Why do some refuse to move forward?

May 9, 2012 § 3 Comments

I saw something over on Google+ last night that brought a flood of thoughts into my head about schools and technology, and I thought, “I’d better write all this down so I have my arguments organized for later.”

The gist of what was written was, “Application X doesn’t work in IE 8 anymore, and that means that a lot of schools won’t be able to use Application X because they’re on Windows XP and can’t get IE 9.”

My initial thought was, “Windows 7 has been out how long now (3 years, in case you’re wondering)? And your school is still using Windows XP? Maybe your IT guys need to let it go already.”

Now, that may seem a little harsh, but in the educational world, it seems like people just don’t like to let go of things. I know that teachers are pack rats…admit it, you know someone who still has a file folder of mimiograph sheet, but IT guys? Come on…I thought these were supposed to be the people who were progressive.

But there are a lot of schools that are still on XP, with no plans to move to anything new, even though Microsoft isn’t going to support XP after 2014.

The world is moving on, folks, and if you want to use the latest and greatest web apps, you’re going to have to have the latest and greatest web browser.

And while I’m on this little rant, let’s talk about the companies that still have a death grip on education and develop web applications that only work on IE, and only up to a certain version. I’m looking at you iTCCS and Pearson. Shouldn’t we expect companies to develop for ALL web browsers, or at the very least, the ones that are cross platform (Firefox, Chrome, and (ugh) Safari)

Now, part of the blame lies squarely on the shoulders on Microsoft for supporting an old OS long after it’s been out of production. Here’s where maybe they need to take a page out of the Apple handbook and change the architecture of their OS so drastically that software can’t run on the older systems indefinitely. Of course, that would require Microsoft to come out with and updated OS that actually works on a regular basis.

But part of the blame also clearly lies with the IT departments of school districts. Because they’re not forced to move forward, they don’t come up with a plan to migrate to the newest OS, only to complain when something that’s worked for the past 15 years suddenly doesn’t work anymore because it’s no longer supported on an old OS.

Look, I get it…most people hate change. And when you have something that’s been around as long as Windows XP, it’s time to let go. But these are schools we’re talking about here. We always talk about preparing children for the “real world,” for future jobs that haven’t been created yet. So why in the world are we forcing them to use an OS that’s been around for 11 years, but that won’t be around when the majority of these students graduate from high school?

If your school has bought new computers in the past two years and wiped them clean to install Windows XP, then they are not planning for the future. They are stuck firmly in the past.

We giggle and point with delight at Mac OS9 and how primitive it looks, but guess when Apple stopped supporting it? Three years after it was released, and only a year after OSX came out. Schools that were all Mac environments were forced to upgrade. If you walked into a school today that was using OS 9, wouldn’t you look at them funny and ask, “You’re still using that?” Why don’t people do the same for schools still stuck on Windows XP?

And don’t get me started on the whole “it’s what the teachers are used to” crap. You know how many of your teachers have purchased a new computer in the last 3 years? Guess what’s on that computer? Windows 7. If you extend that to 5 years, you’ve got people who have Windows Vista, too, which is more like Windows 7 than XP. What they’re used to is what they use at home, on their personal device.

As IT folks, can we please start being progressive? Start looking at a something new?

Full disclosure -after this summer, my district will still have about half of its campuses on Windows XP, but as computer are being replaced, we are moving them to Windows 7

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§ 3 Responses to Why do some refuse to move forward?

  • As an IT guy for a school, there are a couple of points I feel I need to make in response.

    I get your argument about stepping into the now, but as a steward of other people’s money, I also have to ask myself, “Is there a compelling reason to upgrade?” and largely the answer with regard to XP vs 7 is “No.” XP still works; still does what we need it to do. Vista and 7 are prettier, but not more functional.

    My refrigerator is even older than Windows XP, but I haven’t replaced it for something shinier. It still makes ice, and keeps my food cold- all I need it to do. Am I a troglodyte for that?

    Upgrading an OS system-wide costs money. You have to take off the OS you already paid for, and pay again to put another OS on the same hardware.

    Sure, you could dribble in new instances of Vista or 7 as you get new hardware, but then you’re faced with having to manage two sets of install procedures, two sets of software installation kits, two sets of management policies, and two sets of training material for any new software you install.

