Printing on Campus at RGU from your own laptops and tablets

In my previous post I explained how to connect your own device to our Wifi service and where to find further information and assistance. I hope that has helped you to get online. A common request from students once they are online is how to print from their own device. You’ll be pleased to know that our “Print@RGU” Service allows you to do this.

Full instructions on what to do can be found on the IT Help Desk pages.

We also have information on print charges and how to pay.

Just as a reminder, our print service is designed so that you send your print to one, single, University-wide print queue called ”Print@RGU.” Once your job is in the print queue, you can visit any printer on campus and use your ID card to log in to the printer and print off your print job. You can pay for your printing online, or by cash at one of the print kiosks you will find around the Campus.

The easiest way to print from your own device is by using the “MyApps” service. This gives you access to your core desktop applications including Microsoft Office. (For licensing reasons, Microsoft Office is only available to students when you are on Campus and connected over the University’s Wi-Fi system. For students who are off Campus, we provide Open Office through MyApps. This has similar features to Microsoft Office.) You can access MyApps easily from a web browser on your laptop by going to http://myapps.rgu.ac.uk – see also the IT Help Desk web site for information on how to use MyApps for the first time:

Enter your normal user name and password and you will be taken to a secure web page from which you can access your desktop applications and your “H:” drive. You can open your documents just as you normally would, and print them just as you normally would from a University desktop by using the “print” menu in the application.

On a mobile device such as an iPad or Android, instead of using a browser to access MyApps, you will need to download a free App. The App you need is called the “Citrix Receiver.” Once you have downloaded it, configure it to access the MyApps service by following the instructions on the Help Desk web site. When you have done that, you should be able to open the app and you will be able to access your desktop software directly from your mobile device and print as you normally would.

When you are on Campus, you can also print by using a simple web page to upload documents to print. Simply go to the “everyoneprint” web page, log in as normal with your username and password, and upload the document(s) you wish to print. It is also possible to use this service from a mobile device such as an iPad or Android. It’s a bit fiddly on an iPad or other IOS devices because they don’t have a file system and you cannot upload files from the normal browser. As ever, there are some apps that can come to the rescue. “iUploader” is one, which has a free version, and allows you to upload files to web sites.

You can if you wish to be more adventurous set up a print driver (“EveryonePrint Driver Print”) on your laptop so that you can print directly from software which you have on your laptop. Full instructions again can be found on the IT Help Desk pages. Note – this is only for setting up the print driver on your own laptop, not University desktops.

Digital Curation

Unless you are devoid of any sense of wonder, you should marvel at the news that Voyager 1 has now officially left the solar system and has reached interstellar space. On the off chance that this fragile craft may one day be retrieved intact by intelligent life forms, NASA placed a “golden record” on board. This record includes samples of music, bird song, whale sounds, greetings in many languages, black and white and colour images of human society, our planet and the solar system.

They did not, however, include a record player in the spacecraft to playback this disk, and anyway that would only have helped for the sound tracks and would have relied on the unlikely possibility that alien life also uses a mains electricity supply of 120V 60 Hz with a type A electrical plug.

They did helpfully provide a stylus to get any alien started and a comprehensive set of instructions. This Wikipedia article explains how the instructions are meant to be understood, and you can look at / listen to some of the material here .

All this nicely illustrates one of the key challenges of digital curation – with our world being so dependent on digital material today, how can we preserve important digital assets and ensure that they will be accessible in the future? This is potentially a massive challenge for society and in the UK, the Digital Curation Centre has been established as a centre of expertise – a look at their web site illustrates the breadth of the challenge.

Of course, it’s not just long term digital curation that presents access challenges – ensuring at a basic level that file formats we publish are accessible across the exploding range of electronic devices is important. One great format is good old PDF – and given that the initials stand for “Portable Document Format” this should not be a surprise. Put a document into PDF format, and it is immediately accessible on Windows, Mac’s, Linux, IOS devices, Android and any web browser. Anyone using an iPad or similar is likely to have discovered a whole range of “apps” that also allow you to annotate PDF documents with comments, ink and even audio. On campus at RGU, Adobe PDF is available as standard on University PC’s and will allow PDF documents to be created and annotated.

