Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Skydrive killed the student filestore ...

Over the years I've said various things about student filestores, but now is probably the time to finally lay the corpse out in its box.

The reason? The Apple iPad. (actually it's not the iPad's fault, it could just as easily be an Android tablet or a smartphone of some description)

As soon as we get to a situation where students routinely have multiple computing devices they need to share information between them. Historically they did this by walking about with floppy disks in the bottom of their work bags and more recently with usb sticks. However as soon as you start finding people using information access devices that lack usb ports the game changes. They start sharing files over the network between their various devices. And of course sharing information between devices is really just a restricted version of sharing information with other users.

So what do we have in the way of alternatives:

Dropbox – can share files between computers. Automatic synchonisation. Widely supported. Webclient for accessing your files when you don't have dropbox installed. Can share files via magic link. Totally agnostic as to file type

Google drive. Functionality much as dropbox but with the added advantage of a web based editor and co-operative editing facilities. Can export documents in standard (ie Microsoft, Libre Office and as PDF).

Skydrive. Uses Microsoft style formats by default. Generous amount of storage (7GB), and accessible via a standard browser or via Apple or Android clients. Plays nicely with local Office installs.

There are other services, for example Box.net that provides much the same functionality as dropbox. Even the latest version of AbiWord comes with a built in document collaboration and sharing service.

So we can say that student filestores are dead. No one needs to use them and some of the alternatives are possibly better. Even the old canard about getting files back from a backup doesn't really apply – use google docs or skydrive and your deleted files live on in a recycle bin and even dropbox caches deleted files. In fact things are considerably better than if you walk around with your data on a USB stick – and potentially safer.

So we could quite sensibly say that we could run without student filestore provision – all we need do is nominate a preferred service. This isn't as radical a move as it might have been a few years ago – people are accepting of using cloud storage for their music, so having them self outsource their data to the cloud is not such a stretch.

All that is lost is the joy of managing student filestore ….

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