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ISSUE 121 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/21/2007

IIT changes web

By Luke Schlather
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 21, 2007

St. Olaf saw a number of changes to the campus network over the summer. IIT installed a new Moodle server, and used the opportunity to upgrade Moodle to the latest version, 1.8.2. The school website also got a bit of a face-lift, but the layout in general has not changed dramatically. Features such as the drop-down menu are still the same.

On the network itself, however, students will find that a number of ports to the outside world have opened up on the campus firewall. This means that iChat, and numerous computer games are now playable online. In past years, direct connection was possible between students for many of these services, but accessing worldwide servers was impossible.

The ports were originally closed because the same ports that allow benign activities like internet gaming could also be used by hackers to gain illicit access to the campus network. Though security remains a top priority, IIT decided that the ports did not open up a sufficient vulnerability to justify denying students access to these services.

In probably the largest shift, St. Olaf decided to stop using Squirrelmail for the campus' browser-based email system. Many had expressed dissatisfaction with SquirrelMail's outdated user interface. However, the switch was largely made for technical reasons.

The webmaster for the college, Daniel Beach, explained, "SquirrelMail development and updates have been slow and few, [it] has troubles with attachments, is generally old, [and] doesn't handle foreign languages very well."

IIT looked at several replacement systems last May and June. Finally they settled on RoundCube. RoundCube has significantly better capacity for foreign languages, and has a much more modern user interface. Aside from its generally cleaner look, RoundCube allows users to move messages with the mouse, using shift to select multiple files at once.

Student reactions to the new system have been mixed. Though Roundcube looks nicer and functions better that SquirrelMail, it also uses more complex graphics, which means access from older machines tends to be slower.

"At first I didn't like it, because it didn't work," said student Emily Mcloughlin '09, "but now it's faster."

Other students found the new interface less intuitive, not recognizing that shift-click can allow the selection of multiple files. This function was accomplished with more obvious check boxes in SquirrelMail. There was "very positive feedback from everyone who tried it during testing," said Beach, who attributed the early problems seen to general hiccups that are generally seen when installing a new program on this scale.

RoundCube and SquirrelMail exist so that students can access their email whenever they need to. Another alternative to these servers is Mozilla Thunderbird, a program that includes easy user-interface and the ability to back-up mail on a hard drive.

"If you own a laptop, there's really no reason to use RoundCube or SquirrelMail," Beach said.

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