Why I gave up on my university’s email years ago:
Along with the neat-o peripheral gizmos like messaging, calendars, and collaboration tools, the outsourced systems are more stable, have better spam filters, and provide much more storage space than the typical university’s in-house system.
Seemed like a no-brainer… (Colleges Outsource E-mail to Big Players, U.S.News & World Report)
My only instinctive concern about this trend would be with regards to entrusting (potentially sensitive, and certainly confidential) email records and archives to these rich, multinational corporations whose collective record in maintaining privacy and respecting their users is not entirely squeaky-clean. Not that your average college IT department are guaranteed to be all that much better.
The other reason I still use my college’s email by default is for the stamp of respectability given by a .ac.uk domain (equivalent of your .edu). Seeing a hotmail, googlemail, msn, vel sim. domain doesn’t tell you anything about the sender. I presume these “outsourcing” colleges will keep their domain names, however…
Case Western Reserve University just offered Google Apps; it integrates what was formerly the “MyCase” personalized page with iGoogle, as well as offering calendar, Google Docs, and gmail. The article does sum up the advantages pretty clearly (storage, spam, familiar online environment). Also, my .edu domain is (after some initial problems) appearing on outgoing mail.
Gabriel’s comment above brings up some good points, too, and I wanted to note that these are also being hashed out by the CWRU user community. Which is important, I think, in two ways: because the community has an opinion, first of all, on privacy concerns as well as usage concerns; also, because the community has a number of places to air these concerns. The most responsible part of Google Apps’ implementation at Case is that the ITS department set up a Wiki for discussion and encourage commentary, as well as being clear about “beta” status. The concerns about corporate interests are real (you go to Google sites, after all, with Google favicons and Google domains), and I think it’s down to university IT departments to help initiate discussion about such concerns as part of the implementation. And not just among power users.
Probably not terribly germane, but this comment in a Boingboing post made me think of our debate here: