Netbook/iPod Touch/Kindle/iPad Update

One of the more popular posts on my blog has been Netbook vs. iPod Touch Debate from back in March.  Well since that time, the landscape of potential portable devices in schools has changed.  Our school’s media coordinator has gotten a Kindle, so I’ve had the chance to play around with one of those.  The most recent entrant is Apple’s iPad, the claimed “middle ground” between smartphones and laptops.  Here are some updated thoughts from myself and my discussions with my students.

Kindle

Amazon’s Kindle, the top in the current line of eBook readers, has been suggested as a great idea for students.  After all, one of the biggest complaints about textbooks is their cost and weight right? (Nevermind other, more valid complaints regarding errors, sanitized, standardized language, over reliance by teachers, etc)  The Kindle would allow students to have all their books in one place, plus it’s Internet enabled…sort of.  The Kindle does allow you to go online, but online in the most limited sense of the idea.  Sure Wikipedia seems to work fairly well (for those teachers who will actually let their students use it) but the majority of the rest of the web is very limited. Additionally, and here’s my biggest complaint against the Kindle: schools are dealing with a TON of overhead. Buying the Kindle only gives access to a small number of free eBooks.  Owning a library means a school already has hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on print books, all which are unusable with the new eReader.  Along those same lines, buying one copy of a physical book allows many students to read that book.  Buying one copy of a Kindle book, allows that one student to read that book.  Not very cost effective despite the lowered cost of Kindle editions.

iPad

My feelings on the iPad are largely summed up here by Russ Goerend.  He beat me to the punch.  I like many others, was very excited about the announcement of the Apple Tablet/iPad.  Steve Jobs keynote left me somewhat uninspired, and continued reflection led me to be downright depressed about the next few months of technology in schools.  Schools have lately (perhaps always) been engaged in the game of technology one-ups-manship, where neighboring schools/districts/states try and show their dedication to technology by having things that are newer or better than those around them.  With the new “it” item being the iPad, it won’t belong before we hear about a district purchasing inordinate numbers of them for students.

The problem is, as it stands now, the iPad is an infinitely poor laptop replacement.  Steve Jobs portrayed netbooks as “Cheap laptops”.  The iPad, by similar logic, could be categorized as an expensive “not quite laptop.”  A few of the issues with the current version of the iPad:

  • Runs iPhone OS – this limits users to running a single app at the same time.  No grabbing pictures from Safari and dragging them into the Keynote slide you’re creating, no listening to Pandora while working on email, no toggling between two apps that you are using for anything.
  • No camera – This to me looks like the “big announcement” for the iPad 2nd Generation. Leaving a camera off of this device seems to have no logical reasoning unless it would have pushed the iPad over the desired price point. Still, no camera means, no photo taking, no video, no video chat.
  • No USB, no storage expansion, nothing that’s not in the App Store…that’s a lot of No’s…
  • Must sync back to another computer…This makes the iPad only an accessory.  It can’t stand on it’s own forever. Just like the iPod Touch, which few people would argue is a total replacement for another computer, the iPad will require users to connect back to another device.  I see this posing problems for schools trying to run implement their use large scale.

A few things the iPad, MAY have going for it

  • Keynote and Pages – great to see these make their way to other mobile devices, but what will we find out they can’t do? We know they won’t run at the same time something else is running. Will they end up running on the Touch/iPhone? At $9.99 I’m not sure many folks would buy them for the smaller devices, but it stands to reason if they’ll work on the iPad, they SHOULD work on the iPhone/iTouch.
  • iBooks/Kindle App – Together, these two apps will likely make the Kindle a very hard sell.  Since the iPad can do everything a Kindle can, plus more, someone looking for an eReader will be hard pressed to go for Amazon’s device. Except on the cost level. If that is the only consideration for someone, then the Kindle may still make sense.  iBooks looks very good, despite the potential eye-strain that we all may be dealing with from looking at a backlit device for our reading.
  • Aesthetic Appeal – The iPad looks cool…every kid would be excited to get one…schools would get a great PR boost…but that’s not what technology in schools is about, or shouldn’t be…

From the addition of these two items to our list, I have to put my current rankings of the 4 in terms of their benefit to schools in this order:

  1. Netbook
  2. iPod Touch
  3. iPad
  4. Kindle

Netbooks just offer so much in terms of creation, collaboration, and communication. The iPod Touch gets us closer to the mobile learning device many of our students will be using after school ends. The iPad has potential, but just isn’t there yet.  And the Kindle, well, at least Amazon doesn’t have to worry with it too much more, just selling the eBooks for it. Hey, that’s really what they wanted to do to begin with right?

Would love to hear your thoughts on my rankings.

