Monday, September 16, 2013

Delivering IT to University Staff and Students

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where I am attending a briefing on the ANU Workspace Project. In particular the the ANU has decided to move to Microsoft Windows 8, for the non-Linux, non-Apple computers (ANU released a Workspace Project Update in August 2013). Providing desktop computers at a university is a very difficult task.  There are about 12,000 computers at the ANU. Some of the computers are on office desks, others are in learning centres for students and some are in specialized labs.

ANU is aiming to move desktop computer laptops and tablets to Windows 8. There will also be an Apple Mackintosh and Linux "image" as well.

There will be an "App store" for ANU approved applications. Users will be able to install applications themselves on their PCs (license conditions permitting).

The aim is to move to Windows 8.1 and OS 10.9 (assuming there are no problems with the new releases).

Of course for many users, who spend most of their time in web based applications, the underlying operating system is of little interest. Provided the computers on campus have a reasonably up to date web browser, Moodle, the based Learning Management System, will be accessible.

Upgrading operating systems is not an easy task. The extreme case would be Windows XP, which was released 12 years ago. Microsoft is phasing out support for this version and so users will need to upgrade.Computers running XP may not be capable of running Windows 8. In any case it might be more cost effective to replace the hardware, than try to upgrade the software. An alternative for old hardware would be to move to Linux, which has lower hardware demands.

There is also the issue with Windows 8 (and Linux) of what user interface to use. Windows 8 has a tile interface designed for touch screen tablet computers (some versions of Linux have a similar interface). The new interface looks very different and it is not clear that it has any advantages for a desktop computer using a keyboard and mouse. There is the option to emulate the old interface. However, new users may see this as old fashioned.

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