Replace NetVista

by Alan Zisman ©2000

The NetVista suite of Internet utilities, installed on classroom, lab, and other computers throughout the Vancouver School system has a number of advantages—it’s reasonably consistent across the system, on Windows 95/98 and Windows 3.1 PCs and Macs. It supports large numbers of users, and allows users to access their stored mail on any (connected) computer in the school.

At the same time, many users have expressed a lot of frustrations – particularly with the Mail component. It lacks many features that we take for granted in the e-mail systems that we use at home—and is awkward to use. It doesn’t even cooperate well with standard Windows 95/98 interface features like the Taskbar on the bottom of the screen.

Interestingly, NetVista is not installed on the computers used by school administrators and downtown District staff. And that’s because (little known secret!) you don’t need to use NetVista to access the Internet on school machines.

Note: You may want to keep the NetVista icon, especially for use by students, if you’ve set up accounts for students in your schools—it remains the simplest way to for allow multiple users. But on a computer that is typically used by a single user—a computer on a teacher or librarian’s desk, for example, NetVista can safely be ignored.

You can browse the web using Netscape Navigator without first logging into NetVista… restore a Navigator icon to your desktops and Start Menus if desired. Since you are still going through the NetVista server, you will still be affected by the CyberPatrol settings limiting where you and your students can go on the Web.

You can also use the e-mail program of your choice. The administrators (both school and district) are using Netscape Messenger—the mail program that comes with the full Netscape Communicator package (along with the Netscape Composer web page creation program). Communicator was not installed on school machines, but can be freely downloaded (for Macs, Win95/98, and Win 3.1) from (Note that older Macs and Win 3.1 users will need to find older versions of Communicator—see the links on my Files page). 

Similarly, you can install and use the free Eudora mail program (for Windows 95/98 or PowerMac) from Eudora, or Outlook Express, included with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer packages for Windows 95/98 and Mac.

In all cases, you will need to do some configuration when you install these programs or run them for the first time. Here’s what you need to know:

Your e-mail logon:        this is the first part of your e-mail address—for example, azisman

Your mail servers:         You may be asked for a POP3 and SMTP server—in both cases, this is the part of your school e-mail address that follows the ‘@’ sign—in my case:

(If you’re asked if your mail server is POP3 or IMAP, it’s POP3). Don’t worry about the jargon—you don’t have to know what POP3, SMTP, or IMAP really means!

Here’s part of the Setup for Eudora Pro 4.2:

Eudora setup options

And from Netscape Messenger:

Netscape Messenger preferences

Select the name of the mail server, and click on the Edit button, and you’ll see:

Mail server properties

I’d recommend to not check any options to save your login password—if you do, anyone at your computer can access your mail. Not recommended!

Here’s the setup screen from the Mac version of Outlook Express 4.5:

Mac Outlook Express setup

Notice how while the screens may look different, the actual information is the same—and reasonably sensible.

Other tips—Eudora and some of the others let you set a folder that is used for file attachments. This by itself is reason enough to replace NetVista Mail… choose a folder—or make a new one—for instance, a folder on the Desktop, labeled ‘Attachments’ would be easy to find and check. (Windows 95/98 users will need to look in the C:\Windows folder to find the Desktop folder—and if the My Computer View default of not showing all folders is set, you won’t see it when you try to set that as the default folder—you can change this setting, or you can make the folder somewhere else—like at the beginning of the C: drive).

As well—if you’ve ever tried sending a large attachment from a school machine, you may have found that NetVista doesn’t let you attach files larger than a pretty small limit… and you can only attach one file to a message. This is not a limitation of other mail programs or even of the NetVista mail server. There tends to be about a 5 meg limit on attachments going via e-mail—but within that limitation, other mail programs are happy to let you attach as large or as many files as you want. And some NetVista users have been unable to attach JPEG graphics—for some unexplained reason, the messages appear to be sent, but never arrive. Again, this problem disappears using non-NetVista mail programs.

By the way, if you are using some other e-mail program, there’s no need to log onto NetVista first—just open up the mail program and use it!

Even if you are using a different e-mail program in place of NetVista, in a pinch you can still access your school mail using NetVista Mail on some other computer in the school. (You may want to setup your NetVista alternates to Leave Mail on Server(or equivalent) so that it will be available should you need to access it via NetVista on some other computer).

So what’s stopping you from replacing NetVista right now?


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan