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Google Apps Alternatives

March 24, 2011 3 comments

Google Apps is the predominantly used cloud-based communications, collaboration and document management platform on the web. The free easy to use tools and consistent improved upgrades has provided education organizations solid solutions for email, calendar, document sharing/management and team collaborative sites. In response to Google, Microsoft launched the Microsoft Office Live and Live@Edu products, which will transition into the new Microsoft Office 365. Microsoft Office 365 is going to offer 25GB of storage with access to Office tools online.

While these two juggernauts continue to fight for the number one spot, I wanted to highlight some lesser known communication and collaboration platforms available for organizations.

HyperOffice – The HyperOffice collaboration suite offers tools that not only supports email, document management and calendars, but also project and contact management tools. They also have remote sharing features with their HyperMeeting product. The HyperBase features allows organizations to create customized databases for data collection.

Zimbra – Originally purchased by Yahoo in 2007, Zimbra was reinvented with the acquisition by VMware. The Zimbra Collaboration Server uses the power of VMware to create virtualized and cloud infrastructures for integrated email, contacts, document management, and desktop synchronization.

Zoho – It is probably not fair to call Zoho a lesser known product because this popular web-based application platform offers an abundance of products for organizations. In fact, it probably could compete with Google and Microsoft for the number one spot for web-based tools. The collaborative apps and business focused apps are widely used in many organizations. Zoho even offers integration with Google Apps.

ThinkFree – This solution provides a viable alternative to online office collaboration and document management tools, but doesn’t provide the full breath of communication features as the above products. Nevertheless, this free online office suite works with Microsoft Office tools and touts mobile document capabilities.

Gaggle – This online learning platform provides a more filtered and secure version of web-based applications. It is specifically built for education with ERate and CIPA compliance. The reason it is finally worthy of a comprehensive platform is because of its additions of Gaggle’s Apps integration with products such as Google Apps and Zoho. Gaggle offers safe and secure student email, blogging, document sharing, and social media filtered features.

Here are some other up and coming web-based solutions that warrants further research:

eyeOS – Web Desktop, Cloud Computing Operating System and Web Office

ePals – Safe collaborative technology for schools to connect and learn in a protected, project-based learning network.

Huddle – Project management software, collaboration software & file storage

Onehub – Customizable workspaces for online collaboration

Google Cloud Connect Review (Limitations)

February 26, 2011 4 comments

Its 3:30am on a rainy Saturday morning, what better way to start the day than beta testing Google Cloud Connect! Trust me, I would rather be sleeping…

There has been plenty of hype about the Google Cloud Connect plugin which allows you to bridge Microsoft Office with the Google Apps Cloud. Being an avid user of Google Apps, I was excited about providing my avid Office users a seamless pathway onto the Google platform. The installation was simple (unlike what MSFT claims: Microsoft pooh-poohs Google Cloud Connect) and the user interface is intuitive enough for most folks to navigate. It adds a toolbar to your Office suite labeled Google Cloud Connect.

When testing the software, it worked exactly as advertised when syncing to Google Docs. I created a test document on Microsoft Word and it easily synced with my Google Docs (once logged in). It also provided a Google Doc active link inside Microsoft Word and offers revision history on the document. Great!

Unfortunately that is where the excitement ends, as the collaboration feature is not what Google lead me to believe. From what I understood, I thought we would be able to actively edit a document in real time in Microsoft Word using Google Docs. That feature is non-existent and in fact when the document is stored in your Google Docs, it is saved as a Microsoft Word file. Google does not convert the document into a collaborative document and is stored as read-only. The shared document must be converted by the user to a Google Doc before anyone else can edit the document collaboratively. But once you convert the document, that leaves behind your Microsoft Word capabilities. And that is the biggest hurdle and limitation of Google Cloud Connect. Until that is fixed, it will be difficult to completely role this out as a truly cross-platform solution. One step at a time I suppose…

You can download Google Cloud Connect on the Google Docs Blog. It works with Microsoft 2003, 2007, and 2010. It is also important to note that it doesn’t work with Office for Mac 2011.

