Being a passive observer in a lot of lectures and training session that GERGA hosts daily in its two electronic classrooms, I can often disassociate myself from the actual content of the lecture and concentrate more on the presentation style and the use of the facilities.
One thing I did notice on several occasions way that for ordinary presentations using PowerPoint slides, the presenter would either stay in one place and read off the slides (a mortal sin in the presentation world) or move backwards and forwards between discussing the content of the slide and pressing the Page Up/Page Down keys on the keyboard.
A small laser pointer/Powerpoint remote controller like the Targus Wireless Presenter can often help a presenter to manage his Powerpoint slides remotely and have the additional aid of a laser pointer built into the remote, but it has its limitations – it only works with Powerpoint, and sometimes the other buttons and functions can be confusing. Thirdly operating it in the semi-dark electronic classrooms is difficult without some sort of backlighting!
The Targus Wireless Presenter is quite cheap for its functionality. It goes for about R700.
Not all lectures in electronic classrooms are Powerpoint presentations, however. A lot of them are interactive sessions where the lecturer firstly demonstrates and then the students have to follow the same procedure. If one of the students encounters a problem and requests help then the lecturer has to leave their lectern workstation and help the student. A lot of time and energy can be wasted walking back and forth, especially if they have to return to demonstrate something further to the rest of the class.
Enter the Logitech MX Air Cordless Mouse…
The Logitech MX Air Rechargeable Cordless Air mouse is a versatile laser mouse that works on the desk and in the air.
“Sales blab” aside I wanted to see if this technology would allow a lecturer to control the mouse pointer from the back of the class, and when the evaluation unit arrived I thought it would be what I call a “couch-potato toy” for controlling PC-based entertainment centres. Its price tag of over R1600 immediately put is into the class of “a toy for someone with too much money and not enough sense”.
However once I tested it in our classrooms I realised that I had a wonderful tool that was well-worth its price.
This mouse was designed to resemble a living room device and not a computer peripheral. In the air, it is easy to hold it like a remote control – fingers underneath the mouse with the thumb on top for button selection. In-air navigation with the "Freespace motion control," it intuitively filters out unintentional hand shaking to maintain a steady cursor. Also, holding down a button and performing certain mouse gestures like a clockwise circle will execute different multimedia commands, such as skip track or modify volume.
The MX Air is extremely light for a wireless mouse, no different from a medium-sized remote control. I was able to comfortably sit back in my chair and wave the mouse around for minutes before setting it down. With the Freespace motion control technology, I didn’t have to worry about keeping the MX Air pointed directly at the computer screen, or held any particular way. This in-air freedom was handy, but I still had to remind myself to point and move the nose of the mouse, not the entire mouse, for full responsiveness. Most of the work is in the wrist, not the arm. I realised that I could hold it comfortably in my hand and with a slight wave of the wrist I could control the mouse with a minimum of movement and with high accuracy.
It really meets up to Logitech’s promise of being “plug-and-play”. It does not need any special drivers or setup and works literally “right out the box”, I tested it on half a dozen computers – of different configurations and it works perfectly every time!
You don’t have to be in “line of sight” for it to work. In one of our electronic classrooms I stood at the back of the class and was able to control the mouse pointer on the data projector screen at the front of the class, even though I was actually standing behind the computer.
All the keys on the mouse have backlighting. It makes the control specific functions very easily in low-light conditions
It acts and feels like a mouse. Place it on a desk and it instantly behaves like a mouse working on a normal flat surface. Pick it up and it changes to a highly-controllable pointing device.
My final opinion of this bit of technology? It is expensive – very expensive! But when compared to other propriety remote control devices and interactive whiteboards that are tens of thousands of rands, this MX Air Mouse is well worth the investment and can be used very effectively in our teaching environment.
Next week I will talk about a “sister device the the MX Air Mouse, the Logitech DiNovo Wireless keyboard…
When this happens, text just keeps disappearing as I type, meaning that I have to redo whole paragraphs. Is there a setting that needs changing? Any help with this problem would be appreciated.
