Last week's SchoolTool meetings in Coimbra, Portugal were quite successful. Four SchoolTool developers and I settled into the Critical Links "war room" for a series of meetings with CL personnel as well as the main SchoolTool planning session for 2011.
One important thing I learned was that the creation of CL's Education Appliance was driven by Intel's need for a server to accompany Classmate installations. I knew the two often went together, but I didn't realize how deep the connection is. So basically a new Classmate deployment = a new SchoolTool deployment. The proper branding for the whole package is Intel Learning Series.
They've subsequently been working on a larger marketing push, including in the US, but the sequence was the opposite of what I thought.
They gave us patches for all the changes they've made to SchoolTool, some enhancements and some bugfixes, as well as a dump of all the bugs they've had reported on SchoolTool. Going forward we'll have the policies in place to manage these issues in real time.
CL also arranged for us to spend Thursday meeting with their design and usability consultant, Vitor Carvalhinho of Tangivel. Consultants may be people you pay to tell you what you already know and just kick your butt a little bit to do it (or maybe you pay them more to do it themselves), but that's pretty much what I and SchoolTool needed in the user interface department. When I was lying in bed with jetlag at 3:00 AM before the meeting, I realized that while I was passable at graphic design -- at least better than you'd think from looking at SchoolTool currently -- what I really didn't understand was how to manage the development of a design. Obviously I didn't learn that in a day, but I did find that the professional advice was similar to the design we sketched out the last time we revised the UI, and we know the problem is execution, not concept.
Overall, we left having made a new set of friends at Critical Links and feeling very confident about their professionalism and competency.
Also, the weather was a welcome break. We spent Friday morning sightseeing, and it was sunny and in the 60's. And the food... I had some Leitão which was at least the tastiest meat I've encountered in my life, and virtually everything else was delicious. Worth a trip just for the food.