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The Cloud Is The Future

Yes … the conversation is coming round to the same thing once again. This time it is sparked off by the Apple WorldWide Developers Conference in San Francisco. With all the stuff that has gone on, it is not surprising that Apple would make some changes about how their software interacts with each other, about how they can get a bit more buy-in from their users and how they can make sure they grab back some ideas from other companies.

And true to form, Apple have come up with a number of things, lots of good stuff, but a few things which makes me take a step back and think about how it will hit schools. Of course, this is just a first look at what the offerings are and the fine detail might make a world of difference.

So, going through the keynote timeline, Apple discussed OSX first. It has been around for 10 years now (and yes, I did pay for the beta and then paid for the released version, but I also pay for a technet subscription and regular make use of beta OSS too) and there have been many changes during that time. The change in hardware (when hell froze over and Apple move to Intel) allowed a step change in how powerful the Apple computers were but for most of us it has been smaller, less spoken about changes that have made a difference. The introduction of multi-gesture on track pads was a little thing, but those who have used the magic trackpad or magic mouse know the difference it makes. So, having all the multi-touch gestures we have come to know and love seems a good thing, especially if they are improved and tweaked.

The use of the Mac App Store to deliver Apps is quite a handy thing, and the automated syncing and updating of Apps between devices will make life easier for many with multiple devices, or those upgrading. And this is where I hit flaw number one in the announcements. Those of us in schools want a nice simple way of managing technology, which doesn’t create any issues for staff using it and to make sure it is secure and consistent for learners. If I am not in centralised control then this creates a problem. And it gets worse (or better if you are a general consumer) … Lion will be a download. Lion Server will be a series of add-ons and things like Profile Manager look quite good (from the limited information so far) but what is going to happen for OS deployment? What about App deployment? Patch management? IT just doesn’t seem to add up yet, and the last thing any IT Manager wants to do is to have to wait until it comes live in July before finding out what is going on … remembering that many schools will have already been planning their summer rollout. What happens when new hardware arrives with Lion on and cannot be rolled back to Snow Leopard to fit in with the present system?

Ok … there are 250 new features so the 10 shown at the Keynote don’t really do it full justice. Version control of documents, Air Drop for quick file transfer … there will be good and bad … but make sure you plan well.

And so we get to iOS5. With no new announcement of iPhone hardware we have to look just at the OS.

To be honest, there was little here that I could sing or dance about for schools. Yes, there is better integration with things like the camera can directly link into twitter, more stuff on iBooks (some good ePub resources out there, not forgetting iTunes U) but iMessage, Game Centre, Mail … nothing really to make my skin tingle … until a throw away comment. Full screen Airplay from iOS devices to an AppleTV 2. Yes … a tablet based IWB with multi-touch and a wide range of educational apps. I am waiting for the Developer site to come live again as I am likely to upgrade my Apple TV2 and iPhone to the latest builds just to give this a try. I have already mentioned to people about getting iPads (pref iPad 2 to ensure there is a camera) to hook up to projectors but this makes it even better. No doubt, there are a number of other functions which will be wonderful, but I still worry about centralised management for a class-set of devices, and some of the cloud based news later worried me even more. I am all for freedom of control of tools … but no control at all? This now puts iOS as a consumer OS, with limited business application. It also means that it will mean a lot more work for a school to look after them.

And then we get to the cloud services. To some extent the show covered cloud services throughout. The syncing of Apps, the automated updating of apps and OS, the syncing of docs … and we all knew that iCloud was coming! And sure enough, it is here. Photostream between devices and the web, most of the previous MobileMe stuff being improved / updated and given away for free (erm … what about those of us who are subscribers? Refund?) But then we have to think about the syncing of documents. Now, there is a list of companies in teh US who have signed a Safe Harbor agreement with the US Department of Commerce, and Apple do have an entry on there … and here it is.

Personal Information Received from the EU/EEA and/or Switzerland:
Online and offline customer and human resources data. Apple collects customer data during certain transactions and communications with its customers, including when users register to use Apple products and services, purchase Apple products and services, register Apple hardware and software, apply for commercial credit, and participate in surveys. Customer data is transferred from EU Apple subsidiaries to Apple Inc. (which is located in the United States) for the purposes of marketing, facilitating transactions, customer support, customer communications, improving Apple products and services, auditing, data analysis and data storage. Human Resources data is transferred from EU Apple subsidiaries to Apple Inc. for the purposes of conducting the human resources and financial management of Apple Inc. and its subsidiaries. Such purposes include, without limitation, making available documentation on personnel, administering compensation, payroll, benefits, administering stock options, bonus plans, succession planning, recruiting new employees, addressing various legal obligations concerning personnel status, data audit and error control, and tracking the use of temporary workers and independent workers.

So … can you tell me where it covers the contents of my files? And if I stick a class list (which home addresses) on my iDisk (as it is now) or have it as a doc which travels between my devices (via the Apple server farm) then I am putting data at risk in spite of the DPA saying *DON’T*! Ok … maybe I am over-reacting … but you can see my concern. Syncing stuff can be good, but there are certain issues with it. If you are in a school do you need to sync things to the cloud to pull it back down to the same school but a device being used by the child sat next to you? What about using a little of this magic to work a bit smarter closer to home? *That* is what I am more interested in …

So … first thoughts are that there are only a few things that jump out as going to make a massive difference to use by children and use by teachers. There are still lots of things that give it even more potential … but then we hit my second thoughts. This is a consumer device that is going to be a pig to try to manage for a centralised resource. This is nothing new with Apple though … and we generally muddle through … and it is just a shame that Apple, who have such a strong following within education, still seem to miss some opportunities.

As I try things out I will put up new entries … and I am eager to have suggestions about what to look at. That said … comments such as “swap to Android / Windows / Linux / Etch-a-sketch” are pretty old hat now … even if they do raise a slight smirk.

5 replies on “The Cloud Is The Future”

Another reasoned and considered article – thanks Tony.
Wish we had more info on 10.7 server.
As for “Full screen Airplay from iOS devices to an AppleTV”:
It is my earnest hope that Apple will add the same Airplay functionality to OSX (although I can’t find any indication that this is on the cards). To get away from VGA and audio cabling in classrooms would be a huge step forward – and Apple could sell vast numbers of Apple TVs. All our teachers use MacBook Pros and mirroring wirelessly (with audio) would be the answer to a prayer.

The iPad seems to be de-rigeur at the moment and it is indeed a fancy gadget but I do wonder about schools supplying them to students. Putting aside the myriad of issues you outline above, if I was to use public money to provide my 1500 students with a personal gadget (an unlikely scenario) I would want them to
a) Really have access to all its processor power and networking.
b) Not have to go through an App store to get any software.
c) Be able to write and share their own software and finally
d) Have a button that restores everything when they break it. Recognising that in the breaking of it, there is an off-chance that they might have learned something.

Oh, and as for wireless VGA (VGA is a lot better than TV). Given that we are working with Apples that are nearly all DVI, it might be worth pointing out that DVI signals are ~4Gbps.
Apples sharing of video across my household wireless network manages a TV quality picture but that is nowhere near what DVI delivers.

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