I’m a student at the University of Oxford, and as is standard practice, they provide a email system for staff and students. It’s called Herald, and I assume it’s a home-grown email server that has evolved from code written in the 1980s.
It’s a piece of crap.
I kid, I kid! Admittedly, that’s probably dropping a little too much hate on its poor aged lines of God-knows-what language. It has basic features and gets the job done… most of the time.
But the internet means so much more to so many more people these days, and Herald isn’t equipped to let people make the most of it. Take webmail, for example: ugly, testy, difficult—these are words which spring to my mind when I think of Herald webmail. You’re stuck sending and receiving in plaintext, and the interface is offensively bad. It was never supposed to be this way—Herald was designed to be used via your email client of choice, a hulking server hiding in the shadow of a more carefully crafted interface. But since the early days of Hotmail, Yahoo! mail, Netscape and the rest, webmail has been a primary avenue of accessing email. Some people prefer it that way, and its easy to see why: one interface to learn which can be used on any computer with an internet connection and a browser, and no obnoxious setup steps (IMAP or POP3? SMT-what? SSL-port-who?). And since gmail came on the scene a few years back, there’s simply no reason to believe that webmail can’t be a pleasant experience. Something is deeply wrong when free webmail services outclass what’s provided to you by the people you pay £10,000 a year.
But still, armies of my classmates here at Oxford use Herald webmail as their primary email. They hate it, even if they don’t realize it. I know this because it shows. They use Facebook to send messages to one another. That’s right, Facebook. Facebook, with it’s terrible message editor, iron-fisted threading, and walled-garden take on communication.
But I’ve just been informed of a project in the works at Oxford’s computing services to change all that, and finally move beyond email and into the realm of internet collaboration. These services have existed for some time now, and what Oxford is proposing isn’t anything groundbreaking—but they’re a hell of a welcome (if overdue) change.
I’ll blog more about them soon.