Texas Tech Email Changes Are Stupid

I’m currently extremely frustrated with Texas Tech and their email support at the moment. I’ve just converted over my email from being redirected to my Gmail account where I handle everything into setting up Thunderbird to receive the emails here at my apartment. Why did I do this in the first place, well it wasn’t by choice. I liked having all my mail directed to Google, it allowed me to harness the power of Gmail arguably the best web-mail service. TTU has now decided that they would no longer redirect email sent to your TTU email account to a different email addresses. Okay I am not an expert in email delivery systems but the whole announcement sounds like snake oil. First off because if I a highly technical person can’t really understand the reasons behind the announcement what hope does the average student have? Second SPAM has been increasing across the board with everybody saying spam is increasing. The second argument and the reason redirects have been turned off is that TTU mail is being regarded as spam, hogwash is my response. While yes redirecting mail to an external account increases the spam rating, that isn’t the only way spam is judged. Also no legit system uses blacklists anymore. All that a blacklist accomplishes is creating a list that becomes larger and larger and thereby ineffective. But let us say that it isn’t and it’s not like they don’t provide other ways to access your email. However let’s look at the options: Outlook Web Access, Exchange Account, POP and/or IMAP access. So pretty standard options, shouldn’t be too hard to get up and running, so let’s go through out choices.


First up Outlook Web Access, uhh do I need to say anything else beyond that? Seriously Outlook Web Access has some major problems with it that kill it for me. It is decently fast, not as fast as other services, but it is certainly faster than Windows Live, which is so slow that if I was using that for email I would be deleting like crazy rather than trying to open up messages. So it’s fast enough, what could be wrong with it you ask. How about the UI looks like it is from the early 1990’s. When did they last update it and if they don’t update the UI what does that mean for the service, could the discontinue it at some point. Granted some companies have never updated their UI (looking at you Google), however it’s a great UI that works. This one doesn’t work and looks horrendous, the buttons are clear and need to be redesigned. Also everything is done using Javascript which while wasn’t bad back in 2004, it’s now 2008. Some AJAX please, just about every other web based email service has it including Windows Live. What happened to all those UI designers and Web Programmers designing Windows Live did they quit for Google or something? Also the text in Outlook Web Access is displayed using the default text in your browser, Joel Sposky has an awesome article as to why this is a problem that I won’t repeat.  Click on Help and what do you get a Help system that if possible looks even worse. Oh and click and see what the requirements are to use Outlook Web Access and you get that it only works on Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. Inner Monologue of Outlook Web Access Programmer: Oh is Netscape dead? We’ll fix that in a couple of years. But wait I am using the Outlook Web Access with Firefox 3.0 Beta 2 release, so why does it work. Oh minor details who even reads those Help articles anymore.


Next up for my skewering, using an Exchange account. First off this requires a VPN connection to TTU and either using Microsoft Outlook or Entourage or Mac Mail. You can also use Pine, but wait Pine was discontinued in 2006 and it was only a text based email so forget about all those images that TechAnnounce and tons of other images that inner-system email includes. The VPN is the main problem with Exchange beyond the inherent problems associated with both platform and software issues. Also an Exchange account isn’t useful for the majority of students who by the way are the one’s redirecting email, as mentioned in the announcement. The majority of students until in a business where Exchange is used will just go “Huh” to Exchange and have no clue as to why it is used so heavily and the benefits gained therein. Exchange does allow for easy integration with Outlook’s calendar, contacts, and email systems, also if you have a Windows Mobile device it allows for all of that data to be synced across all of those devices. However again student’s aren’t using this and won’t see any benefit to using Exchange. The VPN connection into Tech is the real killer for me. When you VPN into Tech, you are on your internet connection, however that connection is securely connected to Tech’s servers so it is almost like you are on campus, expect you don’t have that nice connection to the internet. Expect you also get Tech’s filtering along with it. So not Bittorent, and everything you do online is monitored and recorded by Tech’s IT services. Yes, I said everything, I know for a fact that Tech records every IM conversation, every website visited, every connection you make while on their connection. When you are logged in via the VPN this makes it even worse, because at least if a connection occurs on your computer at the dorm room you can blame it on someone else who has access to your computer and room. With the VPN connection you log in with your E-Raider username and password, so Tech can be slightly more confident who you are. Okay standard argument here about if you aren’t doing nothing wrong then you have nothing to worry about. Which is so false it doesn’t bear arguing anymore. If I am having a conversation with a fellow over 21 student discussing a party we are going to go to, is Tech going to come and break up the party even if it doesn’t have any under age drinkers? What about if I am discussing how the administration is wrong on an issue. I want the freedom of speech to be able discuss issues that the administration may not wish to be discussed. Does that mean that anything that I do is going to be looked at a little bit closer. Will I be treated differently than other students? What if I have an unusual name that sticks out in people’s mind, will my data be examined at all by the IT staff? These sort of what if statements could go on for ages and all of them are very real possibilities and will probably never be discovered if any of that occurred because we would never find out about it as they all have high deny ability by the parties involved. The biggest thing is that I haven’t signed any sort of agreement with Tech allowing them access to my data about what websites I visit. As a student living on-campus you do so and being an employee of Tech you also do, however as simply an off-campus student no where in either the VPN instructions nor the FAQ are you informed of this. This is a major privacy issue that needs to be dealt with. Also no BitTorent, while yes the majority of BitTorent is illegal data being transfered and it makes sense for Tech to keep that off of their system, what happens when you try to use it for legitimate uses. Because a device that can be used for wrong and become popular for illegitimate uses is does that mean that it should be automatically outlawed? The answer of course is no. I do use BitTorent for legitimate uses on a close to a daily basis, so what are the other options for me. There are multiple other examples of filtering that occurs on Tech’s network, this is simply the most obvious and the one most students are familiar with.