Helpdesk Answer: It sounds like you’re accidentally putting Word in overtype mode. In Word 2003 you can see this in the status bar. There are four usually-grey mini-panes labeled REC, TRC, EXT and OVR. If OVR is black rather than grey you’re in overtype mode. Tap the Insert key a few times and watch it change.
You’re not the only one who’s had this problem. It was enough of a big deal that Microsoft disabled Overtype mode by default in Word 2007. Those who actually want to use Overtype mode need to change a setting to make it available.
Maybe it’s enough to know that you should watch for that OVR marker to appear. But if you want, you can take it a step further and disconnect the Insert key from that command:
If the problem was due to accidentally hitting the Insert key, thereby toggling Overtype mode, this will solve it. You can still toggle that mode by double-clicking the OVR marker.
When we design a website (essentially for providing information) or a so-called “Help” page” you should always keep the following user habits in mind. It might just help you provide a better learning experience and make your content more “intuitive” and manageable:
This behaviour has certain implications for content designers:
The key concept in both statements above is “before”. Although both statements seem to go against the grain of good instructional design, we must consider the reality of user behaviour within an interactive medium. Given a choice between reading and doing, users prefer to be doing. If you try to warn students about problem areas before they encountered them in computer lab exercises, the students still made the very mistakes you had warned them against, and when you help them rectify their mistakes, they will only then remember that you warned them prior to that. That is the principle and the harsh facts: Until someone experiences or recognizes a problem, they cannot process information pertaining to that problem. Most of what we do in instructional design has to do with giving answers to people who don’t yet have a problem.
I attended a intensive course on presentation skills last year and during the course I picked up common mistakes that we all make when engaged in public speaking and giving lectures. I failed on every one of them, but I am learning.
There are plenty of ways in which you can lose your audience and ruin the impression you leave on audience, albeit a group of health science students. You will want to avoid these eight common mistakes that lecturers and public speakers make:
A good way to jump-start a change in your image is to see yourself the way others see you. Ask a coworker, boss or direct report to give you feedback on how you come across to those around you. Above all – be teachable. The ancient Greek word for “unteachable” is the same word we use today for the word “heretic”!
I have created a quick online tutorial to help you get to grips with the improved “Out-of-Office” messaging function in Outlook and the university Webmail. The tutorial can be found here – right at the top of the list.
The new Exchange 2007 has significantly improved the Out-Of-Office capabilities of both Outlook (2003 upwards) and Webmail.
Now, instead of a single “all-or-nothing” message, you get the following:
by Jan Ozer
This article originally appeared in the May issue of Streaming Media magazine.
Macromedia Captivate by Adobe and TechSmith Camtasia Studio 3.1 are similar software tools with uniquely different strong points. If you’re creating a quick-and-dirty software demo, or a PowerPoint presentation to post to a Web site, Camtasia is a better tool. On the other hand, if you’re creating interactive demos or training, or a complex software demonstration, Captivate is superior.
Even where they meet in the middle, operating paradigms and interface are so different that they will intuitively appeal to different users. If you’re a video editor, you’ll find Camtasia easy to learn and use, and Captivate unnecessarily complex. On the other hand, if you’re skilled in Macromedia Director or Flash, you’ll find Camtasia a blunt instrument and Captivate more intuitive and precise.
Beyond these, however, are certain functions at which one product excels and the other either doesn’t perform or performs poorly. For example, Camtasia excels at capturing streaming video, which Captivate does poorly. The situation reverses if you’re creating a quiz, where Captivate offers a much richer toolset.
If you plan to offer both software demonstrations and written instructions—say, in PDF—the ability to print out Captivate slides is an irresistible timesaver. If you need to zoom in to the software screen that you’ve captured, Camtasia is your only choice. In fact, the more time you spend with both tools, the more you begin to realize that if you’re creating a range of training, demonstration, and presentation projects, you probably need both tools.
How They Work
Let’s start with basic Camtasia-like capture functionality to provide a good offset to Captivate’s extensive “object-oriented” features. Then we’ll return to Camtasia and detail its additional functionality.
Like most screen-capture utilities, Camtasia captures a video of the screen as you navigate around it, plus audio if you enable narration. The result is a single video file containing all your points, clicks, and navigations through the program and the associated audio.