Even better, although PDF was originally a proprietary format launched in 1993, it is now an open standard governed by the International Standards Organisation (ISO). It’s history spans 20 years so far – I can’t actually lay my hands on an original PDF version 1.0 document, but I’m sure if I could it would still be accessible with today’s PDF readers.

PDF of course does not cover all digital formats, but we should use it wherever possible in published material and documents to be stored long term. That may merit some policies and further guidance, but you don’t need to wait for that!

Of course, there’s also something ironic about a 1970’s spacecraft carrying an almost obsolete recording format into interstellar space. I have no idea how they would have put a PDF file onto Voyager 1 if PDF had been around at the time, never mind how to instruct an alien in its use.

Where goes the PC?

It’s now hard to read technology news without some mention of the decline of the PC – which is usually taken to mean Microsoft Windows based platforms. The latest one from Gartner indicates that global PC sales have fallen for the fifth quarter in a row, making it the “longest duration of decline” in history – down from 90 million units per quarter in late 2009, to 76 million units in the latest survey. The report is summarised on the BBC web site which includes a chart showing the spectacular rise in sales of tablet computers (iPad’s and similar) – widely agreed to be the main cause of the decline in PC sales.

It’s not just the Microsoft world – although Apple has bucked the trend, things seem to be catching up with them too .

What’s going on here, and what does this mean for future computing devices at RGU? Two things – (1) the PC format is not going to disappear suddenly tomorrow, but (2) the tablet format is definitely here to stay.

Let’s take the PC first. For years, most of the innovation was around the PC format and people faithfully upgraded their (perfectly good) PC’s every 3 to 5 years to get the latest technology and software. Now the innovation is in the tablet and smartphone space. People are still using PC’s where they need more power or sophistication in the software, but the PC they have is “good enough” for now, and instead of upgrading their PC many feel there is greater value in buying a tablet. I don’t know anyone who has actually thrown out their PC and replaced it completely with a tablet. A decline in sales does not necessarily mean a decline in use of the same magnitude at this stage and there is a whole world of software and services built around the PC platform that remains essential to everyday work life. It’s a bit like at the start of the recent economic recession – sales of new cars plummeted. People were still driving like before, it’s just that for a while they didn’t buy new cars.

What about tablets? Tablets bring a new world of opportunity in terms of their mobility, “instant on”, ease of use and long battery life to name but a few. Software similar to that available on PC platforms is available at a fraction of the price. As the power of tablets increases, they will progressively start to encroach on the functions carried out by PC’s – although the pace at which this happens will be interesting, as PC’s will grow in power as well. Have a look at the book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” for some great insight as to what might happen here based on previous technology shifts.

Our overall strategy is to sustain the existing, mission critical, PC based environment and software, but position it, and our future services, to be available on a wider range of devices {see MyApps post}. At the same time, we want to start exploring new opportunities brought about by tablets as these become a greater part of the device portfolio used by staff and students.

What about Windows 8? That’s almost worth a post in its own right. There are many views expressed online, but it seems the general consensus is that Windows 8 is not a great user experience for mainstream PC use – unless perhaps you have a touch screen. Touch seems to work better on mobile devices, but for vertically mounted touch screens there are concerns about its ease of use and “gorilla arm”. And then there’s the start button, or not . . .

Remember that the Windows platform is still mission critical to organisations, 76 million shipments per quarter is still huge, and the traditional Windows 7 user interface with mouse and keyboard is still the most effective interface for everyday tasks. If Microsoft are trying to take a leaf out of Apple’s book by creating a closer integration between their Surface tablet, and the desktop – they should remember that Apple didn’t bring wholesale change to their OSX platform to achieve this when they brought out the iPad.

