Cross-platform Teaching

Computer literacy classes are typically Microsoft-centric. Except for a small percentage of hardcore anti-Microsoft holdouts, nearly everyone teaches the Microsoft Office suite of applications -the alternative being Sun Microsystems OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org). There are a number of compelling reasons to use OpenOffice over Microsoft Office, still I opt for Microsoft Office for my students simply because 99 percent of them will be using it professionally.

Because the course is so Microsoft-centric, I feel an obligation to expose my students to other platforms during the lecture, or concepts, portion of my courses. I also feel the need to be an authority on the most popular personal computing operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux) so that I can use my experience to teach students about the benefits and drawbacks of the various systems and interfaces.

As you may already know, I purchased my first Apple Mac at the beginning of the year. Ten months later, I find that I very much like the Mac system, but there are a number of professional activities that I am unable to accomplish on my Mac; specifically Course Technology’s SAM training and testing software requires Windows, as does Microsoft Access. There are also issues with migrating PowerPoint presentations between Mac and Windows. I’ve had no problems with Word or Excel for Mac although contrary to the marketing I find them to be inferior to the Windows versions. At the same time I’ve discovered dozens of Mac applications, mostly in the media category, that are far superior to Windows applications, or not offered for Windows. And of course, Windows cannot compete with Mac when it comes to ease of use, stability, and security.

So, at the end of 10 months I found myself with my beloved Mac on the right side of my desk, and my IBM Thinkpad on my left – I’ve become a switch hitter, so to speak. Torn between two platforms is not a convenient place to be. I was on the verge of giving up my Mac and getting a high end Windows notebook, when an alternative solution became available…

I am presently sitting at my new MacBook Pro powered by the Intel Duo 2 processor: tons of power, 2 GB of memory, and the ability to run Windows better than the best Windows PC’s. I have installed “Parallels” virtual machine software (www.parallels.com) on my Mac, which has allowed me to install both Windows XP and Windows Vista on two virtual machines. With a click of the mouse, my Mac switches from the Mac OS X and software to my Windows XP desktop and software. A shared file system allows me to work on common files from either platform. Further down the road I’ll be installing Linux as well. What a great demo it will provide for my lecture to be able to show students how these three OS’s work all from one notebook.

Obviously, this solution won’t appeal to many. But, for those who are interested in experiencing all forms of personal computing, I highly recommend trying a Mac, and if possible springing for this multi-platform arrangement. Feel free to email me with questions, or post your own thoughts on the subject.

2 Replies to “Cross-platform Teaching”

  1. Very interesting experience Ken. Thanks for sharing it with your readers.

    I whole heartedly agree with your thoughts on OpenOffice.org and the MS centric teaching of student at all levels of education. This is especially sad as MS Office is not ISO 26300 (ODF) compliant. Although MS make some decent baby steps in that direction.

    May I offer another experiment for your adventurous mind? May I introduce you to “Plan-B for OpenOffice.org?”

    It is a new support system designed for non-technical users. It teaches software through screencasts (short videos). It also utilizes smart search technology to help users find the right topic, even if they do not know the precise keyword to search for.

    Please check it out and let me know what you think about it. If you like it, recommend it to your students and register at Plan-B for OpenOffice.org

    Full disclosure: I’m the owner of Conficio, the business that develops the Plan-B technology.

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