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Netbook vs. iPod Touch Debate

There is currently a debate bubbling just under the surface comparing the iPod Touch to Netbooks for the future of classroom computing.  Recently at the NCTIES conference, Cool Cat Teacher, Vicki Davis, mentioned she would rather have a classroom set of iPod Touches than laptops.  I want to address a few things I’ve seen floating around these conversations.  First of all, I have my own of each and love them. The amount of free and low cost programs that exist for the Touch far surpass anything available for any other phone/PDA, the quality varies wildly, but there are good versions of nearly everything that is out there.

A few limitations on the Touch:
1) Copy and Paste…although it seems little, you can’t copy something from a webpage and paste it into an email. This is supposed to be fixed with the iPhone firmware upgrade coming out this summer, which will cost $10 for Touch users.

2) Google Docs support…At this point in time you can only read Google Docs created elsewhere on the Touch. You cannot edit Docs or create new ones. This may seem like a minor thing as well, but there is no good alternative text entry method for writing anything slightly longer. Zoho Docs seems to work as a basic text editor, but I have not tried it extensively.

3) Video/Audio recording…While the Touch is great for playing video and audio, it is not capable of recording video. There is no camera as there is with the iPhone. Even if there was, the iPhone firmware currently does not support video recording. Those who have “jailbroken” their iPhones are able to record video and stream it through UStream and Qik, but this is against the Apple EULA (for what it’s worth). Additionally, the Touch does not have a built in microphone. It is possible to purchase an external mic which can be used for rudimentary recording, but the apps available to record are very simplistic at the moment.

4) WiFi only access…If your building is wireless this won’t be a problem. If not, then you won’t have Internet connection. The difference in the iPhone and iPod Touch is the way information is sent to each device. The iPhone can operate on AT&T’s 3G network receiving Internet over cell phone signals or via wifi. The Touch only operates over wifi.  This can be a limitation if your school does not allow personal devices on the wifi network.

5) Flash support…currently the version of Safari that comes on the iPod Touch does not support Flash animations. This severely limits the capabilities of many online sites/educational games, etc.

6) Small size of the screen…while the screen is significantly larger than most PDAs or cell phones, it still is not optimal for some uses. For example, someone mentioned grade entry. Our school uses an online gradebook system which is accessible from the Touch. The problem is, in order to read the numbers that are entered, you have to zoom in so far that you can no longer see the student names. This makes entering more than one or two grades at a time difficult.

Positives
1) Anywhere access…as long as you have a wifi connection you can take you computer with you where ever you go. The power on the iPod touch is very similar to that of many computers just a few years ago.

2) Kindle for iPhone…though the screen is somewhat small for this, you can download books from Amazon’s Kindle Store. This is a HUGE benefit as the free application saves you the $360 it would cost to go out and buy a Kindle. The functionality of the Touch far surpasses the Kindle for student creativity. The Kindle is purely for consumption of content. Having access to the largest ebook retailer in your pocket anywhere you have wifi access is amazing.

3) Calendar and contact syncing…this is improving with the Touch all the time. Though I haven’t ventured too far into this yet, I believe it is possible to integrate Google Calendar with your iPod Touch now and simultaneously update both your online calendar and your Touch calendar from either the Touch or a computer.

4) iTunes University…Fantastic professional development opportunities await for free. Take college level courses via video podcast. Dive into podcasts from major names in education. This is great for students to see as well.

Overall, the cost of an iPod Touch is significantly less than that of a laptop…unless you start looking into netbooks. The functionality of netbooks exceeds what most people require from their portable computers. My recent NCMSA blogging stint was done entirely from my MSI Wind netbook, which was quite the conversation starter in and of itself. The only thing a netbook lacks that the Touch has, is access to the Kindle Store. For the cost, I’m very satisfied with my netbook…at $350 if it lasts me 2 years, I’m looking at a cost of only about $16 per month of use. The Touch is only $10 per month based on the same time frame. The real question to ponder is, are there applications on the computer that you can’t live without, or vice versa are their applications that put the Touch far ahead of the netbook market. At the moment, there’s only one (Kindle) but that may well change in the near future as more folks begin developing iPhone/iPod Touch apps.

Where do you stand on the netbook/Touch debate? Which do you think will be the future of classroom computing? Or do you see something else entirely filling the classroom niche?

Unleashing the Wind, final post

This post is to serve as a final overview of setting up the MSI Wind for dual booting and a few pointers about purchasing a Wind if you decide to do so. I’m also including a few programs that are great for netbooks at the end. This post is kind of all over, so hang on for the ride!

The forums over at msiwind.net have been having some trouble the past couple of days (January 2009), so I apologize if some of the links I try and give you aren’t currently working.

