New chief technology officer looks to repair webmail, stop piracy

Newly appointed Chief Technology Officer Michael Pearce said USF will consider contracting a private company to manage its e-mail systems and will attack computer piracy with the launch of a free and legal file-sharing service, as well as software to filter the network.

Pearce, who started work Aug. 30, spent his first week surveying the state of USF’s technology – a task he will continue in coming months before he presents his findings to USF administration as a technological strategic plan.

“My role here is helping to introduce, to bring opportunities, to identify things that will help support faculty, staff and students … whether (to get) a degree or whether (to help) with the teaching process,” Pearce said.

One challenge confronting USF’s technological progress, Pearce said, is that the campus is large and unevenly distributed – composed of diverse sectors with varying needs for technology.

The College of Engineering, for example, will have different demands than the College of Public Health, Pearce explained. Students and faculty both will view and use available technology in different ways.

Pearce also indicated the mainstream trend toward increasing digitalization – widespread use of media-producing devices like cell phones, digital cameras and iPods – could further tax the budget in the future if the University plans to accommodate them as educational tools.

But two of the most publicized issues in technology at USF have been an unstable e-mail system and a rash of litigation from the RIAA over piracy.

Amid hardware failures and an increasing burden of usage, USF’s e-mail system suffered a large-scale crash in February for the third time in three months.

USF has been updating the e-mail system’s12 separate servers for some time now, said Alex Campoe, Associate Director of Academic Computing. In the spring semester, the system was capable of copying to a secondary machine every e-mail 15 minutes after it was received.

But Pearce cited a need to pad the e-mail system with more hardware to safeguard the contents of users’ accounts and keep them running constantly. But that sort of insurance is costly, he said.

USF will also test the possibility of outsourcing its e-mail system to a private corporation, as other universities have done, Pearce said. Arizona State University replaced its EMMA e-mail system with Gmail on Aug. 1, according to its Web site.

USF has received 81 pre-litigation letters threatening students with lawsuits if they don’t settle with the organization out of court. The number of letters has placed USF third in the nation in the RIAA’s most recent campaign to stamp out piracy.

In response, Pearce said the University could conduct informational sessions to tell students what constitutes inappropriate use of its network. The University could revoke the privileges of violators on the network.

Pearce also said the media service Ruckus will be offered as a legal alternative to students who illegally trade copyrighted materials online. The service will launch Sept. 17, according to a press re-

lease prepared by University Relations.

Ruckus offers a library of 3 million songs to college

students for free download, a service entirely subsidized by advertising, the company’s Web site said.

The number of notification letters received by the RIAA dropped in the spring semester, Campoe said.

“We expect the downward trend to continue with the addition of Ruckus,” Campoe said.

He also said he will consider the possibility of using content-recognition software like Red Lambda and Audible Magic to police the network. These programs can alert administrators to the transfer of copyrighted materials, said Campoe.

These possibilities are subject to change as Pearce tours the campus speaking with administrators, faculty and student groups.

Dan Catlin can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or oraclecatlin