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Touch Tomorrow, by Reaching out Today

Yesterday, I went to a program at my college called Touch Tomorrow. There were several software and hardware venders, all of which my college uses, among them Dell, HP, CampusHP, Novell, AT&T, Verizon, the local AV club, and a few other companies, including a college student’s second to worst nightmare, Blackboard.

I first talked to the Novell guys, They had information about their systems that my college was using, and information about similar products, in specific a lot of their Virtual machines and Virtual servers. They were promoting the Mono Project among other things. They also had free disks of Suse Linux Enterprise Edition (SLED) 11, but I’m already hooked on openSUSE, also a product of Novell.

Mono Project is a open source, cross platform initiative backed by the full money and power of Novell, to bring .net apps from windows to Linux and mac, without changing the code base.  This goes with SLED because its targeted at businesses that are using many proprietary, formerly Windows only, .NET apps. Now with SLED and Mono, any .NET app can be run on Linux, or Mac, but clearly Novell is targeting it for use on their own system, SLED, a completely stable business ready Linux operating system. Cool Beans, or maybe, if I want to go as far as a horrible programming pun, Cool NetBeans.

Next, I went over the dell table, they had 4 laptops setup, a 13.3 and a 15.4 aimed a college students, severely discounted with an Edu email address, all running Windows 7 final. Including a Delll XT tablet Pc running windows 7, with full tablet features and multitouch. Quite impressive, and I saw drool from several people, who were playing with it.

I spent the remainder of my time until the Touch Tomorrow presentation/workshop at the CampusHP table.  Sporting a HP tx2 multitouch tablet pc running Windows 7 final, similar to my single touch HP tx2510us.

Windows 7 itself was not that impressive, I have tried the beta and RCs on my tablet, with disappointment at first for the lack of some features like ability to reduce the screen’s brightness, but by the RC, it was working, well oiled virtual machine.

What kept my attention at the CampusHP table, was the Microsoft Surface apps. Of course they ship on Microsoft Surface tables, which my school is getting one for the NASA department, which is due in next week, but what I found out was that these apps will be available for multitouch tablet pcs. They will work on any multitouch tablet pcs, But I am not sure weather or not they will work on regular stylus or single touch tablet pcs. I will find out tomorrow.  Called the Windows 7 Touch Pack it includes several useless, fun, multitouch ready apps. I got my hands on this, but must wait until I get windows 7 tomorrow to try it out.  Edit: they will not launch on a single or no-touch pc. I cannot say where I got them, but if your any kind of geek, you know the usual suspects. If you somehow find a way of getting in contact with me,  I can point you in the right direction.

Among the apps included in this Touch Pack are a Lagoon screenaver, with fish, and the ability to make it a custom background. Nothing special right? Wrong. With your touch, you can press and hold (same as right click) to feed the fish, and they gather around your finger. Now you want the little scaly bastards to run away, so just swipe your fingers across the screen to scare them away.

Another app is Microsoft Globe, a Google Earth clone, but without the somewhat annoying sidebar buttons. Matter of fact, there are no buttons. Its completely controlled by touch. You can have the world in your hands, and you use your fingers to manipulate it.

While there I talked to the President of the University and the director of Distance Learning. They were interested in tablet PCs for teachers, and trying to cut a good deal for students. I introduced them to ITALC and Told them about using either hardware or software to make the tablet project to the room’s projectors wirelessly, so the teacher can move around the room while teaching the lesson. I got 2 business cards after telling them about that. 🙂

After probably 45 minutes, the HP guy had to leave to setup for his presentation. I looked around for a bit before heading to the Touch Tomorrow workshop.  The first main thing was a teleconference with some college from Texas who was one of the first to provide  online classes, and one of the first to use Blackboard. Next up was a rep from Tandberg, some kick ass video conferencing, storage and streaming. Among other things, you could teach a class live, stream it live and store it online for classes to watch it later. We had multiple cameras in our room, broadcasting to some Tandberg big wig, who was broadcasting back, as well as watching and listening to us. Also live screen casts going both ways. Damn cool stuff, and it can interface with many other programs, including Second life, where we can a live test of it. We had a 2 way conference going back and forth, on our side, just watching the audience, and on his side, his screen and a live video of him, giving a total of 3 screens. All of which were feed into Second life on his screen (which was being feed back to us). So with about a 5 second delay, we could see the live feed of our classroom appear on his screen, inside Second Life. They didn’t say this, because they were cut short, but In theory, you could have a live class, broadcasting live to a virtual classroom in Second Life, with a virtual class of students sitting and watching the live stream and interacting with each other in real time, with life like avatars.

The next part of the presentation was CampusHP showing off their shinny new Tx2 series tablet Pc with Windows 7 and the Touch Pack. Same stuff I saw before at the CampusHP table.

Next up was The college’s distance Learning department, consisting mostly of the infamous Blackboard, with  its newly acquired mobile friendly versions and even iphone apps. They acquired a small Standford Startup, created by a few students and are merging it into Blackboard, to provide everything from sports events to the mess hall menu on your blackberry, or Iphone, as well and some other platforms. Android support coming soon. Even with all this Blackboard still sucks (Some Reasons provided by Hack College) But it might become a little less painful. Blackboards bullshit chased most of the remaining people out, as they kept trying to persuade my college to upgrade from blackboard 8 to Bb9. This ended the workshop rather fast.

Sadly Blackboard is the standard, but its also a pain in the ass for college students, but who cares, since they only have to use it for 4 years right? Ahh I love the smell of fresh bullshit in the morning.

As I plan to specialize in tech for Edu, I realize tablets and touch are the technology of the classrooms of tomorrow, but for it to work in the future, we must start to setup now. The major part of that is introducing all students to these technologies and getting them friendly with using them. And in order to make these technologies work inside and outside of school, a good backboard has to be provided in the way of a LMS. Something Good, I said, not blackboard.

Windows 7 will be the first major step in using touch technology on a widespread basis, such as a college campus,  and with the proper support with apps like Moodle and services like Tandberg. And with a combination of all that, possible technology like Second Life to preform virtual online science labs with your fingers, as well as streaming and stored videos of classes, and the ability to take all your notes and have all your books in one place on a tablet pc, you can get the full college experience from online classes.

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