When it’s time to edit, Camtasia Studio lets you add tracks for components like captions, callouts, picture-in-picture, quizzes, and the like. But they’re not captured with the video, and your mouse clicks and movements are stored as an un-editable portion of video file.
Rather than capture one long video file with embedded mouse movements, Captivate captures a series of screens, each containing one significant mouse click and movement. For example, a simple two-minute capture might produce the 20 screens shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1 (below): Rather than capture one long movie, Captivate captures a series of screens, each containing one significant mouse movement.
In its most basic mode of operation, Captivate stores the image background and mouse clicks and motion separately. However, one of the product’s strongest features is the range of additional content you can also automatically capture. This is shown in Figure 2. On the bottom of the Figure is a screen from Sorenson Squeeze, which was the application we captured in most trials. Here we’re showing how to select a file for encoding. While editing a slide, Captivate displays the captured screen on the bottom, topped by a timeline containing the components captured by Captivate or later added during editing.
On the bottom of the Timeline is Slide 2, or the actual captured Squeeze screen. Above that is the Rollover Area, a feature that lets you duplicate all tool tips contained in the original screen. In Figure 2, for example, Captivate shows the tool tip Squeeze displays when a mouse hovers over the My Recent Documents icon in the File Open screen (“Shows recently opened files and folders”). Of course, this would only display when the user hovers over the button to simulate normal program operation. As with all captured text, you can customize the text font, size, color, and other attributes during editing.
Figure 2 (below): The timeline above the slide illustrates the range of content that Captivate can capture.
Above that is the Highlight box, or the translucent box Captivate places over the file Final_dv.avi on the bottom right, which tells the user where to click. This box is also customizable in size and appearance. Above that is the Text caption, “Select the Final_dv.avi item,” which tells the viewer what to do to load the file. Next is the Click box, which lets you force the viewer to click before proceeding, converting the viewer from passive to active, with all the benefits in attention and retention. As shown in Figure 3, you can collect and report data regarding the viewer’s responses, sending the information back to a SCORM-compliant learning management system (LMS).
Figure 3 (below): Captivate lets you test user performance during the simulation for tracking in a SCORM-compliant LMS.
Back in Figure 2, the top timeline entry contains the mouse movement, which, as you can see, is vector-based. This means there are no shakes or indecision in the motion from click to click, and if you delete or rearrange slides from a presentation, Captivate will edit the start and end points of your mouse movements to smooth out the deletion. However, it also means that if you circle an item with your cursor, say to highlight an interface element, Captivate doesn’t capture it. To a degree, you can make up for this by clicking the interface to tell Captivate to remember the mouse motion, but this doesn’t capture all mouse movements, a potentially significant deficit. For example, when giving a high-level tour of a program interface, say identifying and describing the function of the main windows, you’ll have to work harder to capture the mouse movements that support your narration.
On the other hand, when compared to Camtasia, Captivate captures much more text and interactive elements. To these, you can also add Text Entry boxes, clickable buttons, animations and text animations. Once you add an element to the timeline, you can lengthen, shorten, and reposition it at will, enabling extreme precision, but count on spending lots of time tinkering with the automatically captured elements to get their timing right.
To simplify the various types of projects, Captivate offers three customizable capture presets for demonstrations, assessment simulations, and training simulations, which capture different elements. For example, if you choose an assessment simulation, Captivate won’t capture mouse movements that highlight boxes or text captions that would tell the user what to do. In a software demonstration, Captivate doesn’t capture Click boxes, since it assumes that the viewer is passive.
Interestingly, what you don’t see in Figure 2 is audio. That’s because on all three tested computers (two Dells and an HP workstation), Captivate couldn’t capture audio along with the screen capture, a problem that Camtasia did not share. All three computers used integrated SoundMAX Integrated Digital Audio on the motherboard, which probably was the problem, but a quick check of the Macromedia user board indicated that other users, with other hardware, had been reporting similar problems since June 2005.
We worked around the problem by adding audio after capture. You can add audio slide by slide, which is tedious, or add one background audio file with little synchronization with the slides. Or, you can manually synchronize one long audio file with multiple files. Overall, except for the fact that we couldn’t capture audio with the screen capture, we liked Captivate’s audio-related toolset much better than Camtasia’s.
