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Re: [school-discuss] Off-Topic (sort of): Reasons not to use Google Docs for Education?

On Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 4:44 PM, Mr. Klock <math@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
On the other hand, it is possible to hire Google to provide their software (including customizations) for districts, on district-owned servers.  Such a contract obviously has (or can have) an entirely different set of terms.
That's sort of what our school district did.  They hired consultants to set up Google Mail.  One of the ideas of cloud computing is to have everything off-site so you don't have to maintain the infrastructure (which is one of the reasons our district decided to switch from Microsoft Exchange to Google Apps for Education).  However, everything still goes through a sign-on system, so if that system is down within our district, Google Mail could be up, but we're down.
As someone else mentioned, there is an age limit for Google Apps users.  Also, if you're going to publish something to the Internet, whether it's e-mail or documents or anything else, you have to expect it becomes public.  It doesn't matter whether you're using Google Mail or not.  If you don't want it public, then keep it local to your computer or within an intranet.  Our school district wanted to be able to keep a public record of all e-mails going in and out for auditing purposes.  That was one reason they switched to the new system and I believe they are paying extra to have that ability.
I'm not particularly happy with our switch to Google Apps for Education.  The main reason is because our district moved everything to the cloud and they limited the tools we could use with it and limited a lot of the Google Apps functionality.  So, for instance, if we're used to using a local e-mail client, we're now supposed to use a web browser exclusively.  We're specifically supposed to use only IE 8 because that's our district standard and Google Mail does not have the best support for IE 8.  There's no real offline capability if our web connection goes down any more.  A lot of the ability to customize Google Apps was turned off to. 
Google provides some flexible applications and they try very hard to allow you to take your data wherever you want and to use open formats.  I can, for instance, copy the ical files Google uses down to Sunbirdportable if I want an offline calendar.  Personally, I like the ability to customize the applications and fix issues with code as well.  I'm not familiar with that part of Google Apps, but I think that's where you lose flexibility because it's not Open Source.  Our district hired some consultants and I believe they'd done some customizing to the interfaces.  However, I don't know how much control one has over that.  If Google changes an interface (which they seem to do often), you're probably stuck with the changes in many cases.  We really don't seem to have a lot of programmers in our district, so they don't seem to miss or even want the ability to work with the source code.  For them, cloud computing and outsourcing everything to someone else is the way they wanted to go.
I don't think Google Apps for Education are bad tools.  They're basically closed source tools using open formats.  It's not very different from using Microsoft tools, however, Google seems to be much more careful about data formats they work with.  If you want Open Source, then go with Open Source tools.  However, how many school districts want to maintain their own source and how many want to outsource the issues to someone else? 
We currently have the source (in Cobol) for our student team system and it's highly customized.  However, they're having trouble hiring programmers to maintain the system.  The next system they're looking at switching to will most likely be closed source and they specifically want to get a system that's less customizable.  They don't want to make customizations for every school in the district any more.  It really depends on the goals of the school district and on whether they have the personnel to support using and customizing Open Source tools or not.  There are other good reasons to use Open Source such as privacy issues, user rights and ability to share code and data with others, supporting Open Source developers so they can improve their products, etc.  It all comes down to what the people making the software purchasing decisions in a district want.  Their reasons for picking software may be based on moral or financial concerns, but often they're just based on picking whoever did the best sales job.