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Hardware Thread, IWB Interoperability in Technical; Thanks for all the interesting replies to this. Originally Posted by Ric_ An open file format should therefore enhance the ...
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    crispinw's Avatar
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    Re: IWB Interoperability

    Thanks for all the interesting replies to this.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ric_
    An open file format should therefore enhance the opportunities to share materials. The only problem I can foresee is the stifling of innovation
    Which is not to say that you can't have both types - one common format without the bells and whistles for sharing and another proprietary format with the latest gizmos for those who are only working on the proprietary systems. With an equivalent of the “warning: you will lose formatting information” message when you save as a less advanced format. But:

    1. Aren’t there already open file formats which would support most of what is required? Isn't most of the flipchart functionality to do with runtime interactions going on in the classroom (text annotations etc), meaning that templates of material to import into a flipchart, before doing flipcharty type things with it, could be distributed in e.g. PPT, HTML, Flash, PDF (I see that Promethean ActivStudio imports most of these, how well I don’t know).

    2. This still does not address the issue of a free market in flipchart applications. Take the analogy of Windows Media Player - there was no problem with open *formats* (MPG etc. being open), but with anti-competitive bundling of the *application*. If any flipchart application can be used on any hardware, you encourage innovation *and* better compatibility.

    Quote Originally Posted by I suspect it comes down to Cybernerd’s point
    there are no carrots and no sticks to enforce it
    If the board distributers are deliberately nobbling their software to work only with proprietary boards, what is the chance that they will adopt open file formats even if they are available? (I guess everyone will import, but will be very reluctant to export, if that means their own proprietary libraries can be used on competitors’ products).

    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks
    However, it's advantageous for a manufacturer to have a bunch of users with content created in their own proprietary format, unable to switch to a rival's product... [and] ...I figure the less legislation, the better - just a nice open market that lets system compete on technical merits.
    I agree you can't stop people getting locked in by proprietary formats (though you can make people aware of the danger) - but you *can* prevent lock-in by anti-competitive linkages between different types of product - that is what competition law does. And I don't agree that legislation and markets are necessarily antithetical - free markets need policemen if they are to remain free.

    Quote Originally Posted by and dhicks also
    I figure the answer lays with third-party software of some kind
    For those who do not frequent the VLE board, there is a thread there in which I introduced SALTIS (see www.saltis.org ). Content packaging / SCORM is an area we have been doing a lot of work on - these are standards which are still not sufficiently tightly defined and could do with better compliance testing and kite-marking. This will support a market for content which may be versioned for whiteboard, individual assignment and home use and integrated with the VLE.

    So I agree that there is a huge and largely untapped potential for a type of this kind of third-party, structured content (and it should be possible to develop it virtually any language/medium you choose) but the interoperability issues around this run along a different content packaging / SCORM track. Which still leaves the fact that there will continue to be a need for flipchart software (and benefits to be gained from supporting a competitive market).

    So the questions I still have about flipchart issue are:

    1. What percentage of third-party content distributed for flipcharts requires features not supported by other open formats (because if this is a very small figure, the common file format may turn out to be largely irrelevant)?

    2. What carrots and sticks are to be used to ensure that anyone pays any attention to the format once it has been developed?

    3. Is there a completely different (and possibly more significant) problem around open interoperability between flipchart programmes and IWB hardware; and if there is, does this indicate a breach of existing competition law?

    Crispin.

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    Re: IWB Interoperability

    An open file format should therefore enhance the opportunities to share materials. The only problem I can foresee is the stifling of innovation
    because a standard is open doesn't mean that it is static, or that it stifles innovation. ODF for example has moved from v1.0 to 1.1 (current) and v1.2 is being worked on. Same with XML,HTML,PCI and so on. As long as any changes are shared and that no one company controls the format I don't see the problem.

    1. What percentage of third-party content distributed for flipcharts requires features not supported by other open formats (because if this is a very small figure, the common file format may turn out to be largely irrelevant)?
    I guess a lot could be done with ODP (OpenDocument Presentation), difficult to say though. The examples you gave (ppt/flash) are not open by any definition.


    2. What carrots and sticks are to be used to ensure that anyone pays any attention to the format once it has been developed?
    It's the same deal with the technical specification that Becta released - all very sensible, but probably no schools are fully compliant with it because they have no incentive (do bsf companies conform?)

    3. Is there a completely different (and possibly more significant) problem around open interoperability between flipchart programmes and IWB hardware; and if there is, does this indicate a breach of existing competition law?
    lots of companies still sell software coupled to hardware dongles, A PITA but I doubt it breaches any law.