Another issue is that you couldn’t force the user to partake in activities like drag and drop, a problem with Sorenson Squeeze, which uses drag and drop extensively. Using a Click Box, you could force the user to click Import File, and then Open, but you couldn’t force them to drag a template onto the target file for encoding. We worked around it with narration like “watch, as I drag the template onto the file,” but the logical inconsistency of being unable to mandate some critical actions, and not others, felt frustrating. Oh well, more grist for the upgrade mill.
With Captivate’s automatic capture and interactive features in mind, let’s take a look at Camtasia. Since Camtasia captures all mouse and screen activities, it’s ideal for taking product tours, since mouse circles around interface elements and other features are captured. However, this does complicate editing. If you delete any portions from the middle of the video, mouse movements will appear out of alignment, if only for a frame or two.
While Camtasia doesn’t automatically capture elements like callouts, you can insert them manually, each on its own track, where they can be manipulated very simply (Figure 4). It’s easy to insert Flash Hot Spots—callouts with additional Flash properties—but you have to render your entire project to view their operation, which is a pain. With Contribute, you can preview a single frame, five frames, or the entire movie without actually rendering, which is much faster and more convenient.
Figure 4 (below): While you can’t capture callouts automatically in Camtasia, they’re very easy to add later.
While you can add quizzes to Camtasia, you can only ask questions; you can’t tie the results to correct and incorrect clicks in the screens themselves, as you can with Captivate. Overall, each program does equally well on annotation and caption functions, but if your projects involve simulations and assessments, Captivate is definitely the superior tool.
This is not to say that Camtasia doesn’t have its unique charms. One of the most useful is the ability to zoom in and out of configurable regions of the screen to enhance the visibility of the contents. Though we run most applications at 1280×1024 resolution or higher, distributing at this resolution creates a file that may be too large for easy downloading or streaming.
Cramming the entire 1280×1024 interface into an 800×600 window works well when you’re demonstrating large buttons and high-level operations. But it can obscure some details, especially those displayed in small fonts. With Camtasia’s zoom feature (Figure 5), you can capture at the higher resolution, then pan and zoom around the screen to make even the smallest fonts easily readable.
Figure 5 (below): The ability to pan and zoom around the captured video is one of Camtasia’s strongest features. Here, we’re zooming into Squeeze’s Format and Compression Settings.
Operationally, you set a keyframe on the pan-and-zoom track, choose the new display window, and whether the pan-and-zoom speed should be slow, fast, or instantaneous. With an unlimited number of keyframes available, you can pan and zoom around the captured video window as you wish. Captivate has nothing to match it.
Camtasia’s PowerPoint operation (Figure 6) is also superior to Captivate’s. Plug a microphone into your computer while you make your presentation and you can record your comments in real time, even adding a video feed of the speaker if desired. For example, in our tests, we recorded a PowerPoint presentation, using Logitech’s OrbitMP QuickCAM to capture the audio and a video window. Then we integrated the two using Camtasia’s new picture-in-picture feature.
Though Captivate can import PowerPoint slides and let you add narration, there is no live recording feature. With Camtasia, there’s no reason not to record every live PowerPoint presentation, since you can edit the audio and video later if necessary. Then you can publish your presentation on online or on CD/DVD literally in the time it takes encode the file.
Figure 6 (below): Camtasia’s PowerPoint plug-in, shown on the upper left, makes it incredibly easy to record your PowerPoint presentations in real time.
Speaking of encoding, we also liked the range of output formats that Camtasia offered, which included H.264, Windows Media, AVI, SWF, and FLV, a nice contrast to Captivate’s “any flavor you want so long as it’s Flash” option. Interestingly, in our tests, the SWF files created by Camtasia were almost identical in size to those created in Captivate, though these examples involved no real-time capture of streaming or other video.
One irritation is that Camtasia builds the movie controls and the content into separate SWF files, so you can’t simply send a single SWF file for remote viewing. Fortunately, Camtasia creates the HTML file necessary to meld the two, so it’s easy to integrate them on a Web site. Captivate creates only one SWF file, however, which is even easier to integrate or send via email. Captivate can also create a standalone Flash executable for playback, as well as publish a movie to a Breeze server.
