Tuesday, April 28, 2015

YouTube Use in Schools

Recently, GoGuardian published this interesting analysis of YouTube usage over a sample set of a few hundred schools. Its well worth a read, just to see how the younger crowd views computers in general and YouTube in particular.

Side note: If you use Chromebooks (or their desktop cousins, Chromeboxes) and haven't heard of GoGuardian, you should give them a look. It might not fit your institution's needs, but they have interesting enough features that they could be useful.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What Username Mounted That Drive?

A few months ago, I had to upgrade a system that wasn't documented. A key piece of the system was a Windows network drive that automatically connected when the workstations started up. In order to do the upgrade without accidentally breaking the system, I needed to know what user account was used to mount the drive.

A little bit of research turned up the following command, which I found really helpful. I am documenting it here just in case it helps anyone (including me) in the future.

wmic netuse where LocalName="Z:" get UserName /value

Note that "Z:" should be replaced with whatever drive letter you need to check.

Credit where its due: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/9037503/determine-domain-and-username-used-to-map-a-network-drive

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Meraki MDM No Longer Free

Articles like this one and talking with my counterparts in other schools lead me to invest my time into using Meraki System Manager (a.k.a. just "Meraki") as a free Mobile Device Manager. As with all free services, I had reservations. Specifically, I wanted to know their long-term business model so I could be certain that it would remain free.

However, the Meraki MDM remained free for the two years or so that I had been watching them and a great many schools began depending on their service. Meraki also publicly stated several times that its MDM service would remain free. So I took a chance on them.

Then I heard the Out Of School podcast's episode 126. They claimed that Meraki changed directions and turned the MDM service into a bit of a bait-and-switch service.

Doing my own research, I found Meraki's own document on the transition.

Bottom line: For those of us already using Meraki System Manager, its not as bad as the hosts of Out Of School would have us think. But it does "start the clock" for our search to migrate off of Meraki's free offering and onto a paid service. This is especially the case if you have lots of devices.

For anyone who hasn't started on Meraki yet, I recommend avoiding it unless you can be 100% certain that you won't have more than 50 or so devices to manage AND that you can lay our hands on them in short order if the need arises in the future. I say that because you may find yourself in a position where you have to move off Meraki System Manager in a hurry when Apple or Google introduce new MDM expectations for iOS or Android at a future date. Meraki has said that they won't introduce new features into the old/free service. Also, while Meraki will let you have up to 100 devices on a free account, any experienced systems administrator knows that their institution school will some day increase its number of devices without a lot of advanced notice. By setting the threshold at 50 devices, you have a decent buffer to use up while explaining to your managers that they'll need to spend thousands of dollars per year on a service that they didn't even know existed and doesn't have an obvious affect on their bottom line.

There is certainly an element of a betrayal of trust with Meraki's new direction, but I feel that this wasn't entirely a surprise. Its why I hedged my bets and tried three MDMs first. (For the curious: Apple's Profile Manager and FileWave were the other two.)

For my part, I think its still not a bad deal. It allows you to manage your MDM without running the service yourself. Let's face it, you didn't want yet another server's upgrades and backups to worry about, did you? It also supports iOS all the way back to iOS 4.x. Not a lot of MDMs seem to do that. That said, I think there are also better options. Especially if your other workstation management tools have MDM components, e.g. Profile Manager, Casper, or FileWave.

So there you have it. A warning of upcoming change and my two cents on it. Take it for what you will, but if you use Meraki System Manager or are considering using it, please be informed. Good luck!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Chromebook Flip from Asus

I'm a fan of ChromeOS based computers, like the chromebook, especially when paired with Google Apps For Education. They're a capable and low maintenance combination that allows Information Technology staff to focus on things that are closer to the institution's core mission and not installing software, upgrading servers, recovering lost files, preventing/removing malicious software, etc.

Sometimes, though, a touch screen system is a better tool. So it was of great interest to me when my team deployed the Lenovo Thinkpad Chromebook Yoga 11e to dozens of my teachers in the 2014-2015 school year. I really wanted to see what the teachers could do with such a "convertible" style of computer that could combine Chromebook and tablet features.

At the time, there were only three touch-screen chromebooks: the Yoga, the Pixel, and the Acer C720P. They were all excellent notebook computers, but the Pixel was prohibitively expensive and only the Yoga could mimic a tablet. That is about to change.

Asus has announced the Asus Chromebook Flip, to be released in June 2015. Its a $249 chromebook with 4GB of RAM. That is a pretty good deal already. Their other 4GB RAM chromebooks (the C200 and C300) cost more than that. The Flip, however, comes with a touch screen and converts into a tablet just like Lenovo's Yoga. This nearly halves the price of a convertible chromebook when compared to when we bought them for our teachers just a few months ago.

The Yoga is probably a bit more durable, especially its keyboard and non-metal chassis. The Yoga also has a 15% larger screen. It might be the better computer for adults. However, for younger students the 10.1" screen might be fine. The Flip's cost also matches the low end of what we typically spend on chromebooks for student use. So adding the convertible nature of these models and some Android software (Android-programs-on-Chrome project) and Google Play For Education, we end up with a very nice package.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm looking forward to the idea of a chromebook for K-5 students which doubles as a tablet, costs the amount of a 2 year old iPad mini even though its brand new, runs Android programs (which are as numerous and diverse as iPad software these days), is the size of a full iPad Air, and has that full keyboard that is required for computer based testing. It sounds like the perfect way to help students transition from "what I use at home for casual web browsing and games" to a more serious "what I need to do research, take notes, and build large projects." Like putting the computer on training-wheels.