Models/Hardware

The Wind I used for my Hackintosh was a U100-422CA. This is a Canadian model of the Wind that has a English/Canadian keyboard.  The rest of the hardware sets up perfectly for the MSIWindOSx86 installation.  There are many different hardware configurations for the U100 model.  The obvious differences are:

  • Hard Drive: Some models have a standard hard disk drive while others have a Flash-based Solid State Drive. The SSDs are smaller but provide faster performance, lower power consumption,  less moving parts, and are lighter.  For those considering dual-booting, a standard hard drive is required (install files would leave you with no remaining space on your drive).
  • Battery: The battery life on netbooks is a serious debate. To keep the computer as light as possible most contain 3 cell batteries that give 2.5 to 3 hours of light duty performance. A six cell battery will set you back some additional cash, but at the added benefit of about 4.5 to 5 hours of running time. There are rumors of even greater run time under Windows 7, but I have not tested that OS yet.
  • RAM:  Some models come standard with 512 MB of RAM while others pack 1 GB. The 422CA is upgradeable to 2GB and this is a simple process, which despite having to break through the warrenty sticker DOES NOT void the warrenty.

Some less obvious differences are in the following equipment:

  • Wireless Card: There are two versions, one from Realtek and one from Ralink. The wireless card used to have to be replaced to get Wifi access under OS X, but now there are drivers for both models.
  • Webcam: There are 1.3 Megapixel and 0.3 Megapixel models in different models of the U-100. Additionally, there are webcams from two different providers: BisonCam and Microdia.  To make matters worse, the BisonCam may be running firmware version 0.2 or 0.3.  On the surface this shouldn’t be a major issue. However, the BisonCam running firmware 0.3 does not currently work with Skype and Photobooth under OS X.
  • Trackpad: The Wind uses Trackpads from two different companies: Sentillec and Synaptic.  The Synaptic is more common now, but the Sentillec may still be available if you buy an older or used model. The main difference is the scrolling function built in to the Sentellic.  The Synaptic pad has an optional driver that allows two finger scrolling in OS X.

Things You Need to Dual-Boot XP and OS X

  • MSI Wind…duh!
  • Official Copy of OS X…let’s be legal guys!
  • USB DVD drive – this will make your life much easier than having to load everything on a flash drive
  • GParted Live CD – available here
  • MSIWindOSx86.iso burned to DVD – available at your favorite “cove” of “swashbucklers”
  • 10.5.5 update from apple.com burned to CD
  • 10.5.6 update from apple.com burned to CD
  • Upgrade files for 10.5.6 from msiwind.net
  • USB keyboard and mouse – you will lose function of the trackpad and keyboard during the upgrade to 10.5.6. The upgrade files above contain .kext files that will return them to correct function, but to load the kexts you’ll need a USB keyboard and mouse.

Useful and Relevant Links

Educational Uses

This machine is perfect for the K-8 classroom and beyond. The ability to switch between operating systems means you can work with applications in both realms that students might eventually work in after graduation. The ability to compare different operating systems and software for each should help students discriminate between the types of software that will allow them to perform the tasks they need to complete on a computer.

The downsides to using this model running OS X are primarily driver issues that are being worked on by some really great folks over at the MSIWind.net forums. First, is the fact the internal microphone does not work under OS X. This problem is easily remedied using a USB microphone, which gets better quality anyway. Additionally, the VGA out to a projector is not working at present, although VGA to an external monitor does work. You can even run an extended desktop using the Wind’s screen to run some programs while running others on the external monitor.

The size of the screen is fine for general work, but the 1024 x 600 resolution does play havoc with some programs. There are workarounds available for many, but they often involve scrunching the program into the available space, distorting some of the user interface.

Netbook Applications

  • RocketDock (Windows) – OS X-style dock for Windows helps save screen real estate
  • Launchy (Windows) – Pressing Alt+Space brings up a program launcher that indexes all your programs, making everything available within a few keystrokes. Also allows searching Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Amazon, etc from the desktop.
  • Firefox (Windows/Mac) – Open source web browser that has extensible functionality to add many great features.
  • Google Chrome (Windows…Mac early 2009?) – Very lightweight browser from Google, no extensions, but each tab is a separate process allowing you to close non-responsive tabs without losing all the rest of your tabs
  • Fox-it Reader (Windows) – Lightweight PDF reader, fast, FREE!
  • Evernote (Windows/Mac) – Notetaking program that allows you to search through saved websites, typed notes, scanned documents, handwriting, etc. Includes web-based access to your files and an iPhone/iPod Touch application.
  • Open Office (Windows/Mac…NeoOffice) – Open source productivity suite, compatible with Microsoft Office
  • VLC (Windows/Mac) – Video player that supports a wide range of formats
  • Adium (Mac) – Multi-protocal chat program
  • Skype (Windows/Mac) – make PC to PC phone calls with video capability. Functionality on the Wind in OS X depends on your webcam model.
  • Portable Apps (Windows) – collection of applications designed to be run from a flash drive or smaller hard drive.
  • FreeSMUG Portable Apps (Mac) – collection of applications designed to be run from a flash drive for Macs.

Thanks to all of you for letting me get all this out of my system. Hopefully you’ve taken something away from these posts and are considering purchasing a Wind of your own. Best of luck in your decision to dual-boot! The Wind is impressive in it’s own right and when people watch you boot it into OS X they become seriously amazed. Well worth the price for this little wonder!