Emerging Technology

Operating System, What's That?

The rule of thumb for IT departments for almost three decades has been “Do not mix OSs.” The OS (operating system) of a personal computing device represents how that device interfaces to everything and enables user specific applications (word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, etc…). The IT department would determine they would be either a Microsoft “Windows” or Apple OS shop. There were a few brave souls who selected Linux. They correctly understood that the cost of training and support of two different OS within one organization was extremely prohibitive.

However, the iPhone and iPad have completely changed the world of personal computing, and if your IT Department has not made a major shift in their approach, they are substantially behind the curve. The innovations from Apple and the following response from the rest of the industry have successfully shifted the industry away from OS being the primary concern for personal computing devices. It is still a major issue for the servers, but not the device you use on a daily basis.

Let’s take a step away from your school district and gain perspective from what is happening in the industry overall. The numbers move around based on which report you look at, but here are some examples.

  • In 2013, the industry sold 1 billion smartphones, 179 million tablets and 299 million desktops/laptops.
  • 2014 will end up with 1.53 billion smartphones, 263 million tablets and 278 million desktops/laptops sold.
  • In 2015, sales are predicted to be 1.9 billion smartphones, 325 million tablets and 269 million desktops/laptops.

Smartphones and tablets are the preferred computing devices for individual use. All of those devices are what we call “web-browser-based” systems. Yes, there is some type of OS on those devices but the purpose of the OS is to run a web browser. It is the web browser that connects the user to the information and applications they want to use, not the OS.

In 2014, the Google platforms, Android and Chrome, are installed on four times the number of devices compared to Windows and Apple iOS. So, even though Apple started what is the standard computing device of today, Google is by far the heavy hitter. Android was released in 2008, and Chrome in 2009, and starting earlier this year, Chrome can run Android apps. To reinforce that the OS no longer matters, it may be of importance to understand that both Android and Chrome are based on the Linux operating system.

Did you also notice that the quantity of tablets is expected to exceed desktop/laptops sales in 2015? The industry has moved away from the OS making the difference. Now it is the web browser, and I would debate that it does not really matter which web browser.

What are your IT and curriculum departments doing in response to the new reality? Hopefully your IT department is allowing any type of web-browser device, eliminating the OS criteria. They should be implementing a high-density wireless system with a robust identity management system. They should be moving to one of the cloud-based office suites and reviewing all of your server applications as to whether they allow web browser access. If the applications do not enable web-browser access, they need to update the application or find one that accomplishes the same tasks but allows web-browser access. Finally, virtually all computing devices whether new purposes or part of your refresh program need to be web-browser devices. Only high school applications like CAD, photo rendering or graphics/animation need a full-blown computer with an OS these days.

At the same time, your curriculum department has its work cut out for them. All applications running on a desktop or laptop need to be replaced with a web-browser-based application. Whether it is an instructional enrichment or teacher learning management application, they need to be changed. I would suggest that the hardest part of making this change is that curriculum leaders and teachers will want to replace EXACTLY what they already have.

Your district leaders need to be brave and take advantage of this opportunity to force those people to find newer resources that address the same area of content, but more student-centered learning oriented. As an example, Special Education applications running on Windows have not been ported over to a web-browser basis. However, applications addressing the same content are available on iPad and with their interactive capability achieve vastly superior student learning. Implying your software adoption process must also move to a web-browser orientation.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at gmeeks@meeksgeeks.com.

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