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Archive for November, 2008

School administration software

November 17, 2008 Leave a comment

I have a feeling that school administration software is an untapped market in South Africa. There are many different systems, each competing, with none being able to inter-operate (I stand under correction on that one.)

For the past 3 and a half years at my job, I’ve used a program called ProED to create school reports, while the admin staff kept student records up to date, detention lists, sports houses and other things a school needs. ProED is extremely powerful, and it’s gone under many changes and improvements over the years. However, it’s greatest weakness is still the fairly user unfriendly interface, and it’s way of working over the school network.

If I could write a package, I would instead create something client/server based, with a good clean logical user interface, that also repsonds fast to user interaction. Many staff members at schools are very techno phobic, so the easier it is for them, the better. This is unfortunately where ProED falls far short, and causes a lot of grief amongst staff. Something that has simple menus would go a long way to help ease the burden.

I have not used competing packages, so I am unable to comment on them. I have heard however that a rival package called EduAdmin appears to have the features I’ve mentioned as ideal. Unfortunately, these packages cost a lot of money, and schools do not like to change unless it’s absolutely needed. The biggest hurdle is the fact that the data that has been inputted into one package cannot be easily extracted and put into another one, unless the one package has such an import facility.

Such a package could be developed the open source route I think, to the betterment of all schools in the country, but to my knowledge, the one open source program that started to do something hasn’t come too far and looks pretty ugly.

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Voter registration in South Africa

November 17, 2008 Leave a comment

2 weekends ago, I decided to take the oppurtunity to go and register to be able to vote in next year’s general election in South Africa. For the first time, I felt that voting was my voice, and that next year, I wanted it to be heard. I also wanted an official right to complain and express frustration at the government, since voting gives you that ability. You can’t complain if you didn’t vote.

The procedure was very simple. I just went to the station assigned to our area with my barcoded ID, and let the person there fill out a quick form. Just like that I was added to the voters roll. They scanned some barcodes, and placed a sticker into my ID book. The whole procedure took about 5 minutes. I was a new member on the voting roll, hence the need to register.

I was eligible to vote in our country’s last election in 2004, but I chose not to. At that stage, I didn’t understand nor care for politics. The ANC was firmly in charge and nothing was going to change that. This time around however, they are under immense pressure, and their victory is no longer absolutely guaranteed. I encouraged all my friends to make the effort too, and it seems a fair number did.

From what I understand, voter registration turn out was very successful, especially amongst the youth. Next year’s election is going to turn up some interesting results for sure.

Microsoft Exchange is complex

November 11, 2008 2 comments

I have used MS Exchange in 2 versions now, versions 2000 and 2003. The 2003 version is by far the better of the two, but I have realised something lately that I had forgotten something I had always known: Exchange is a complex beast.

On the surface, an installation of Exchange is not that tough, I’ve done it multiple times. Also, basic administration is not that tough, and getting clients connected is pretty simple. More or less in this sense, I have been administering Exchange for the last 3 and a half years. I’ve poked a little under the surface as time went on, and have learnt some tips and tricks, but I still felt I was only scratching the surface of what is available.

Recently I was asked about using the Calendar sharing feature that Outlook and Exchange offers, and I was left stumped. I agree with the idea of using it, I think it’s a good idea to keep track of senior management at this school. However, I had never made use of this facility, and I started running into issues. I discovered that Personal Folders in Outlook cannot be shared like folders that appear in the users “Mailbox” set of folders. This puts the immediate idea of sharing the Mailbox Calendar to bed, as most of management have mail delivered to Personal Folders and not the Mailbox.

We could stop using Personal Folders, and transfer evertrhing back into the Mailbox, but then people can’t access mail when they take laptops home, and if there is a server crash, everything goes. That left me looking into the idea of Public Folders, since everyone can see those, and it seems like a great idea.

I’m at the stage now where I am experimenting, but I still need to learn and read further. There are so many options and features hidden below the surface that it’s tough to know what does what.