Elimination Of VAX Will Spell End To Planwriting
By by ROCÍO DIGÓN, News Editor
As early as next fall, the College's current email system, VAX, will be eliminated and replaced by a new Windows NT-based email system, ending a long history of planwriting, sending, and other quirky uses beloved by some students and bewildering to others.

VAX has become an outdated email system that is no longer used by Amherst's peer institutions, according to Phil Fitz, Director of Technology.

"The system is showing its age," said Fitz. "That means there are fewer programs being written and updated for it. It also makes it difficult to hire staff who know how to manage the VAX systems. Disk space and hardware are more expensive."

But the disappearance of VAX also means the end of plans and other functions that are endearing to many students and alumni. Plans are text files in which students put anything from diary entries to jokes for other students to read. More important, students often use VAX to locate and contact recent alumni.

"The VAX system is a shared experience at Amherst," said Johnnie Odom '00. "When we telnet into it, we feel like we are actually in a 'room' and that there are a bunch of other rooms containing our friends and acquaintances around us. There are a lot of shared experiences: cookies, the 'chef' program, and the like that we are going to miss."

But Odom conceded that VAX was outdated.

"Ultimately though, one has to move on. VMS (the system on which VAX operates) is my favorite operating system, but we live in an increasingly web-centric world and VMS doesn't do the web as well as it does a lot of other things. The school has to go with what is right for its current needs in this instance. We had to give up fraternities and we have to give up VAX."

"I think my life would be very different without the VAX," said Piero Procaccini '99. "It's not only one of the best ways of keeping in touch with Amherst. I may be about a thousand miles away, but when I type those two magic words, I am instantly whisked back into the swing of things; I know what happened at TAP or what tragedy may have befallen Valentine during dinner this evening. I am a terrible correspondent, and VAX is one of the few ways I am actually able to keep in touch."

Procaccini added that VAX was a way for him to meet new students while he was at Amherst.

"I think what I will miss the most: the new connections, the campus-wide intimacy, the chance to be constantly connected to a community, almost a life force, built entirely out of human minds," added Procaccini.

Many other students echoed similar sentiments, hoping that even if PINE is removed, the quirks of VAX will remain.

"If it were feasible to leave VAX so the plan community can continue, it would be great. Amherst should move into the 21st century with a new email server, but not at the cost of taking away community," said Resident Counselor Peter Beardsley '01. "There should be a skeleton VAX system without PINE. Students use it often to find alumni and recent graduates who list their addresses and home phone numbers on their plans."

While upperclassmen rely on VAX for services aside from email, many freshmen are unaware of its existence. RCs in first-year dorms encouraged their residents to use webmail instead of VAX.

"RCs were told during RC training about the phasing out of VAX in favor of a system such as webmail," said John Schneider '03, an RC in South College. "The minority of freshmen use VAX. I am outraged about the disappearance of planworld."

"No one ever told me about it," said Ezra Gordon '04, who added that he never uses VAX.

But there are some freshmen that use VAX and are part of the planwriting culture.

"I have a plan," said Alexa Lawson-Remer '04. "I really like it, I'd like to keep it. If VAX is eliminated, I'll never be able to socialize again or have people finger me."

The email system that will replace VAX is an NT operating system that will run on the College's local network, as the VAX system does, so it will not affect the speed of Internet access. "Internet access should be unaffected," said Fitz.

"The new system will be an email system, period," said Fitz. "Although the new email system cannot support 'plan,' if there are reasonable ways to provide comparable functionality, we'll explore them."

The new NT system will allow for greater ease in locating email addresses and will provide more disk space. Students will still be able to access the new system through Netscape Messenger and Microsoft Outlook.

"There are just some minor configuration changes, and then [Outlook] will work exactly as before," added Fitz.

One of the most important features of the new system is the IMAP protocol which will enable users to read email from multiple locations and to open attachments with increased facility. Currently, it is fairly difficult, sometimes impossible, to open attachments in PINE.

The NT system will not be available until next fall and the details of email transfer have yet to be worked out.

"Some people will have email on the VAXes to be moved; we're still working out ways to do that," said Fitz. "We're hoping to have these details worked out sometime this fall. We do want to have a fairly long period of overlap, so people can make the switch with both systems up and running, and pick a time that is convenient for them."

Another feature of the new email system is a webmail system that is already available to students and staff. It allows for students to check their email from any web browser by logging onto webmail.amherst.edu.

Issue 02, Submitted 2000-09-13 16:09:34