. Microsoft Exchange is the most-widely-used productivity and collaboration suite in the world and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. A very high percentage of our students will be required to use Exchange at some point during or throughout their working lives.
Another factor which weighed into our decision is that Mercer’s Walter F. George School of Law migrated all student e-mail services to Live@edu last summer so we had local resources from which we were able to get feedback. The students and administrators have been very happy with the decision and Live@edu’s capabilities and stability.
Feature and Benefit Availability
Enhanced feature and benefit availability was a very difficult process for us to review. Initial feedback from students indicated a strong need for collaboration, online application availability, etc. However, once we compared the ability of Google Apps against the ability of similar offerings under Live@edu, Live@edu had many winning capabilities, students voiced the opinion that this was not an important factor.
University Integration Capability
While Gmail can be mostly integrated with our University Exchange system for the purpose of calendar, address book, account sharing, etc., the integration is not complete out of the box. It would require significant development resources which we do not have for deployment and continued support. The Live@edu solution provides a much tighter integration with significantly less time investment.
Ability to Support
Mercer IT will be required to support the chosen solution. Support will be required, not just for current students or for incoming students in spring 2010, but for many classes to come. It is very important that we are able to handle support needs. Live@edu support is very similar to our existing Exchange support processes and will result in quicker resolution of problems for students. Additionally, we carefully reviewed reports of stability, privacy breaches, etc. regarding both platforms. There have been far more security and stability issues reported within the industry pertaining to Gmail and Google Apps. Finally, the active development path for Live@edu is progressing much more quickly than that of Gmail and Google Apps.
Certainly neither solution is perfect and both are under active development, and, of course, each solution will continue to have pros and cons as Microsoft and Google strive to “leapfrog” each other. We feel strongly that choosing Live@edu as our solution for student e-mail and calendaring needs will ultimately prove to be the best decision.
Summary of some of the features of the Live@edu platform:
- Office Live Workspace will deliver secure storage for saving, accessing, and sharing documents. You will be able to collaborate with other students, even if they don’t have Microsoft Office.
- Windows Live SkyDrive will provide 25GB’s of password protected online storage for your files. You will be able to create private, shared, and public folders within your SkyDrive. Store your documents online and access from any computer without using email, flash drives, etc.
- Windows Live Spaces allows students to setup space for group projects, campus clubs, or personal pages. Here you can link to documents stored on your SkyDrive, share the space with the world or just a select list of people, and create blogs and group discussions.
- Windows Live Alerts will deliver SMS alerts directly to your mobile phone. Students can choose to receive email, IM, and mobile alerts related to Live@edu services.
- Email Mobility provides access to your Live@edu services directly from your mobile phone. Functionality is included for any ActiveSync capable telephone, native support for Apple iPhone’s, as well as support for other devices through traditional POP/IMAP connections.
- Multiple browser support including Apple’s Safari, Firefox, and, of course, Internet Explorer.
- Email organization features in the form of “conversation” view.
- Integration of email and instant messaging through Microsoft Office Communicator or Windows Live Messenger.
A recent press release titled “The Choice Is Clear: Universities Worldwide Select Microsoft Live@edu” indicates that several other universities are also selecting Live@edu as their solution. Click here to get more information on Microsoft’s Live@edu.