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    Re: IWB Interoperability

    Quote Originally Posted by CyberNerd
    because a standard is open doesn't mean that it is static, or that it stifles innovation. ODF for example has moved from v1.0 to 1.1 (current) and v1.2 is being worked on. Same with XML,HTML,PCI and so on. As long as any changes are shared and that no one company controls the format I don't see the problem.
    I am sure the standard can move, though as it requires a degree of consensus, it will inevitably trail individual companies' ability to innovate - and this also presupposes that there is a body to manage continuous development of the standard. Will Becta do this?

    I guess a lot could be done with ODP (OpenDocument Presentation), difficult to say though. The examples you gave (ppt/flash) are not open by any definition.
    I think they are 'open' to the extent that anyone can read from them, though not write to them or control their development. I agree that a recognised de jure open standard is preferable to a de facto standard which is in fact proprietary; but a de facto standard may be preferable to a de jure standard which, having ticked all the boxes, sits on a shelf and isn't implemented by anyone. If the common file format isn't just going to sit on a shelf, Becta is going to have to put serious backing behind it in order to ensure it achieves general recognition. I understand that so far, no-one has committed to support it other than RM which is developing it.

    It's the same deal with the technical specification that Becta released - all very sensible, but probably no schools are fully compliant with it because they have no incentive (do bsf companies conform?)
    The fact that the whole system is dysfunctional is not a reason one shouldn't attempt to improve it. So instead of just going through the motions and producing more bits of expensive paper, isn't it better that we bring the pressure to ensure that these initiatives are properly thought through and produce real benefits?

    lots of companies still sell software coupled to hardware dongles, A PITA but I doubt it breaches any law.
    A dongle is different because it has no function other than to validate the software. Nobody says "I've bought this really good dongle and I'm really disappointed that I can't use it with any other bit of software". The problem is the linkage of two things which do different things and each of which have independent value.

    If you don't think the linkage of different components is anti-competitive, what happens when you string together a whole set of linked components - so company X sells you a flipchart and you create a lot of content with it that can't be used on anyone else's software. Then they say "if you want to use this system with a whiteboard, it will only work on our whiteboards; and if you want to use it with a voting system, it will only work with our voting system; and if you want to use it with a VLE, it will only work with our VLE..." and this is all done incrementally so that at each stage it becomes increasingly expensive to trash the very large investment you had already made, in money, time, and training of staff.

    And if you think that this is all fair game then why was Microsoft fined $600,000,000 for unfairly bundling Media Player with Windows?

    Crispin.

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    Re: IWB Interoperability

    Quote Originally Posted by crispinw

    So the questions I still have about flipchart issue are:

    1. What percentage of third-party content distributed for flipcharts requires features not supported by other open formats (because if this is a very small figure, the common file format may turn out to be largely irrelevant)?

    2. What carrots and sticks are to be used to ensure that anyone pays any attention to the format once it has been developed?

    3. Is there a completely different (and possibly more significant) problem around open interoperability between flipchart programmes and IWB hardware; and if there is, does this indicate a breach of existing competition law?

    Crispin.
    1) Think key here is wording if you say flipchart software then got valid argument but if you say Interactive Board software which is more than just 'flip chart' software. Then open format is needed and will work only if free viewer is kept upto date look at pdf files.

    2) As said link it into the BETCA interactive whiteboard framework as 99% of all board makers are on it.

    3) Yes is problem and no because you are buying the board not software that is the added value in some respects. I think smart have got it half right the fact that any ie board will work with (but it is against terms to use it with non smart board). so they need to make it affordable to buy licenses to use the software on non smart board.

    Russ

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    Re: IWB Interoperability

    Quote Originally Posted by russdev
    1) Think key here is wording if you say flipchart software then got valid argument but if you say Interactive Board software which is more than just 'flip chart' software. Then open format is needed and will work only if free viewer is kept upto date look at pdf files.
    Hi Russ - I agree with this - but in what sense is that wider body of SCORM / Flash / web content "IWB content"? Isn't it just part of a continuum of VLE content, e-portfolio / tools etc.

    I also question the value of a "flipchart viewer". Isn't the point of a flipchart that you can write on them? And I don't think the Becta software is going to be anything more than that - I doubt it will view SCORM content.

    Quote Originally Posted by russdev
    2) As said link it into the BETCA interactive whiteboard framework as 99% of all board makers are on it.
    But I think it came to an end last January. Even while it was running, I don't think you can remove people from the framework as they have a contract. That is why I don't think Becta is in any position to do anything about learning platform standards for 3 years - because it has no way of imposing its standards on people who are on the framework (what was the outcome of all the workshops that we all went to in the autumn? - I haven't heard a squeak).