Evolving Google Apps for Edu

December 29, 2010 1 comment

After reading the article Google Pushes Education Software Through App Store, I began thinking about the next step for Google Apps for Education. Now that many classes, schools, and districts are using GA4E with their students, I find the next logical step for Google is to start partnering with educational software tools to provide a wider breadth of applications. It is a brilliant move! Google hooked us educators with a great web platform; and now they can leverage the user base to get these 3rd party companies to sell us products. I have always said, the education sector is the next big industry and technology is driving that business. Since GA4E is a simple and robust administrative platform, it will make it easy for technology administrators to bring in new education applications into their infrastructure without much overhead. If evolved strategically, GA4E can become the web platform for the next generation edtech initiatives. Can you imagine in the future, GA4E integrating with Learning Management Systems, SIS, virtual worlds, and online interactive education content? You would have to think Google had this in mind prior to launching a free Google Apps for Education…muahahah!

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When K12 Moves to the Cloud

August 25, 2010 Leave a comment

ReadWriteWeb writer Audrey Watters reached out to me to discuss how we implemented Google Apps Edu at my schools. Attached is the link to the full article: When K12 Moves to the Cloud

In the words of Howard Chan, “having a centralized depository for disseminating information has changed the culture of our school. Now there is a platform for distributing information in real time and archiving information for future use.”

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Why my PLN uses Google Apps?

July 9, 2010 4 comments

I am launching Google Apps across seven schools this summer and asked my education PLN to help provide reasons why they use Google Apps? Thank you to all the valuable PLN members on Twitter for providing this amazing list! Keep the responses coming, I will continually update this list.

  • @pmcash Students create a folder for a course/teacher. Store all work in the folder, teacher has access, no need to share each item.
  • @kelalford I use Google Docs for myself to be able to collaborate with other teachers. Want to try to introduce third graders this year.
  • @kelalford we use it to create grade level tests.
  • @dmantz7 I like using Google Apps for Education because it can be integrated into Moodle. Also add Creately (mind mapping) to GAE domain.
  • @jenroberts1 5 ways I use docs in an English class and 5 tips to make that easier: http://tinyurl.com/28wpje2
  • @techmunoz #edtech I love google apps–forms, because it makes it so easy to create a quick assessment that you can embed or email 2 stdnts.
  • @soltauheller we use googledocs to create surveys then to look at graphs that are produced – we can send the link to anyone we like
  • @soltauheller have also used it to do collaborative unit planning with other teachers
  • @bandlady All my students use google docs & presentations; so easy to share #edchat #edtech
  • @coreygin Some reasons for Google apps: Simple, accessible, available anywhere anytime using any computer. And best of all: Free!
  • @oh_the_places Used Gdoc for students to write collaborative letters – requesting info/decision from principal, parent letters, etc.
  • @mtrump Too many ways to list in 140 characters
  • @shfarnsworth #edtech #edchat – communal lesson plans that all teachers, study hall teachers, subs, at-risk teachers can access on google docs!
  • @pughamy accessible, collaborative, community of resources #edchat #edtech #googleapps
  • @pmcash Use anywhere, collaboration, FREE #edtech#edchat
  • @jasonschimdt123 I want it for the communication and collaboration tools. I use GApps in my class, spoof it with a class email acct.
  • @doremigirl Project assessment http://ht.ly/28KAi; teachers using GDoc to brainstorm curr ideas, sharing folders for diff classes GSites 4 Ss
  • @wmchamberlain cloud based is nice, plenty of apps that allow them to be worked on locally too. Easy to share and collaborate with.
  • @mtrump I share several G-calendars out of many with key people so they know if I’m in meetings or PD, etc. Integrates w/ Outlook Cal. if needed.
  • @mtrump And collaborative editing on G-Docs = priceless! Teachers use for PLC planning….
  • @mtrump Also use G-forms for instant surveys and assessment of classes/school/district. See the forms on http://bit.ly/dltTkg – they link to SSheet
  • @thnorfar editing collaboratively-google apps
  • @franze98 1 thing i liked over exchange (besides cost) was the more granular options for e-mail groups
  • @marcellarepp I love igoogle-It is a great, quick way to organize all my websites I enjoy&areas that I want to keep connected with everyday.
  • @carolgau Google docs – st collaborate and create rubrics, st make presentations for class
  • @ariellehg multiple students take notes in a google doc using different colors focusing on different things ie: numbers, vocab, stories…
  • @rosengo I have students use Google Pres for collaborative Socials presentations about Mesopotamia and Early Homonids. #edchat #edtech
  • @MrA47 I use google docs with my students to go paperless. We are creating spreadsheets now and charting survey results
  • @rkiker I use all the Google Tools b/c of simplicity, reliability, global access,and collaboration. Not sure why I wouldn’t use them.

