Friday, 17 August 2007

GooglePack. Google Docs and changing the world

There's been a lot of (virtual) ink spilt on GooglePack including Star Office and what it means for Google Docs.

My take on it is fairly simple. They're complementary. It allows people to work on documents offline and then post to google docs, share them and all the rest of the collaboration age stuff. It also allows people to work on documents anywhere, even if they are using a shared computer in an internet cafe at an airport, and then finish them off working on their own computer, then repost, republish them.

And crucially, Google Pack represents an easy simple way of getting star office/open office onto pc's. Easy auto install, no buying or downloading media, no burning install cd's. Now you can do it witha click of a mouse and twenty minutes connectivity.

So what would this mean for student computing (see my previous post for background)

Basically the way I see it is as follows:

Students (almost) universally have a computing device
Google ( are giving away Star Office, and Aqua Open Office for the mac is not far away

=> there is no reason to provide a basic word processing/spreadsheet/presentations/web any more
=> google pack gives us a support free deployment for this software
=> google docs, zoho office fill the gaps
=> webdav provides maintainable filestore to allow students to save their work to university systems that are backed up
=> and the lms/vle and collaboration facility allows students to do most tutorial work

and this means

the computer labs increasingly become a specialist facilities environment
nasty packages can run on thin client / vm’s
ACE or whatever can give access to computing environments
all we do is mandate the formats submissions are made in, not the package
students largely are self supporting
students access most facilities via their own connection (as at a number of mainland European uni’s, eg the Sorbonne)

and these few students without access to a computer?

My pat answer is to set up an ANU computer recycling project (yes, I’ve done this before {} to solve a similar problem) and also incidentally enhance the institution’s green credentials, and reputation as positive caring institution etc

Possibly a tad radical, but I actually think it would work as a model and solve a number of our problems.

So GooglePack gets us Star Office into the environment. Also once we've Star Office out there and built a Star Office culture we can perhaps look to a linux base desktop environment and thus reduce licensing costs further. After all if your word processor, browser, mail client are the same do you care?

I think not. They even don't have to be exactly the same. The resurgence of Apple in the university computing environment suggests you only need to be complementary as long as it works, is reliable and predictable.

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