    Quote Originally Posted by russdev
    3) Yes is problem and no because you are buying the board not software that is the added value in some respects. I think smart have got it half right the fact that any ie board will work with (but it is against terms to use it with non smart board). so they need to make it affordable to buy licenses to use the software on non smart board.

    Russ
    If I were in Becta's shoes I would

    (1) get serious legal advice on whether the licensing and technical restrictions on whiteboards breaks competition law, and

    (2) kite-mark products against a wide range of technical interoperability standards (i.e. lots of different feature-marks, not one big one). Anyone who met the tightly defined conformance criteria could get the kite-mark at any time (and could have it removed at any time if they broke the conditions). I would then explain very clearly to schools what these marks meant and why they were thought to be important and then leave the buying decision entirely to schools.

    Crispin.

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    Re: IWB Interoperability

    A dongle is different because it has no function other than to validate the software. Nobody says "I've bought this really good dongle and I'm really disappointed that I can't use it with any other bit of software". The problem is the linkage of two things which do different things and each of which have independent value.
    A better analogy might be laptop manufacturers bundling windows (and other cr*pware) onto their products. It should be decoupled, if I pay for a computer I begrudge paying microsoft for a product I'll never use.

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    Re: IWB Interoperability

    [Crispin wrote:]
    > So I agree that there is a huge and largely untapped potential for a
    > type of this kind of third-party, structured content

    Absolutly.

    [Crispin wrote:]
    > What carrots and sticks are to be used to ensure that anyone pays any
    > attention to the format once it has been developed?

    Get a bunch of decent content created in the new format and dish it out free/cheap to teachers. Release a development library to assist third-party developers (looks like Becta have the right idea there). Release a free tool for content creation that's easy for teachers to use (the Becta one is only a viewer).

    Problem with doing the above: if done by a government-backed organisation of some kind, you get a whole bunch of IWB companies complaining about unfair competition. I understand that this was the main issue with the BBC Jam content - it was simply too good!

    Your kite-mark idea looks sensible, how would you plan to get people to implement it?

    --
    David Hicks

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    Re: IWB Interoperability

    Quote Originally Posted by CyberNerd
    A better analogy might be laptop manufacturers bundling windows (and other cr*pware) onto their products. It should be decoupled, if I pay for a computer I begrudge paying microsoft for a product I'll never use.
    I take your point, and agree that the world isn't perfect. Some things are necessarily dependent on each other - including a computer and its operating system. And an operating system is itself an infrastructure which should support an open market in applications, while a flipchart program is an end-use application which doesn't act as infrastructure to anything else.

    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks
    Get a bunch of decent content created in the new format and dish it out free/cheap to teachers.
    I have to admit I am against government-commissioned content because the end-user is disempowered. I don't think its a question of public vs private sector supply, but rather top-down vs end-user as purchaser. Though there may be a case for pump-priming (but you have to show that it is a genuine case for pump-priming, and not just an excuse to claw money back into central budgets).

    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks
    Release a development library to assist third-party developers (looks like Becta have the right idea there). Release a free tool for content creation that's easy for teachers to use (the Becta one is only a viewer).
    Again, I agree that there is huge need for good development/high-level authoring tools (they just don't exist at the moment) - but I really do not think that Becta or any other government agency is in a position or has the skill-set to provide them directly. I thought Stephen Crowne hit the nail on the head in his introduction to the Harnessing Technology conference, when he said that their job was not necessarily to solve every problem, but to create the environment in which problems could be solved.

    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks
    Problem with doing the above: if done by a government-backed organisation of some kind, you get a whole bunch of IWB companies complaining about unfair competition. I understand that this was the main issue with the BBC Jam content - it was simply too good!
    My feelings on that are very mixed. I turned against BBC Jam because (a) their content was not truly interoperable and (b) they were hard-wiring it to their own management system (which, on competition grounds, the DCMS conditions had forbidden them to develop). I made a fuss about this but I don't think anyone took it seriously - what sunk Jam was the issue of "complementarity". I think that if the BBC had produced truly interoperable content, and had spelt out at the beginning of the project that this was the sense in which their content was complementary to the existing market, they wouldn't have had any trouble. So I don't think you can put the thing down to wicked businessmen - though the content might have been good, the management of the project was very incompetent.

    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks
    Your kite-mark idea looks sensible, how would you plan to get people to implement it?
    By ensuring that it carries credibility in the market. No-one is interested in "nanny says" kite-marks, but if the kite-mark carries real information, then it will influence people's buying decision; and then business will make sure that they have it.

    Crispin.

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    Re: IWB Interoperability

    > I have to admit I am against government-commissioned content because
    > the end-user is disempowered.

