Saturday, 19 September 2009


Ausakai09 was the annual conference of sakai users in Australia and was held this year at Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Bathurst. CSU are seriously committed to Sakai and run a heavily customised instance based around sakai 2.4 as a student LMS solution.

Given CSU's geographically distributed multi campus nature a robust VLE solution is clearly key for them.

Why did I go?

Currently we run an outsourced version of moodle as our VLE but use Sakai 2.4 as our collaboration platform, basically a poor man's sharepoint. We are currently updating this to 2.6. However I have a number of questions:

  • Do we have too many products in the mix?
  • Could Sakai replace Moodle, or vice versa?
  • Collaboration requires social networking like features - does either Moodle2 or Sakai3 support these?
  • To what extent will these products interwork with Googledocs, flickr and the rest?
  • Could either product be used in place of a student (or indeed staff) portal eg Melbourne graduate studies portal?
  • How likely is either product to deliver?

With Moodle the answer is quite clear. Moodle2 will become available sometime in the December 2009 / February 2010 timeframe, will have a new respository style content focused architecture and will have support for plugins to import and export to flickr google docs and the rest and is aimed at the shared experience. With plugins for gmail and live@edu, calendaring and the rest moodle could provide the equivalent functionality as a student portal. (See my Moodleposium post for more details)

However while moodle could undoubtedly be run as a collaboration suite, especially given its new architecture, it promotes object reuse and repurposing.

Sakai is somewhat different. Sakai 2.4 and earlier versions tended to be more buggy than moodle and rather more freewheeling in their approach leading do a degree of confusion as to how to get tool x to do y. As of 2.6 the foundation has been putting in place management measures to ensure better QA on the code and as of 3.0, not only will there be a new respository style architecture promoting object resuse, and integration with flickr, gdocs etc but there will be a strict style guide to ensure that all application conform to a common look and feel - basically if 2.4 was linux, 3.0 will be the mac - everything works more or less the same way.

Architecturally, sakai3 makes more use of other open source projects, eg shindig, apache jackrabbit to become more modular more component based, making the environment easier to maintain and easier to build. Objects in the repository store will have metadata controlling their resuse, basically access control is on a per object basis, rather than on a per site basis as in 2.4 and 2.6.

Sakai 3 includes the concept of scholarly social networking in recognition that much academic work involves collaboration, including integration with google docs, and has an architecture that allows the building of connector apps. One nice aspect is its idea of a universal inbox, one where there are sakai instant messages, and imap and pop connectors to pull email out of other mail systems.

Coupled with shibboleth and credential caching for single sign on and ical calendar subscription this would appear to give the ability to provide a portal out of the box. Sakai3 also is cloud storage aware and will scale to support very large sites with many many objects in the repository.

So basically sakai 3 looks on paper to be ideal application.

However, timing is everything. Unlike Moodle2 Sakai3 will not ship until sometime in 2011, with 2.6 going EOL in 2011. The last version currently planned off the Sakai 2 code base will be 2.7 and that will go EOL in 2012.

Sakai 2.6.0 whipped without a Wysiwyg editor for the wiki tool, zip and unzip functionality and an enhanced version of the FCKeditor.

All are envisaged for a 2.6.1 service pack.

The question is therefore if Moodle2 ships without problems, and given that there is a strong market out there for VLE solutions will sakai start looking old and tired with its 2.6/7 architecture. Sakai could start to look very poor in comparison as a collaboration architecture, although features such as the new profile tool, which is much more facebook in its approach - a facebook for learning - enhances collaboration within an institution.

Sakai 2.4 certainly works for us as a collaboration plaform and the same is true of 2.6 for Melbourne's graduate studies portal. The question really is will Moodle 2, be good enough to replace these use cases, given the desire to reduce the number of products. Only time, and testing, will tell. Certainly the demo version of sakai 3 at 3akai looks promising.

Health warning: The views in this post are my own and not those of my institution.

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