What's New in 2004 - Redux

Last time I was finishing my look ahead at the technology to watch in ’04 and ran out of space. I wanted to touch on trends in battery technology and educational software development. So forthwith, keep an eye on the following. A battery technology emerging in ’04, whether early in the year or later, is changing the playing field. The leading contender to add to your independence is the fuel cell battery, which it turns out, is not really a battery at all. A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that combines hydrogen fuel with oxygen to produce electric power, heat, and water. Instead of applying a periodic recharge, as one would with a battery, a continuous supply of oxygen and hydrogen is supplied from the outside.

The rush is to come up with a small, efficient, and economical energy cell that out performs lithium ion batteries, even as the laptops that use them are getting increasingly efficient in their energy consumption. Millennium Cell of Eatontown, New Jersey, has a hydrogen-based fuel cell made from sodium borohydride. Borohydride is the primary ingredient of borax; the natural mineral used for making laundry soap that was made famous by 20 mule-team Borax and sponsor of the Wagon Train.

The source of the original fuel cells was based on methanol to derive the source of the hydrogen. However, the notion of carrying around a highly flammable charged hydrogen container is less than appealing, and probably not possible in the air. On the other hand, common ethanol is transportable and produces energy efficiencies similar to those of the methanol prototypes.

Toshiba and NEC have made commitments to producing fuel cell batteries for laptops. Other manufacturers are ramping up to follow suit. The idea of getting 12 hours of energy for your laptop, and then providing it with a new source of fuel with an injector that takes seconds to transfer the compressed fuel into the depleted cell is compelling. Not carrying the extra weight of secondary batteries is wonderful idea.

Synchronizing the Development
Clocks at Multiple Institutions

Developing educational software is hard enough at any one institution. Coordinating development at multiple institutions is more difficult. Having a common development calendar with an agreement to deliver a release that shares a common code base—priceless. Well, not exactly, but it’s rare. Enter SAKAI.

SAKAI is a collaborative effort among the University of Michigan, Indiana University, MIT, and Stanford with five main deliverables: an enterprise services-based portal, a complete course management system with sophisticated assessment tools, a research support collaboration system, a workflow engine, and a clear standard for writing future tools that can extend this core set of educational applications.

A key outcome of this effort is the Too Portability Profile. The TPP pulls together four elements: the Open Knowledge Initiative open source interface definitions; the JSR-168 portlet specification that allows information and services to be personalized and customized by the viewer; and local interface that a given institution can customize to their campus preferred look and feel.

A Partners Program will support developers at other institutions to help them utilize the resources, development tools, and framework of SAKAI.

This is a novel effort trying to get true collaborative investment to build a common code base that will provide open source educational tools to anyone who wants them. Will it work? It’s too early to say but the institutions in the core group have made substantial fiscal and operational commitments toward this effort.

The immediate educational pay-off is an enterprise-scale course management system, distributed research collaboration tools, and a portal to which to use them. A good deal more depends on you and your colleagues, participating, trying the tools, and developing your own following this lead.

Windows Services in
Heterogeneous Environments

Many of us are struggling to find ways of supporting the variety of computers, which students and institutions acquire to do their work. Ninety percent or more of the computers run MS Windows. You would think that it would make this job a little easier, but it d'esn’t. The differentiation that vendors seek to promote to distinguish their computer from the ‘others’ makes their support a nightmare.

One solution brings us full circle. Instead of providing the software for installation on individual machines, provide access to the application. That is what the Citrix MetaFrame Presentation Server d'es. Citrix has been around a long time (since 1989) providing what is referred to as a “thin client.” A small client runs on the local machine that connects it to a server where the Windows application executes. It’s not a cheap solution but it d'es have its benefits.

One of the attributes of Citrix is the ability to lengthen the lifespan of the client. You can use an old PC and still run the latest software since it’s executing on the MetaFrame server. The Citrix client runs on a wide variety of PCs, both desktops and laptops. This enables you to run an application reliably on a wide variety of PCs.

Another advantage is running Windows applications from Mac platforms. It would be nice if there is comparable applications for the Mac to those we run on the PC. The reality is that there are critical applications you run on Windows for which there are no Macintosh alternatives. That can be more than annoying if you have to run the application to do your core business.

You can run Virtual PC but you’ll need a fast Macintosh with a lot of memory—the application may still not run fast enough to be useful on a day-in/day-out basis. I wish it weren’t the case, but that’s the current reality.

You can, however, run a Citrix thin client on your Mac and run the Windows application on the MetaFrame server. At some institutions where there is a significant number of installed Apple computers, this has become a standard way to let the user choose the platform of their choice, while allowing them to run the Windows applications they need.

It is not an inexpensive solution. How can you tell if this is a good choice for your needs? We’ll do a cost comparison and look at alternatives to running Windows applications for your educational software needs—next time.

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