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
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
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
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