schooltoolers team mailing list archive
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SchoolTool & the Critical Links appliance
I drove down to New Jersey last week for a *very interesting* (to say
the least) meeting with the folks at Critical Links:
Basically, they're a company which has expanded from offering a "small
business in a box" server appliance to a "school network in a box"
appliance, including IT functions (firewall, web filter, vpn, etc.)
and educational applications (Moodle, LAMS).
And for two years, they've been shipping SchoolTool as an integral
part of the product. This is, of course, exactly the kind of thing
we've always wanted, although it is somewhat baffling that they never
told us about it. We did have some developer to developer
communication on specific bugs, but we had no idea of what the larger
They've got many existing and in progress deployments around the
world. Portugal is the flagship with over 1200 schools
Other smaller customers in Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, Malta, the
Seychelles Islands. That's just from my jotted notes; I need to get a
full list. They support English, French, Portuguese and Spanish.
Good i18n support was key to their selection of SchoolTool.
Critical Links also has a strong relationship with Intel's education
efforts. They're in the process of making their stack (including
SchoolTool) an official "Intel Reference Recipe," and it is the
standard server solution for Intel Classmate PC deployments.
When I first heard this, I was baffled because frankly any
SIS/gradebook/attendance, etc. system, even one more mature than
SchoolTool, would generate tons of questions, requirements, necessary
customizations when dropped into even a few schools, let alone
thousands spread over several continents.
It turns out they're currently using SchoolTool in a very specific
way. Essentially, SchoolTool is used to manage student enrollment,
courses and sections. They've hooked SchoolTool into the server's
internal message passing system, so that, for example, when you add a
student, they're added to Moodle as well. It is a familiar concept
which we've explored as well on several occasions.
They've reskinned SchoolTool to blend in with their other integrated
apps, and made a number of other small changes and improvements to
make SchoolTool fit smoothly into their processes. Each server
contains several virtual machines running Linux From Scratch
instances, so they're building SchoolTool from source.
Overall, they didn't seem like the most open source savvy company.
I'm trying to sort out what the technical requirements for GPL
compatibility here are, but they are open to contributing back their
changes and since SchoolTool is usually distributed as interpreted
source code anyhow (I guess you could just distribute byte code if you
wanted to), I don't see full compliance (if they're not meeting it
now) as something that would constitute a strategic problem for them.
What this means is we have a big distribution channel in place, also
potentially a marketing and training channel, and an installed base of
users who are currently under-utilizing SchoolTool. It also means
that the "bootstrapping" phase of SchoolTool's history is over -- we
no longer have to worry about the problem of writing usable software
without enough users. Of course, this opens up a whole set of
exciting new questions, tier 2 support, training models, marketing,
In fact, our overall distribution channel story is shaping up nicely
here at the end of the year. We've got:
* Critical Links appliance to Intel Classmate deployments and many other sites;
* Progressing toward a March pilot in Cambodia to demonstrate working
directly with a NGO and national government;
* OLE Nepal should finish their RPM packages for OLPC servers this
week (Fedora 13 packages are done already), giving us a pilot and
channel for OLPC deployments;
* We'll *finally* be in Edubuntu for 11.4.
Lots to absorb and process!