Moving to Windows 8 will not be a simple transition and will require significant training across the organisation in comparison with previous versions. Right at the moment, therefore, we’re not rushing to rollout Windows 8 across our desktop at RGU and will focus on Windows 7 and removing the remaining areas of XP. However, we can’t stay on Windows 7 for ever, so we will watch carefully how the Windows platform develops further and how people in general start to become more at home with the later versions.

Interesting to hear the news about Steve Ballmer and it’s effect on the Microsoft share price. . .

Microsoft Office and other Windows software on your iPad

In an earlier blog I introduced our “future desktop” project. One key element of that project is the ability to make Microsoft Windows based software packages available across a greater range of platforms. The technology we use for this is provided by Citrix, and you can use it now on your mobile device. This only applies if you are a registered student with RGU, or a member of staff, and for students I’m afraid that some license restrictions apply at the moment. For example, we can’t provide access to Microsoft Office for students but we do offer a version of Open Office and a growing number of other applications.

So, if you are staff or student at RGU, and want to take Citrix for a test drive on your iPad – download the app and have a look – it’s free!

Full instructions can be found under “MyApps – advanced and device support” on our web site.

On an iPad, download the free Citrix Receiver app. When you first fire it up, select “add account” to the menu that pops up. The address to enter is “http://myapps.rgu.ac.uk”. Press “next” and then you will see a screen where it asks for the description of the account (anything you like), username, password and domain. Enter your normal username, leave the password blank, and put in “rgu.ac.uk” for the domain. It will then pop up with a further screen entitled “enter credentials.” At this point enter your password, it will verify your account, and if all goes well you will get a menu with all the applications you are entitled to access.

Try launching Microsoft Word or any other application you fancy. Here is a screen clip from Microsoft Word on my iPad:

Just touch the screen in place of mouse clicks. If you want the keyboard to pop up, touch the pull down arrow at the top of the screen and you should get a menu as follows:

Touch the keyboard icon and you can start to type. It’s worth exploring “gestures” to see how to right click, zoom, drag the mouse etc. If you do that, you will see that a three finger tap is another way to call up the keyboard. If you have more than one application open, the two finger tap will toggle between application windows (like Alt+tab). Press the “home” icon to get back to the list of applications and launch another one.

If you have a bluetooth keyboard (I use the standard Apple one), and pair it with your iPad, you can type on a full size keyboard and everything starts to get really good – full version of Microsoft Office applications and you can type away on your keyboard. If you have one of the Apple VGA adapters and a suitable monitor, you can plug your iPad into an external monitor. Depending on which iPad version you have you may then have to go into Settings and turn on the external display. Now you have a full size keyboard and monitor. . .

If you want to have even more fun, and if you have an iPhone, you can fire up Citrix on the iPhone, turn on Bluetooth on your iPhone and iPad. Click on “pair” on your iPad Citrix App and then on your iPhone touch the wee pointer arrow at the bottom left of the screen of Citrix app.

It should ask you to accept the iPad connection. Now your iPhone acts as a trackpad. So, now you have a full size keyboard, external monitor and a (pretty expensive) mouse!

I digress. Most of the time, the whole purpose of this app is to provide you with the convenience of access to all your University Windows based software applications when you are on the move – you are unlikely to be carrying your monitor and keyboard in your back pocket. It does, however, serve to illustrate where some of this might go. Give it a few years and it might be increasingly normal to drop by a convenient keyboard and monitor, hook up your iPad and off you go.

The Citrix app works on the iPhone too, and Windows Mobile and Android platforms. Mind you, Microsoft Word on an iPhone is stretching things with such a small screen – but yes, you can use it.

Andrew McCreath

What will you be using in 5 years time?

You will perhaps have noticed that a few of entries in this blog have been in relation to the “desktop”. We’ve had an entry about our “future desktop” project, the “personal environment” as a key priority in our new IT Strategy and more recently a summary of how we are setting about buying PC’s for 2012/13. Desktop devices are always going to be of great interest to our staff and students – they are the “first contact” with our IT resources, define a huge part of the user experience and how we can get the best out of IT, and we spend a lot of money on them!

