Science & Tech

Illustration: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum

This summer the University of Ottawa’s  Information Technology Department announced by email to all students that their emails will migrate from Google’s mail platform Gmail, to Microsoft’s Outlook platform.

While employees at the U of O have been using Office 365 for the past few years, students have been using Gmail and G Suite for school related tasks.

The migration from Gmail to Outlook will be taking place in phases throughout the next few months with some students waiting until 2021.

With the online fall semester set to begin on Sept. 9, the University is taking extra steps to ensure that all students can participate in their courses from wherever they are in the world as many have chosen to learn remotely.

However, international students are facing more difficulties when it comes to online learning.

Isabelle Mailloux-Pulkinghorn, manager of Media Relations at U of O, explained switching email programs will hopefully overcome some geographic restriction issues.

“The main reason [we switched] is that some countries block Gmail. This is out of our control and prevents the University from communicating with some of its students in other countries,” said Mailloux-Pulkinghorn.

“And given that the pandemic dictates that we continue to adopt an online course model for the upcoming semester starting in September, it was necessary to start migrating students this summer.”

Countries that have restricted access to Google products include China, Iran, Crimea, and Myanmar. In many cases, Gmail may still be available for personal use, but the government restricts its use for business and educational purposes due to privacy concerns.

After switching to Outlook, students who previously could not open their student inbox from their home countries will have access again.

Security is another reason why the University of Ottawa is switching to Microsoft. added Mailloux-Pulkinghorn.

“Also of importance given the number of hacking attempts against the University community, is the investment in security they have incorporated into their products.”

Considering the recent hacking issues that applications like Zoom have experienced this past summer, the U of O administration expressed concerns regarding the protection of their students’ and staff’s personal information.

Comparison of programs

As per the university’s email, there will be no need to transfer files saved in the Google Cloud to Microsoft’s OneDrive. Emails, calendar entries and contacts will automatically be transferred from their Google account to their new Office 365 account.

Much like GSuite, Office365 will continue to allow students to operate programs on both mobile devices and through their browser. Students who are more comfortable working with Google Docs, Slides and Sheets may continue to use these online tools.

Typically, the Office Suite of applications requires a paid subscription but they will be offered to University of Ottawa students for free as part of their Office 365 accounts. As well, Microsoft applications can be downloaded locally as desktop applications, which in contrast to Google Docs and other Google apps, are always available offline by default once on your personal computer.

All Microsoft applications you install from the University of Ottawa will be connected to your OneDrive account where all files can be saved to conserve space on your computer. If students do not want to save files to their OneDrive, they can also save work locally on their computer for easy access and editing.

The migration to Office 365 will provide students with unlimited online storage on Outlook so there will be no need for deleting or saving emails in order to save space. As well, students will have access to Microsoft Teams, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Student reactions

After the email from the University, students were initially concerned about the possibility of losing access to Google Drive, where many school projects and assignments have been saved.

“When I first found out about it, my first reaction, like many, was what was going to happen to my Google Drive,” said Chukwuemeka Ajaero, a fifth-year software engineering student. “I have four years worth of reports and assignments that I didn’t want to have to manually download out of the fear of having it. [But] we got an email from the school mentioning that they’d notify us a couple of weeks before the migration will take place and that it won’t affect our G Suite tools.”

“I don’t mind using Outlook although I prefer having everything under one umbrella,” added Ajaero.

Michele Lamarche, a fourth-year psychology student is happy the switch will benefit both domestic and international students.

“As much as I miss Gmail, I’m glad that our international students, especially those unable to access Gmail in their home counties, will be able to access their U of O email.”

Splitting the use of email, applications and cloud storage to two separate platforms may cause confusion for some students, but the platform migration might be an incentive for students to use more Office 365 products. Students who wish to transfer their Google Drive files into their OneDrive can do so using a few different methods.

Updates on the migration process can be found on the University of Ottawa website.