So how do the tools stack up? Overall, Captivate’s precision is both its greatest strength and biggest weakness. Captivate is a tool you might use to paint the Sistine Chapel, when time and money was no object, but you wouldn’t use it to paint your living room, even if your spouse were watching—it would simply take too long. So for all but the most complex software demonstrations, we prefer Camtasia.
On the other hand, with training and simulation, Captivate is more capable and easier to use, particularly the ability to preview Click Boxes and other user input in near-real time. We will say that the Captivate manual was very disappointing, with no screens and very little contextual information. If you’re new to the Flash/Director/Captivate interface paradigm, you’ll find Tom Green’s Visual QuickStart Guide to Macromedia Captivate (Peachpit Press) a life saver.
As we said at the outset, each program has killer features that may swing the pendulum in its favor, but more likely will make both tools essential for many presenters. Once you get to know their strengths and weaknesses, it really is hard to imagine living without either one.
This week, in the final part of this blog article I look at updating Windows, firewalls and some other useful tools to keep your computer safe and secure on the Internet…
For a tutorial on Firewall’s and a listing of some available ones see the link below: Understanding and Using Firewall’s
Install SpywareBlaster – Many known malicious programs are ActiveX programs that integrate into Internet Explorer. If you use Internet Explorer, then we recommend that you download and install SpywareBlaster. This program will load a huge list of known malicious programs into your computer’s configuration and make it so that you can not run these programs on your computer and therefore become infected.
Install Spybot Search & Destroy or Super Anti-Spyware – Where SpywareBlaster can “immunise” your computer against future infections by ActiveX BHOs (Browser Helper Objects) Spybot Search & Destroy and/or Super Anti-Spyware are both very good at cleaning up systems that have already been compromised by some form of spyware. You can debate the respective merits of each of these programs but I suggest that you use them all in your arsenal of anti-spyware programs.
A tutorial on installing & using SpywareBlaster product can be found here:
Update your security programs regularly – As always if you do not update your programs, your programs will not be able to find the newest infections that may be racing around the Internet. It is therefore important that you upgrade the software and spyware/virus definitions for a particular program so that they are running the most effectively. “Regular updates” does not mean once a year or once every 6 months, but at least once a week!
Switch to another browser, like Firefox, or make your Internet Explorer more secure – The latest version of Internet Explorer 7 is now shipped with much more secure settings. On the other hand, if you use Internet Explorer 6 there are settings that need to be changed. With that said you have two choices; either make Internet Explorer 6 more secure or switch to another browser like Mozilla Firefox. It’s an excellent browser and is secure right after installing it. You can find more info on switching from Internet Explorer to Firefox here
Switching from Internet Explorer to Firefox
If you decide you would rather continue to use Internet Explorer, then follow these steps to make it more secure:
By following all these steps you are sure to keep your computer at minimal risk to future infections or hack attempts. This is unfortunately not a fool proof method of securing your computer as new risks are released almost every day, but your susceptibility to these attacks will be diminished greatly.
Personnel at the Faculty of Health Sciences come and go, there are new faces almost every day, and often we as an organisation tend to forget these new folk and they often are thrown in at the deep end and have to learn the hard way when if comes to the computer technology that they have to use. (and often have inherited from their predecessors)
Getting new users off on the right foot is good for them and for the organization — and it will certainly make IT support more manageable and less frustrating in the future. These 10 checklist items that will help you ensure that frustration is kept to a minimum and productivity is kept at peak efficiency!
We all tend to forget a few things every now and then, especially when it comes to setting up new users. By running through the following questions, you’ll be able to ensure that that every new user has the equipment, privileges, and applications he or she needs.
I suggest that you print this list out and ensure that the departmental/divisional secretary – the heart of administration in your division or department – and that this list is used whenever a new personnel member starts his or her work at the faculty.
1: Do they know how to contact the help desk?
Make sure that new users know where to go when they’re having difficulties. Have Information Technology Support become familiar with new users and, above all, be approachable. Many users think that the support team is the last group to call on because of the superior attitudes techs sometimes display. Remember: We need users as much as they need us. The IT HelpDesk’s telephone number is 021-8084367.
