Webmail overload leaves students frustrated

Frustrated students and faculty could not access their e-mail through the Internet Tuesday when the University’s Webmail system went down between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

One hundred faculty members and students complained to the Computer Information and Resource Center that they were unable to use the Internet-based e-mail system, said Louis Napper, a CIRC help desk specialist.

The shutdown was the longest since Webmail was introduced at GW this summer, but students say the system has been plagued by delays.

Webmail software allows CIRC to use two e-mail processors, CIRC officials said. But the volume of GW e-mail exceeded the provided capacity, possibly because many freshmen say they use Webmail instead of the older PINE e-mail system.

During the past week, Webmail delays generally have averaged between 20 and 25 minutes during the peak hours of 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., CIRC officials said.

To alleviate the Webmail problem, CIRC officials purchased two new e-mail processors to enable the system to handle the large volume of users on campus, said Brad Reese, CIRC’s director.

Since the installation of the new processors last Thursday, system performance has improved dramatically without delays so far, Reese said.

Although Webmail has proven far more attractive and “friendlier” to use than the previous PINE mail system, it has been relatively undependable when large numbers of users log in at once, Napper said.

“You get all excited about getting mail, and then you wait for a few minutes until you realize the system’s not going to work,” freshman Sarah Asai said.

GW’s decision to kick off the 1998 academic year with a new computer networking system and e-mail server has led to a string of such technical problems that some students said has left them frustrated.

The new Webmail software was tested last spring and implemented before the fall semester began after administrators saw “such an overwhelmingly positive response from students,” Reese said.

“I like Webmail better because it is easier (than PINE mail) to use,” senior Paul Gerber said. “I haven’t experienced many delays.”

“I think (Webmail) is useful when I need to check e-mail away from campus, but I find the old PINE mail system much more reliable,” senior Jalyn Sweeney said.

Students who try to use the Internet e-mail system have experienced long delays or have been unable to log into the system altogether.

“Too many people rely on it for it to be down,” freshman Jason Blank said.

Although the main problem with Webmail lies in a technical glitch in the Microsoft Windows NT software program, Reese said Microsoft “apparently has not devoted resources to fixing the current version.”

But freshmen unfamiliar with GW’s older PINE mail system said they rely on the new Webmail system to communicate with family, friends, and teachers.

“Not only does it interfere with talking to friends, but teachers can’t send us important information,” freshman Steph Schardin said.

Many freshmen said they were surprised to find the PINE system, which is accessible at any campus computer, is a much more reliable source for e-mail.

“I use PINE myself,” Napper said. “It’s faster, but Webmail is more attractive, so people tend to use it more.”

“PINE is still an option, but not a pretty one,” Reese said. “We aren’t doing anything to point out the other options. I don’t want to further confuse things by introducing lots of options.”

Some students, however, said freshmen must be informed of other options.

“I’ve been using the other (PINE) system more than Webmail because it always seems to work,” freshman Brad Stein said. “A lot of students haven’t been informed about it so they feel hopeless when the system is down.”

CIRC officials said they hope new efforts will provide a permanent solution to recent Webmail delays.

But the University’s new computer network, installed during the summer, also added to the technical problems caused by Webmail.

The new network, implemented in every campus building except Riverside Towers, Mitchell and Madison halls, left students in a storm of confusion during the first two weeks of classes.

“Even though students follow the directions (from ResNet officials) a lot of kids with little computer knowledge find it difficult,” Blank said.

Installation of an Ethernet card in computers and online registration that required ResNet staff members to make rounds in residence halls caused frustration and confusion.

“It took three days to get someone up to my room to tell me I needed a new (media converter) wire,” freshman Lauren Andrews said.

The ResNet staff handed out step-by-step instructions and met with students who needed help.

Deborah Snelgrove, executive director of Student and Academic Support Services Communication and Technology, the office that coordinates ResNet, said the majority of students who called the ResNet office complained of defective Ethernet jacks or missed appointments by staff members. But she said most students have been “very patient.”

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