My colleagues at UM Law endure a hyper-centralized information technology regime. Unless they raise a great ruckus, faculty members here get issued a Windows XP computer in “lockdown” mode, which prevents the installation of new programs on the desktop. (I raised a ruckus.) What's worse, the suite of programs offered to faculty has actually shrunk in the last few years, as the IT dept discovered that if you hand out fewer programs, they are easier to support.
The faculty has finally rebelled, although the actual flashpoint was lousy network performance and downtime. As part of an effort designed to head off what might otherwise become a pitchfork-wielding mob, the administration has asked for suggestions as to what programs should be part of the default faculty suite. Of course, since most of us haven't much experience with other office environments recently, we're not that well placed to know what's out there or what we might find enhances our productivity or makes new things possible or even easy..
I've made my own little list, but I'm sure it's deficient in imagination if not necessarily length. Suggestions needed and welcome. Please assume that the desktop will be a PC with XP as the OS—I think the odds of getting anything else on the faculty desktop in this iteration are about zero. And the network itself will probably stay Novell. You'll see from my list, though, that I have assumed the existence of a *nix internet server as we currently have one, even if it's not that well maintained.
So, what should be on my list?
Here's my first draft. Needless to say, it's somewhat different from the current default.
- Choice of Office Suites: (1) Open Office free, open-source clone of Word; (2) MS Word, (3) CorelWordperfect
- Firefox (browser)
- Common browser plugins e.g. Flash, Quicktime, Realplayer
- Thunderbird (email)
- a SIMPLE standards-compliant (ie. NOT front page) HTML creation tool. There are many free ones. (Nvu is one possibility — works well with firefox/thunderbird)
- Acrobat Reader
- a PDF creation tool [built into WordPerfect but needed for OpenOffice and Word users]. Either “Acrobat” itself, or a less expensive alternative [I have not tested these] e.g. Pdf995 (free), or ExpertPDF ($35/license)
- FTP (I suggest WinSPC2 – free)
- An ad-blocker (either AdSubtract, or get free Adblocker plugin for Firefox, combined with flashblocker plugin)
- Clipmate (a superb, essential, clipboard extender — makes moving data between programs and especially from WL & Lexis to wordprocessor very easy; also remembers last N hundred things you moved to clipboard for re-use). This one is really essential!
- Irfanview [viewer for many file formats] Free [N.B. also should install 100% of plugins, which is a separate file]
- An RSS news reader.
- Telnet program (Powerterm, provided by university, or a free tool such as putty.exe)
- A way to send faxes directly from wordprocessors FaxWare
- Anit-Virus tool
- Calendar program (Sidekick 98? Something more modern w/ group functions?)
- PGP (Freeware version available, current version is 6.5.8)
Advanced Tools I'd Like But Most People Won't Want Yet
- A CSS editor (preferably WYSIWYG, ie something like StyleMaster)
- Updated version of standard tools, e.g. Apache, Perl, Pine, mySQL, PHP
- Common cgi programs e.g. web counters, forms, for inclusion in faculty created web pages
- Mailing lists that are easy for faculty to configure, that allow students to sign up via a web form, and that automatically archive content
- A tool, ideally web-based, that allows faculty to password protect online documents and directories [law profs are not going to code .htaccess files], and to manage password access
- Blogging tools, e.g. movable type