2: Do they have everything they need?
Ensure that new users have the applications, storage, and permissions they need to do their jobs. Find out their job roles and make sure they have what others in their department use. If there is a package that might help them, mention it to their line manager. Explain your backup policy; be sure that users know where to save anything important. Generally, this will mean that local hard drives are not backed up but that network drives are. Do they have a flashdisk or portable hard drive for backup? Has the old computer they are now inheriting been, reformatted or at least wiped clean of the previous user’s personal files and settings?
3: Does the system meet their needs?
Verify that the system you supply meets the users’ requirements. It’s no use giving an older machine to someone who edits video. Conversely, giving somebody the most powerful system just to type a few letters is a waste of money. Rank and status are often limiting factors in the university’s hierarchy, where your title – or lack thereof – dictates the type of computer you might get. Often a professor would require a lower spec machine than a departmental secretary than a laboratory manager, for instance.
4: Do they know how to use all the equipment?
Make sure that users have had the necessary training. Sometimes people are reluctant to admit that they don’t know what to do. Give them the number of the training department (should you be so lucky as to have one) or arrange for a trainer or experienced user to help them out. A little time and effort spent at this stage will save a great deal of time, money, and effort later. Run through the correct startup and shutdown routine and discuss general housekeeping. Also ensure that the university meets its obligation regarding “inhouse training”, and provides at least a modicum of skills training. The IT HelpDesk can be contacted for the contact details of outside training companies that might be able to provide training for your new personnel!
5: Are there any environmental concerns?
Check that new users’ workstations meet health and safety requirements and that users are aware of the need for correct posture, positioning, and lighting. Caution them about slouching at their desks. This may sound trivial, but I assure you it’s not. Work-related injuries can occur from something as trivial as a bad or old computer chair, bad lighting or a tiny computer monitor that can lead to eyestrain. My own eyesight deteriorated seriously when I started using computers in 1989, and it was largely caused by my own ignorance, substandard monitor displays and environmental shortcomings.
6: Are all cables connected correctly and safely?
Determine that all cables have been routed so that they won’t become a tripping hazard or get damaged. Tidiness, in this situation, is essential. Ten minutes spent double-checking the cables now can save a lot of time, pain, and trouble down the road. I have personally seen power cables routed under carpets, kettles and microwaves plugged into multiplugs that computers share and other dangerous practices for cabling.
7: Are they aware of computer safety?
Ensure that users know about any hazards relating to computer usage. Warn them about the dangers of spilling liquids on monitors. It might sound obvious, but not everyone realizes how much power a monitor stores.
8: Do they require any special assistance?
Find out whether any special equipment has been provided: foot rests, document holders, special screen settings for clearer vision, and so forth. Explain what help is available to users and how they can request such assistance in the future. Information Technology can be very helpful sometimes in advising for special needs. Budget limitations should never be an excuse for ensuring the health of your personnel. Spend time with your local computer guru, (I am sure there are plenty in the faculty) and ask their advice as to making the working environment safer.
9: Do they know about the university’s Internet and e-mail policies?
Make sure that users are fully aware of your organization’s policy on Internet and e-mail usage. There is nothing worse than having a disciplinary case when the subject claims that he or she didn’t know the rules. It’s up to the IT department to inform all new users of your organization’s acceptable-use policy. The Electronic Communications Policy of the university is a good starting-point and the IT HelpDesk Wiki provides some excellent documentation about what is acceptable and what is not when e-mailing and using the Internet.
10: Have you scheduled a follow-up visit?
All new users should receive a follow-up visit from a member of the IT department just to double-check that everything is going smoothly. Schedule a visit for a week after your first meeting so that any bad habits that are developing can be nipped in the bud. Spend a bit of time getting to know the users and let them get to know you. Being a real person rather than a name on a list or a voice on the phone is a great aid to communication.
Finally if you think that there is anything I have missed in this brief checklist be sure to let me know. Communication is of course the vascular system of any faculty such as ours, and cannot be neglected!
