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While this is not a completely surprising thing for the University of Washington to do, the interesting part is how Microsoft’s web based offerings will work on a college campus, where the predominate operating system might not be Windows based, and people are probably not using Internet Explorer. The Seattle PI is reporting that the University of Washington is preparing the beta roll out of Microsoft’s web based office products on the campus, and while odds are highly in favor of the beta testing being done across all platforms, there are a number of very real issues, that need to be explored.
This is not so much to be completely supportive of computer based programs, there is much to be said about cloud computing which the Microsoft Web Based Office provides, but in a research university, where researchers make or break their careers based on what grants they get, what research they are doing, or how that research can parlay into viable companies.
The Universities research has spun off a number of companies from Bio Fuels, to brand new ways of managing library resources, doing everything on the Microsoft network might not be the optimal solution here for truly sensitive documents. From the students view point through, this is a huge cost savings, and while students will also use just about any platform they want to, odds are likely that it is either windows or apple.
There is no current version of Internet Explorer for Mac, but with the Apple virtualization process, bringing up a Microsoft Operating system will not be that difficult, it just depends on who is going to pay for it if the Microsoft product does not seem to be compatible with Apple’s own safari browser. Although Microsoft should be browser agnostic, SharePoint and Firefox or safari interaction leaves much to be desired.
Many of the active components in SharePoint do not work or render correctly in any other browser but Internet Explorer. This does though provide the university with a good foray in cutting down costs for students and staff that use Microsoft products. When the University laid off 66 workers in June 2008 due to a perfect storm of events, they were also looking at crossing over people to Google mail for the enterprise to help reduce costs. Going to the cloud for non-sensitive documents and other information makes sense as an overall cost cutting measure.
The interesting part of the Seattle PI article though was that they are going with a local company, rather than using Google or Zoho for their on line office needs. As long as the University has looked at the security ramifications of cloud computing for the general mass of people, and keeps the research side of the house out of the cloud until it matures, this is going to be a significant cost savings for them, and something that makes sense in an educational environment. Cloud computing is something that many people are doing; it makes sense for the University of Washington to do the same thing as a cost savings measure.
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