[K12OSN] SchoolTool Beta

Tom Hoffman tom.hoffman at gmail.com
Wed Nov 12 04:05:07 UTC 2008

On Tue, Nov 11, 2008 at 3:04 PM, Moon <moon at smbis.com> wrote:
> Since you do not support Red Hat based distos, why are you using their
> K12OSN support list to peddle your app? Ubuntu has a forum.

I've been doing this long enough that I started writing a long
explanation of why we're only providing Ubuntu packages in
anticipation of kvetching.  I didn't finish it because, well, it was
getting pretty long and I only felt like I was half-way though the
whole explanation.

The planned second half would explain that since virtualization is
relatively accessible now, and not a bad security practice for
something like an SIS (that is, running it on its own stripped down
virtual server instance to help insulate it from other systems that
might be compromised) people who aren't using Ubuntu (or Linux) as
their primary OS can just run SchoolTool on an Ubuntu (or JeOS)
virtual server.

Anyhow, for those who are interested, here's the first half which I did write:

A basic design goal of SchoolTool is to be easy to install and
administer at individual schools with relatively low levels of
technical support.  Our target implementer is more a local "power
user" than a trained Unix sys admin.  To be sure, we also provide
options for customizations by experienced programmers and sys admins,
and in the long run we hope to see SchoolTool services centrally
hosted by government and vendors.  But individual installations at
school sites is currently the primary use case.

This decision comes at some cost.  Turning a program like SchoolTool
into a product that can be reliably and consistently installed and
deployed by anyone is a process that is often estimated to triple
overall development time.  Our experience has borne out that maxim.
We have found that we must keep the process of production deployment
as simple and standardized as possible to avoid overwhelming our
limited deveopment and support resources.

For some early versions of SchoolTool we created installation packages
for Windows, Mac OS and Linux.  It was not too difficult because
Python, the language SchoolTool is written in, has excellent
cross-platform support.  What we came to realize, however, was that
while we could figure out how to make basic packages for all these
platforms that seemed to work, there was no way we could support all
of them.  We simply did not have the expertise or even sufficient
developer access to all the necessary OS instances to fix them when
they broke, or if one of them mysteriously performed poorly (as the
Mac OS version did).

We decided one well-maintained and supported package was better than
four spotty ones.  This is not to say that people cannot contribute
other packages, just that the "core" SchoolTool team develops and
supports one set of "official" packages.

Specifically, we provide packages for Ubuntu Linux.  This is a
completely free, well-supported, popular and easy to use platform.  It
was also founded and funded by Mark Shuttleworth, who founded and
funds SchoolTool, which of course played some part in the decision.
Currently, the SchoolTool packages are not part of the main Ubuntu
distribution, but are hosted in a "Personal Package Archive" on
Launchpad.net.  This works well for us while SchoolTool is still under
heavy development and testing.  We can push revisions to users quickly
and directly, taking advantage of the automated updating features
built into Ubuntu, without having to deal with the bureaucratic
aspects of submitting packages to the main distribution.


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