Here are my reasons why I use Google Apps in K12 Education:

  • Unified communication for all staff members using tools such as video chat, email, docs, wikis, and shared calendars.
  • Growing list of available apps through Google Marketplace.
  • Empowering users to contribute to the knowledge database using sites and docs.
  • Access anywhere and anytime.
  • Postini services provides strong mail filtering capabilities.
  • Uses Google search engine for all our applications. Simpler to find information and hard to find emails.
  • No servers to manage.
  • Scalability of users is simple.
  • Capability to combine multiple domains under one management interface. Schools can separate teacher and student domains.
  • Google Docs editing on the go using mobile technologies is now available.
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My “Dream” Desktop Virtualization Solution

April 11, 2010 1 comment

Working in both IT operations and EdTech makes it quite difficult to provide a balanced technology solution that offers robust instructional resources without putting a burden on technical support. In my previous post, I wrote about creating a Google Apps Virtual Desktop where students can log into their account for their web-based application services. As of now, it has been limited to the core Google Apps services of Docs & Sites, with additions of Aviary, SlideRocket, and Survey Monkey. I am still waiting for an education section of GAE to develop, and more instructional apps made available for free.

While Google Apps provides our schools with real-time communication and collaborative tools, I still felt a key missing component to my desktop virtualization solution. This is where I have been investigating solutions to eliminate the everyday desktop technical support of security updates, software installations, and user operating system errors. I have researched solutions such as Citrix XenDesktop 4 software and VMware.

Then I asked What if…?

What if web-centric Google Chromium OS allowed me to combine VMware capability with Google Apps? In my dream world, my students will use thin clients to boot up Chromium OS from a shared server. The Chromium OS will launch Google Apps and other web 2.0 apps on the thin clients, and students will be able to save all their work in Docs.

From an IT perspective, it will reduce cost and time of managing & maintaining individual desktop machines that are prone for user error. The thin clients will simply act as a graphical user interface connecting remotely to the shared server or drive that boots web-based Chromium OS and Google Apps. Using this configuration will free up time to focus on professional development training, while allowing me to maximize instructional technology resources in a virtual environment. One device to rule them all…Would love to hear your budget K12 solutions?

The Google Apps Virtual Desktop

March 16, 2010 3 comments

Since migrating most staff technology operations to Google Apps, I have been contemplating the next step for student technology services. With the launch of Google Apps Marketplace, there are now a plethora of web-based apps that integrate with Google Apps Education (GAE). For example, Aviary is an online photo/graphics image editor with web template capabilities. Adding services to my student GAE domain is as simple as adding an app for iPhone. GAE already has resourceful tools for student collaboration, data storage, and portfolio management. And with the addition of more tools from Marketplace, I want to create the ideal GAE virtual desktop. From a district IT perspective, moving these software services to the cloud will ultimately free up time for more educational technology integration. Enabling software services through the cloud will keep me from having to manage software on every student desktop and laptop.

I will have a part 2 to this post when I finally create the virtual desktop for the GAE student domain. What Marketplace Apps are you using with your students?

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