Open-source sandbox eases app deployment

I've just returned from a day at the University of Mary Washington, where I participated in the annual Faculty Academy on Instructional Technologies. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to give a keynote talk on 21st century literacy, and to discuss Web 2.0 with a panel of like-minded thinkers.

It was just as enjoyable to hear about the approach that UMW's Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies is taking to the evaluation and acquisition of enterprise software.

If you're working in a higher-ed IT shop, you're likely supporting one of several course management systems, Blackboard and WebCT being the two names that come up most often. But you're also acutely aware of the educational relevance of blogs, wikis, and related applications and services sprouting everywhere. This stuff is mostly open source software. There are vendors who will package it for you or deliver commercial alternatives, but the UMW team wanted to work in a more exploratory and iterative way.

So they hooked up with a hosting service that's providing them with what they provocatively describe as a sandbox. In their case the hosting service is BlueHost, one of many that supports an administrative package called cPanel and -- as an add-on to cPanel -- an automated installer called Fantastico. Using Fantastico, it's easy to configure and deploy various flavors of open source Weblog, help desk, survey, wiki, or calendar applications.

Of course you can create your own sandbox, but that means you'll spend way too much time configuring and deploying. You'd rather invest that time on higher-order tasks: connecting people to the software, learning what works for them, building composites tailored to their unique requirements.

In terms of the ability to work at this level, UMW was, by its own admission, behind the curve two years ago. Nor could it afford to spend the way some universities do. But Assistant VP for Teaching and Learning Technologies Gardner Campbell has turned these weaknesses into advantages. From BlueHost's perspective, cPanel and Fantastico may only be part of a defensive strategy to minimize tech support. For UMW, however, it's an opportunity to get up to speed quickly with an array of potentially useful applications.

This exploratory mode reminds me of what venture capitalist and former Oracle executive Ray Lane said in the Software 2006 keynote I mentioned two weeks ago. In his vision of the future of enterprise software, services are delivered on demand, they produce value in incremental steps, and they're paid for when -- not before -- that value is proven.

But there's more to the story. The question isn't simply whether to build, buy, or lease, but more broadly how to orchestrate the use of a variety of free and commercial software. That's a core competency you'll want to retain and nurture in-house. What will make that possible is software that's not only delivered mostly through the Web but also packaged as what MIT's Eric von Hippel calls a "user innovation toolkit".

The UMW instructional technologists regard their sandbox as an emergent example of such a toolkit. They're using it not only to craft open source solutions but also to transform themselves into more capable evaluators of the next commercial packages they'll need to buy from vendors. And, more than incidentally, they are having a great deal of fun.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jon Udell

InfoWorld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?