Two left, POP and IMAP, which are very similar. POP and IMAP allow you to access your email through any desktop email client. POP however is only a one-way sync, you download messages to your desktop however any changes made stay on the desktop and are not reflected on the server where the messages are stored. This means that deleted items and messages placed into a folder acutally still remain in the inbox. IMAP is a highly superior option which is a two way sync whereby changes made on the desktop are reflected in the inbox. So you can add folders, delete, mark as junk mail and not have to repeat your work through either an Exchange account or through the Web Access. Which is all really good and what I currently have set up. Ahh but what about sending a message from your TTU mailbox? Once again you have to have a VPN connection to TTU to send messages. Are you kidding me, so what good is IMAP or POP access if I still need a VPN connection to reply to people, I might as well use Exchange.


Students will probably wind up using the Outlook Web Access since it is the easiest to setup, read none. However I am sure I will begin to hear students upset at this change as they now have to check both their personal email account and their Tech account, and the horrible UI they will be forced to use. Texas Tech do something, say let me send messages without having to VPN in, or get Microsoft to update Outlook Web Access or put those redirects back in place.


Also I know that Tech hasn’t made it very clear that mail redirects will be turned off as many students who I know do redirect their TTU mail when asked by myself have not done so. Also they have no clue about the redirect even being turned off. This is going to be interesting in the IT support call center for the next week or so. Especially as this is occurring right before classes start and students will be looking for those class wide emails from professors.


Disclaimer: I am currently both a student and employee of Texas Tech University, this post is my own thoughts and not the thoughts of Texas Tech, also they were not informed before hand of the nature of this or any of the blog posts.

Justin Yost is a full-time Software Engineer and a part time educator. A graduate of Texas Tech University with a bachelor's degree in computer science, Justin relishes programming and learning more about anything and everything. When not working, Justin occasionally gives talks at the local PHP Meetup. In his free time, Justin enjoys backpacking and reading science fiction books.

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5 comments on “Texas Tech Email Changes Are Stupid
  1. Andy Ruff says:

    You should be able to get your Exchange mail without VPN via Entourage–see http://blogs.msdn.com/entourage/archive/2005/09/24/473634.aspx

  2. jtyost2 says:

    Thanks for the advice, I’ll try that.

  3. Justin Yost says:

    I mentioned Entourage in my post as does TTU IT support offer it as an option. However as Entourage is Mac only it doesn’t much help me. Thanks for the suggestion anyways.

  4. Jimmy Russell says:

    There were VERY good reasons for this change, take my word on this. However, there is better ways to use Exchange without going through the VPN.

    Control Mail -> Mail – > Email Accounts – > Select “Microsoft Exchange” (assuming you already setup the account) -> Repair -> More Settings -> Connection -> Exchange Proxy Settings -> add “mail.ttu.edu” -> Click OK.

    You’re Done!

  5. Justin Yost says:

    Thanks for the suggestion on the Exchange account but I use Thunderbird anyways, so Exchange isn’t an option for me. Although that does solve a lot of my problems with Exchange which is the VPN issue.

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