    To mitigate this, most IT departments are going to do nothing until they can do it all at once. This may seem backward-thinking, but I’ll refer back to my first point- other than aesthetics, there is VERY LITTLE to be gained by migrating from XP to 7. So, you spend more money, and increase your overall management overhead, just so you can get pretty transparent windows.

    Having said all that, I DID make the move from XP to 7 last summer, and we’re getting along just fine. The reason we did it, though, had nothing to do with deficiencies in XP and everything to do with the reality that we’d have to make the change eventually, and this was the time (maybe the last time for the next decade) that we had a little extra in the IT budget and could make it happen.

    • Scott says:

      Mark, I appreciate your comments, and I totally understand the thinking on moving from XP to 7. We’ve had the same arguments within our own department, and aren’t doing the wholesale upgrade, but we have been putting 7 in place over the past 3 years.

      I’m a “pilot it first” kind of guy, so this approach makes more sense to me than the wholesale upgrade of the entire district. We learned a lot with our initial rollout of Windows 7 machines at 1 campus two years ago that really helped when we had to replace 2 high schools last summer. That replacement, in turn, has helped us better prepare for problems we will face when replacing 4 campuses this summer.

      On your “it still works” point, I have to disagree with you. Especially now. IF schools were to set a browser other than IE as the default for everyone, then yes, XP still works OK, for the most part. But so many school districts set IE as the default and with web apps like Google only supporting the latest version of browsers, that’s very quickly going to become an issue.

      We are also finding more and more than software designed to run on Windows 7 doesn’t always function properly on XP machines. eInstruction’s CPS is a great example…there is some kind of problem with the latest version on XP where the machine doesn’t pick up the receiver properly.

      I really wish that we could go completely device agnostic and make everything web based, but even if we do that, we’ll have to make sure that at the very least the devices that are used have the ability to support the latest browsers.

  • Randy Laws says:

    Great article. I’ve been teaching for 14 years and I’ve watched school district IT practices move from being technology providers to technology disrupters, mostly due to entrenched mindsets coupled with district lawyers overly concerned with lawsuits. I’ve been in to IT technology since Windows 3.1 and I’ve had every MS operating system since then (except, thankfully, for Microsoft Bob). I run my own server and I’ve completed and administer two installations of Google Applications for Education.

    My current school district is deeply in bed with Microsoft Reps. While it is easy to hide behind statements like “Is there a compelling reason to upgrade?”, the greater truth is that the majority of district IT people are Microsoft trained and certified and have no real interest in moving on to something else. In fact, there is incredible job security for them in lobbying for Microsoft contracts so that there is a continuing need for Sharepoint and MSOutlook oversight and maintenance.

    I presented a plan to our district two years ago showing how they could switch to Google Apps, save hundreds of thousands of dollars in MS licensing fees, and cut their district IT staff from 16 (for a district with two high schools, mind you) down to between 4 to 6. Google Vault only charges $10.00 per employee per year (student accounts are free) to adequately back up all email and documents to satisfy the legal department (far less than the backup service they currently use for MSOutlook). Even so, it was a losing battle because most senior decision makers in the district are IT ignorant and completely depend on their IT Department for information, and that IT Department is never going to vote to end their own jobs.

    So here we sit with IE7 on Windows XP and a VERY slow replacement cycle for Windows 7 upgrades. Windows 7 won’t be on every computer until the end of the 2013/2014 school year. To make matters worse they just upgraded their server from MS Server 2003, and in doing so messed up their security certificates, preventing most teachers from accessing many educational sites. All of this because they are wedded to a MS mindset that has everything to do with keeping their jobs, covering their tracks legally, and thinking nothing about the students and teachers they are supposed to be serving.

    66% of the top 100 colleges & universities (US News & World Reports Feb. 2012) use Google Apps and require students to have an account when they arrive as freshmen. To fully advance educational IT usage at the high school level we need to flush-out the MS mindset. Unfortunately that will never happen until we get a superintendent and school board members with enough of an understanding of IT to realize when the wool is being pulled over their eyes.

    The common joke among the IT professional crowd is that teachers are completely ignorant of technology and will ruin things if given any level of freedom. The sad reality is that most of these same IT professionals are locked in to whatever system they were schooled in, resist any progress that requires them to actually learn something new, and are dong more harm to educational progress than any other group associated with education right now.

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