Most of us sit with a computer on our desks with an operating system like Windows XP or Vista installed. The CPU (Central Processing Unit or “brain”) of the computer handles most of the tasks you throw at it without any problem. If your computer is 2 years old or younger then most likely you have enough computing power at your disposal to do more than just send e-mail and type out a document or two. A lot of the processing power is going to waste!
Virtualisation a relatively new “buzz-word” that is surfacing today and most people – who are not some sort of computer geek – will not know or understand what it means. This article aims to explain what the concept means and what potential it might have for you.
Virtualisation is the process of running one operating system inside another. For example, you can have a perfectly normal Windows Vista operating system installed, and install Windows XP inside that operating system so that it runs in a window. The Windows Vista OS (Operating System) isn’t affected, you don’t need to reboot to switch between them, and you get all sorts of extra features for the virtual Windows, such as the ability to pause it to preserve its virtual RAM contents exactly as you left it.
The first attempts at PC virtualisation were essentially very clever software – lots of programmers worked together to create a virtual machine, complete with virtual CPU, virtual RAM and such. The operating system that was being virtualised (usually known as the “guest” to contrast it with the main operating system, known as the “host”) didn’t realize it was being virtualised at all – all the programs it ran were actually be intercepted by the software and translated on to real hardware.
Modern CPUs have built-in support for virtualisation, making virtualisation very easy to do “out-the-box” in the end the result of all this technology is that a virtualised OS in a virtual machine should be able to run at about 95% of the speed of the same OS on real hardware.
“This all sounds rather nice, but what can this do for me?” you might be thinking.
Firstly, let us look briefly at server virtualisation. A server is a large and powerful computer that provides a “service” to “clients” that are connected to it. These services might include storage space (a network drive) shared access to programs, e-mail, managing printing and so on. If this server breaks then the service that it provides is no longer available to its clients. If the server becomes old or outdated then its performance will slow down. If the server is replaced then the software running it will have to be built up and configured again – all of which takes time and resources.
Servers are expensive. With virtualisation a single large, and powerful server could replace a number of smaller machines, and running costs could be dramatically reduced. Virtualisation is hardware-independent so moving a virtual machine from one physical machine to another is easy.
With virtualisation, you can lower number of physical servers – you can reduce hardware maintenance costs because of a lower number of physical servers.
You can consolidate your servers. One physical machine can consolidate a collection of services and functions so physical space can be utilized more efficiently in places like your network room.
By having each application within its own “virtual server” you can prevent one application from impacting another application when upgrades or changes are made.
You can develop a standard virtual server build that can be easily duplicated which will speed up server deployment.
You can deploy multiple operating system technologies on a single hardware platform (i.e. Windows Server 2003, Linux, Windows 2000, etc).
Secondly Software virtualisation, also known as Application virtualisation is an broad term that describes software that allows portability, manageability and compatibility of applications by encapsulating them from the underlying operating system on which they are executed.
A fully virtualized application is not installed in the traditional sense, although it is still executed as if it is. The application is fooled into believing that it is directly interfacing with the original operating system and all the resources managed by it, when in reality it is not. Application virtualization differs from operating system virtualization in that in the latter case, the whole operating system is virtualized rather than only specific applications.
Firstly, virtualising an application means that you can switch it on and off as needed. It allows you to customise your operating environment and run only the software or applications that you need.
We use virtualisation in GERGA extensively. Software suites like Microsoft Office 2003 and its modern equivalent Office 2007 can run on the same physical workstation, independent of each other. If students need to do a project using Excel 2007 then they can switch on the Office 2007 application suite as required. Often compatibility is a problem – older programs do not work with newer versions of applications. Virtualisation can address this problem. Virtualise the older program and let it interface with the compatible application…
Virtualisation can also reduce the cost of software licensing. Instead of buying a software licence for each and every physical computer you have, fewer licenses are purchased and then the software is virtualised and run on demand. The logic behind this is that if you have 100 computers, not all the computers might need to run an application at one time. Virtualising the application and only having it run concurrently on a few workstations at one time means a huge saving in licensing. In most cases the legal requirements of the software license are satisfied.
I have discussed only a couple of benefits that virtualisation might provide for a large institution. So far I have only scratched the surface of how the Faculty of Health Sciences can benefit from this exciting technology.