← Back to team overview

schooltoolers team mailing list archive

Report from the Coimbra Meeting


Hi All,

Last week the core SchoolTool team -- Justas, Alan, Douglas, Gediminas
and I -- met in Coimbra, Portugal at the Critical Software offices for
our main planning meeting for the year.  Critical, and its spin-off
Critical Links, are responsible for their Education Appliance, which
uses SchoolTool as its core SIS and user management system.  See also

I had met with the Critical Links marketing and product management
staff in New Jersey, but this was our first time working with the
technical staff in Portugal.  We were able to occupy their "war room"
right next to the Edge Box (for small business) and Educational
Appliance (for schools) team throughout the week.

On Monday we had a long meeting with Helder Sousa, Director of
Software/Application Development for Critical Links.  Thursday we met
with Helder in the morning and with their user interface consultant,
Vitor Carvalhinho of Tangivel.  On Friday Gediminas and Justas met
with the members of their staff directly responsible for packaging
SchoolTool to give them some pointers.  The rest of the time the
SchoolTool team worked on our own issues.

The Monday meeting was helpful to us understanding the history and
context of the Education Appliance product.  Essentially, after Intel
did its first deployments of Classmate PC's to schools in the
developing world, they realized they needed a simple to administer
server as part of the package.  They approached Critical because their
small business-oriented EdgeBox product already had the
non-educational infrastructure, and Critical had plenty of experience
doing complex integration in the context of a low-administration

So basically, all recent Classmate deployments include the Education
Appliance and, in turn, SchoolTool.  This is also most of the EA
deployments, although not all.  Critical Links is clearly trying to
expand their sales in different directions.

We then went over some of the changes CL has made to the version of
SchoolTool they've deployed (still 1.2, unfortunately).  This includes
a somewhat cleaner, more minimal (e.g., no more gray boxes) style,
some usability improvements (adding a person as the instructor of a
section automatically adds them to the teacher group), and a bunch of
bug fixes and translation updates, most of which were probably also
made by us in subsequent versions.

Helder gave us all the patches.  Since this is the first time we've
had to process a big dump of patches, we spent a while discussing how
to process them.  We received a dump of all SchoolTool-related bugs
from their internal tracker.  We also discussed having them use
LaunchPad more to keep the collaboration working closer to real-time.

They will be upgrading to SchoolTool 1.6 in the next few months, and
we are going to move as many of their changes into a separate package
to help simplify that process.

Tuesday and Wednesday we went over our recent changes to SchoolTool,
the state of the upcoming release, various nagging issues, and our
plans for both the October Natty+1 release and the next two years.  We
created a graphical organizer for the future plans using Freemind,
which I'll also publish shortly after I get a chance to clean it up
and make it more comprehensible.

The meeting Thursday with their UI consultant, Vitor, couldn't have
been better timed.  We've certainly been aware of SchoolTool's UI
shortcomings, but were waiting for the right time to mount a big push
rather than approach it in a piecemeal fashion.  Also, we needed some
fresh eyes and inspiration.  Again, the details of what we worked out
will take a whole mail in itself.  I'd say the good news is that
what's needed is not a radical departure but a better execution of
what we've been trying to do, basically bringing back some elements
(breadcrumbs, sidebar in most views) and more completely implementing
others (proper tabs instead of buttons), and following a more
consistent style guide.

Overall, a very productive trip.