I will shortly be opening up some wider consultation on how we see the future landscape here and what principles should guide what we provide to staff and students. The traditional desktop device – whether Windows or Apple, desktop or laptop – dominates the IT provision in most organisations today. Typically, depending on a combination of user / technical requirements and affordability, these are refreshed on a 3 – 5 year cycle. So, on current trajectories, some equipment that we buy this year will still be in use in 2017. In such a fast changing world, we will need to be very careful with our procurement year on year to make sure we don’t end up with excess legacy equipment and to make sure that we can keep pace with major changes in what people expect to use. In the post about “MyApps” I explained some of the steps we were taking now to allow our services to be delivered onto a range of devices in future.

So, what might we expect in five years time?

Some kind of workstation is probably going to remain important. The need for a full size screen / keyboard is almost certainly going to be essential for significant and complex content creation, media work, multi tasking etc. Behind the workstation might be still be a desktop PC (though it’s anyone’s guess what the operating system will look like), or it might be a laptop docked to the workstation, or it might be a low powered “thin client” device. In some cases it will be a tablet computer, such as a future iPad, or even a smart phone. These devices even today can be hooked up to a full size monitor and keyboard – it’s not quite the experience of a desktop computer, but surprisingly close – especially if you combine it with MyApps.

For mobile access, in some shape or form tablet computers such as the iPad and Android platforms will increasingly dominate. Today’s versions are not yet as good as a full power laptop for significant and complex content creation etc, but they will catch up year on year – I would guess in 5 years time still not a full laptop replacement device but much much closer than they are today.

We will (or should) print less. Mobile platforms are great for reading and some organisations are already giving out iPads in order to remove print costs.

So, still a continuing need for the workstation and keyboard, but the underlying platform shifting heavily to mobile formats. The nature of software applications will evolve during this transition too. We will still be using “desktop” style applications in 5 years time, but accessing them through a variety of platforms and mixing their use with mobile based apps and richer web environments.

We’re planning for all this to happen, but facing some uncertainties:
• the speed at which “tipping points” will be reached
• the balance between what the University provides and what staff and students will bring in themselves

We want to be poised ready to “catch the wave”.

The Gartner CIO briefing on “the future of client computing” makes an interesting further read.

We must have an app . . .

With the explosive popularity of the iPad and Android tablets, there is a great deal of interest in the development of “apps” to allow staff and student access to University information services. A number of Universities have already gone down this route. If you have an iPad and want some fun, go into the app store and do a search on “University” – you’ll see a few listed there, and of course being on the app store there is feedback. One of the apps listed has the following feedback:

“Still useless with no functionality”
“Surely the University can put more money into hiring a better company to create this app?”
“This app is clearly a failed student project”

Another app by contrast has the following:

“Such a useful app! Makes life so much easier” Fab idea!”
“Really helpful!! and Super!”
“Really useful for when around campus. Downside, can never have an excuse to miss a lecture again . . . oh man.”

We are getting a number of requests in from various Schools and Departments expressing their interest in having an app developed – that’s great. What we plan to do now is to create a clear guide on the criteria we should apply to decide when to create an app, and to guard against developing an app just to make some kind of fashion statement (and risk being the subject of ridicule on the app store). We also need to ensure that the University branding is protected and that anything launched into the app stores has been properly approved.

If we are developing apps for students, it will be essential to hear from them what they are really looking for and what they will value in an app. Many services which are web based will be accessible anyway from smart phones and tablet computers. The trick is to work out where the development of an app makes a compelling difference and to focus our energies on that.

Developing an app has all the challenges of any other software development. We would wish to ensure that it is multi platform (at least IOS, Android and Windows Phone), and we will need to have in place good support arrangements so that any glitches can be fixed rapidly, and if necessary we can release new versions quickly when operating system upgrades are released.

So, we’re on the case and will be working particularly with the School of Computing who have some experience of app development and will be able to help and advise on our options.