Sunday, April 1, 2012

Usability Issues of University webmail (SquirrelMail)



By Pratik Parikh



The university webmail is a PHP based webmail package called SquirrelMail. I have never had any previous experience of PHP based webmail. I have been using it since January 2012. The webmail has all the functionality of email client. It provides a consistent experience across Internet Explorer, Mozilla FireFox and Chrome. The interface is simple but there are some usability issues. Let’s have a look at these usability issues.

1.       Inappropriate position of label

Figure 1 : Folders label
As shown in figure 1, the home page of the webmail contains label ‘Folders’ on the left pane. The Folders label is actually a list heading for list of folder items such as Inbox, Drafts, Sent, Trash and Junk E-mail. But it is not positioned properly. After Folders label, user would expect a list of folder names. But in this case, it shows Last Refresh and a link for check mail bellow Folders.
A possible solution to this issue is, placing Folders label above list items.

2.       Redundant options

‘Check mail’ is the most frequently used option. On the home page of webmail, you will find check mail link bellow Folders and then right below it, you will find ‘Inbox’ option. Both these features accomplish the same task (i.e. displaying inbox). All new emails appear in inbox, so having two different options for this task introduces redundancy.


 Figure 2 : Check mail
One potential solution is to remove the ‘Check mail’ link. Inbox will serve the purpose of checking mail.

3.       Compose option not clearly visible

Compose option, which is the most important option in web mail is not clearly visible.  A link for compose option is provided on top of the interface, as shown in figure bellow. Important features of the software should be prominent.


 Figure 3 : Compose mail
The most viable solution for this issue is providing a link to compose with large text above Folders label. This will make it prominent. Most web mails provide compose mail option in larger text than other options. This makes it easily visible for users.

4.       No notification on mail sent and address added to address book

The interface does not provide any notification after sending email.  When user composes a mail and clicks on send button, he will be directed to inbox. The user is not notified whether mail is sent successfully or not. This according to me is serious usability issue. In another case, user wants to add another entry to address book. User fills in all the details and clicks on add to address book, same page reloads. The user has to search recently added address in the address book to make sure that the address was successfully added.


                                   Figure 4 : No notification on adding entry to address book
One probable solution to this is providing a notification, Address successfully added.

Conclusion: - Though the webmail package serves the purpose, there are certain common usability issues that need to be addressed. 

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