    I'd tend to be against government-commissioned content on a large scale (like you say, you want end-users to be able to create their own content, or entrepreneurs), but yes, I think there would be good case for "pump priming" here. Get some really top-quality, all-singing, video/audio/animation content (assuming your common file-format can handle such, of course) commissioned for each subject (probably for KS3) so every teacher has something they can look at and teach with.

    > I really do not think that Becta or any other government agency is in
    > a position or has the skill-set to provide them directly

    I really don't get why government agencies can't just directly hire some programmers and get on with it, instead of having to outsource to consultants the whole time. GCHQ does, can't the DFES do the same?

    Do you have a drafts of your kite-mark standard around, or any further explanation of what each kite-mark would signify?

    --
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    Re: IWB Interoperability

    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks
    I think there would be good case for "pump priming" here
    I'm not against pump-priming, as long as it is part of a genuine attempt to pump a well-targeted pump and not a constant flow of expensive govnt-sponsored content with no evidence that anyone wants it. If it is to be an exercise in pump-priming, they need to make sure they have a clear vision of where they are leading and that the industry is in the loop, and going to follow where they lead (and the industry has a lot of technical experience which can help inform the policy deliberations). Those were really the conditions laid on BBC Jam (which, as a supposed pump-priming exercise, clearly had to provide something that wasn't already being provided. But there was no clarity about how it was going to be different (I would have 100% welcomed it if it had been used to bring in robust technical standards) and there was very little engagement with industry. If anything, Becta's engagement with industry has become even weaker over the last year.

    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks
    Get some really top-quality, all-singing, video/audio/animation content (assuming your common file-format can handle such, of course) commissioned for each subject (probably for KS3) so every teacher has something they can look at and teach with.
    I think the magic ingredient is "interactive" (and also including a lot of the creative and Web 2.0 pedagogies which i doubt are useable in the classroom without being "wrapped" as curriculum-specific content.

    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks
    I really don't get why government agencies can't just directly hire some programmers and get on with it, instead of having to outsource to consultants the whole time. GCHQ does, can't the DFES do the same?
    Particularly when many of the consultants don't really know what they are talking about. When Becta produced a "Best practices guide to content packaging" in 2004/5, they employed a consultant who had never even *heard* of SCORM before she started the work - and it showed. Becta should stop handing out "advice" of very dubious quality.

    But programmers have to be pointed in the right direction and the development of imaginative new software involves considerable risk - that is what industry is happy to do. It just needs to be given a market environment which incentivises it to do so.

    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks
    Do you have a drafts of your kite-mark standard around, or any further explanation of what each kite-mark would signify?
    I have produced a draft for content packaging within SALTIS (50 pages and quite technical). At the moment it is confidential to the group (talk to GrumbleDook) but after the next meeting in early Feb, I shall see what the group feels about publishing the second draft and perhaps more supporting documentation. But there is a limit to the amount of unpaid work I am prepared to do, unless government engages with the process.

    The content packaging proposal has been welcomed on the group and also by IMS in America (who owns IP in the content packaging standards) who proposed in November that Becta sponsor SALTIS to take the proposal to the IMS working groups - the signs are that the proposal is very complementary to what their K-12 sector is thinking (and many companies in the UK are naturally concerned that any UK proposal should be globally compatibile).

    Becta appears to have responded by issuing a tender for the production of non-binding guidance (a re-run of the 2005 exercise) on distributing interoperable content, to be directed at publishers and practitioners (who shouldn't be troubled with technicalities) but *not* at their learning platform providers (who, being on the framework, naturally do all that is required already :? ). They have not yet responded, either to the proposal from IMS, or to my request for a meeting, or to my expression of concerns about the usefulness of the non-binding guidance... but I hope that after BETT, we might start to have a more useful dialogue.

    Do come and say hello to me at BETT on stand Q32. SALTIS is being launched at a press conference at 3 p.m. on the Wednesday.

    Crispin.

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    I'd say more likely ISO 26300. It's the internationally agreed ISO standard for documents and is extensible so I can't see any problems with "innovation". You also benefit from very powerful free and open source tools with massive market presence to edit files in the format with existing applications support from Sun, IBM, Google, Novell and KDE among others. Mostly what is needed is education so people have the capability to use the free resources arouond them before being seduced into proprietary lock-in. Openoffice.org Draw is more powerful in many respects than IWB proprietary flip charts etc and produces files supported by applications from Sun, IBM, Google, Novell, KDE to name but a few. So start there and save a lot of time and effort. I can't see the value of a viewer if you want interactivity. If interactivity isn't important what is all the fuss about IWBs anyway? Just use a projector.

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