Every day, I look for ways to make the OS less relevant and make kids' work accessible to them anytime, anywhere. I can't do this just yet for my secretaries and some serious power users. They rely at least on the full feature set (or a significant subset) of OpenOffice, and a select few are using Office 2007/2008 for all it's worth (detractors aside, it's worth quite a lot).
There are plenty of easy steps to take to make student and teacher documents available across an enterprise, but without the hassle of remote access or the security risks of USB drives, making documents available to students and staff at home can be a real challenge. Sure, we can just give everyone laptops, but even Obama's uber stimulus plan won't fund that.
Cloud-based services, however, like Google Docs make your work accessible anywhere you have an Internet connection. Of course, today I'm sitting in a school babysitting a major rollout of software and services in a school with notoriously spotty Internet service. Services like Google Docs and Zoho have always seemed awesome in principal and completely frightening from a service perspective. Like thin clients tied to a server (single point of failure), there are plenty of reasons why schools lose Internet connectivity.
Enter Google Gears. Gears has been around for awhile, but has really reached a stage of maturity, making it stable across Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms. Google gears provides synchronization of online content such that it can be edited even if there is no Internet connection. Our blogging interface was updated this weekend and now supports Google Gears, meaning that all of my drafts get saved inconspicuously on my hard drive and I can continue interacting with the web-based application transparently via my browser even when I'm offline.
Not surprisingly, Google Docs benefits from the same integration with Gears, taking a lot of the worry out of moving to a cloud-based platform where, again, that single point of failure (i.e., the Internet connection) can cause all sorts of problems.
My cloud experiment is ongoing and with Google Gears now synchronizing me all over the place, it's a lot easier to simply live in my browser. This is another one of those things that, like Ubuntu or the Mac OS, just works. I'll be testing this extensively second semester of this year to see if we run into any snags prior to a full migration to Google Apps this coming summer.