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The High Cost of Bells and Whistles

My alma mater, the University of Arizona, is strongly considering dumping their current email system and switching to Google Docs for Education.

In addition to mail, students and faculty will get the whole Docs package, collaborative office tools, calendars, a chat system, and personal web sites.

Casap [Google’s rep] said that it does not make sense for universities to provide an e-mail service when something like Google Apps can provide it to universities for free. He also said that the Google supported e-mail could be branded to the university.

So let’s see: the U of A has more than four times the number of students and faculty than the number of staff in our overly-large school district (we don’t provide email for students).

But our administration sees a need to send the Big Monopoly of Redmond a large (LARGE!) annual check for Office and Outlook licenses, on top of the cost of paying for dozens of servers and people to keep the email flowing.

Ok, I know Google Docs doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, not to mention doodads, that are in the BM’s products.

However, the number of people in our system who actually use those very high priced extras could probably fit in a small high school auditorium.


  1. Angela

    I wonder if part of the hesitation on the part of the school system is due to privacy concerns. It *seems* easier to hack into Google Docs than a separate, private system. I know our district can be absolutely paranoid about what’s sent through the intraweb; there’s a perception that if it was on the INTERnet, there could potentially be big problems.

  2. Bea Cantor

    I think you overestimate. The number of people who use the extras might fit in a classroom.

    Angela, I’m guessing the agreement with Google to customize everything for the school includes some legalese regarding privacy. They didn’t get to where they are by overlooking important details.

  3. Tim

    Angela: Our IT folks are also paranoid about security. However, most experts will tell you that the biggest threat to email security isn’t hackers on the web. It’s the individual user who chooses lousy passwords. And then writes it on a sticky note posted next to the computer on their desk in a room with 30 curious kids. The location of the mail servers is not going to change that.

  4. Doug Johnson

    Hi Tim,

    I’ve been considering moving to Google for Education as well, but my tech staff likes Microsoft’s Live@edu and we are experimenting with that. (It is also free.) I am wondering if it will play well with OpenOffice if we decide to no longer buy Office for everyone, though. Interesting things afoot!


  5. Carol

    I am a high school technology specialist in one of the largest school districts in Florida. Our IT department holds security of email and and document storage in the highest regard for reasons of protecting rights and property of students, staff and administrators. Further, all email is public record and subject to viewing by the public and the media upon request. IT has to be able to perform a search of archived email and prepare it for a request. Many of the documents we save are bound by privacy laws and other laws governing children under the age of 18 (COPPA). Colleges and universities, on the other hand, can be a bit more relaxed in their use of security because their students are adults. Personally, I love Google and all that it brings to my daily environment and I’m glad they are offering services like the ones presented in this article. I always look to Google to lead the field in these endeavors and I applaud the University of Arizona for giving this service a try! Thanks for sharing!

  6. J.D. Williams

    ASU went to Google as their email provider a couple of years ago. I’m trying to figure out what might be the best way to present it as an option to our IT department.

  7. Dave

    I really hope Google makes a serious play at supporting K12 districts with a future version of Docs that is super compatible with FOI requests and privacy laws. Most commercial products aren’t a good match, and education-specific products tend to be very, very poor quality. There’s definitely a place for Google here, all they have to do is help us meet our legal obligations and I’m pretty sure everyone will sign up.

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