Chris Alexander

On Engineering

Helping students prepare for the real world - or not.

25th February, 2010

I was always under the impression that part of the point of University was to help get people ready to go out into the real world and make a contribution to society.

I can’t help but thinking that the University is trying to not help us in its use of mail software.

“Prayer” (the name of the service, and also what we regularly do when we need to receive an important e-mail) seems to have recently been re-branded as an IT Services thing, but it originally started out as an open-source project at the University of Cambridge.

I’m almost fairly certain that it would never ever be used in a corporate environment. Here’s why.

It Sucks. In every way.

That’s the long and short of it, really.

A few years ago, it would have been fine as a simple interface to a POP mailbox where students can drop in and see any notices.

However it harks from the days of mailing lists, where anything that isn’t plain text is listed as an attachment, and managing complex interactions is a nightmare.

Let’s take everything that’s good about Google Mail - simple to navigate, fast, powerful, efficient, flexible, and generally an awesome piece of kit to use. This is the exact opposite of Prayer.

Mailbox limits are tiny. Managing anything other than a couple of e-mails per day is completely infeasible. Managing more than 10 e-mails per day is impossible. There is no concept of a “contact” (seriously, none whatsoever).

And while the staff are sitting pretty on a fat Exchange server with Outlook and Outlook Web Access giving them at least a chance of getting something done, students are left squandering time trying to find “that” e-mail in the unnavigable and totally insufficient interface.