Sunday, February 16—the technology department officially terminated the service of the familiar FirstClass e-mail client as the community switched to Microsoft Outlook.
“Email is dead, long live email,” said JT Amirault, Groton’s Director of Informational Technology, on one of the last e-mails sent using FirstClass.
While e-mail addresses remained the same, it was a major adjustment for the school. For many years, Groton has provided e-mail services through FirstClass, a reliable, if not somewhat outdated, system. Considering the fact that the majority of schools are using e-mailing systems supported by much more current companies like Microsoft and Google, it comes as no surprise that Groton has at last transitioned to a more modern network: Office 365.
The technology department had been seriously considering transitioning away from FirstClass for a while. “FirstClass isn’t quite first-class,” said Mr. Amirault, “they don’t often keep up with the environments they work in.” With this in mind, the committee eventually narrowed their options down to Gmail and Office 365, supported by Google and Microsoft respectively, and eventually chose Office 365 as the new system.
“The two are very close in their functionality, and they were neck and neck for a while,” said Mr. Amirault. While Google may have initially had a head start regarding e-mailing systems, Microsoft has been exceedingly effective in catching up with Google in terms of raw functionality.
Ultimately, Groton is a Microsoft school. Groton supports Microsoft operating systems with Microsoft programs, so it was simply the logical choice to turn to a Microsoft e-mailing system. “From a user perspective,” explained Mr. Amirault, “you’re seeing people use Microsoft products like Word and Excel, making it easier to integrate into the School.” As one of Microsoft’s trademark products, Office 365 also provides a secure platform, which supports and protects data.
However, despite being deemed an outdated and archaic e-mailing system, FirstClass certainly possesses a number of features that have been constantly put to use by the Groton community. Student Conferences, for example, will change in terms of functionality. “That’s a unique thing to FirstClass,” said Mr. Amirault. “You tend to not really see that feature.”
On Outlook, Student Conferences is substituted by “Folders.” Users can set up a “rule” that directs emails sent to the whole student body, or the faculty, to a designated and customized folder. There are also discussion rooms and chat groups that are comparable to Student Conferences, so the unending supply of ‘lost items’ announcements can continue freely, unhampered by the transition (However, there seems to have been a reduction in lost emails after Outlook went live).
Such a major transition, however, does not come without its share of inconveniences. The change happened near the end of Winter Term, an inconvenient time for many to adjust to the new system. A better period may have been during the start of the next academic year.
Certainly, many students and faculty reported that they have been experiencing multiple technical issues while adjusting to the system. One of which is that the names on Outlook’s contact list are the student’s or faculty’s original, legal names. For example, the Outlook name for Peter Zhang ’17 is actually his real Chinese name, Yinjie Zhang. Such naming system has caused inconveniences when sending e-mails, as students and faculty have to search by an individual’s last name. In an extreme case, a student’s username had to be changed in order for his account to work.
But despite the odd timing, it is clear that the change will yield a number of important benefits that will help Groton maintain currency. “FirstClass is a system that you’ll never see again once you leave the gates of Groton,” Mr. Amirault explained. “We believe that we can be much better served by these primary e-mail systems.”
“It’s time to stop flying first class, because we all need a better outlook on things,” says Jared Belsky ’15.