Education: Doing it right

Martin Levins
20 April, 2010
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Apple’s Snow Leopard Collaboration Server provides a range of Web 2.0 services that, on first glance, look good – from the ease of editing basic wiki pages and the single sign-on to the integration of calendaring, wiki, blogging and email.

But, as always, there are improvements that can be made, cosmetically, under the hood and philosophically.

On log in, users are presented with a vanilla front page that contains links to other wikis that you may want to be kept up to date on, plus calendars, blogs and RSS feeds. But this is about as far as it goes – customisation is limited to choosing one of Apple’s themes and substituting its banner image for one of your own.

If you want to customise further, you need to use Terminal to edit themes that reside in the Server’s Library. There are two problems here – you need to use Terminal (this from the company that prides itself on its graphical user interface) and you need the appropriate privileges.

They do provide an alternative to a command-line interface – suggesting the use of Property List Editor (available on the Administration Tools CD in Utilities) but this doesn’t show the comments in the template, used to indicate what section of the file does what, and you need to go through a dance of opening the file in a text editor, copying the file from the Library to your Documents folder back to the Library, modifying then copying it back before it becomes active.

This process needs to be augmented by using a Style Sheet editor to modify the appearance.


The whole point of wikis, and the read/write web in general, is that the user has control. Why not provide hooks to more functionality such as making linking to MobileMe or other systems (other than simple URL links) just as easy as the wiki itself?

For example, to embed YouTube videos (or any embedding for that matter) you need to enter HTML mode (shudder) and paste in the embed code. It works, as long as the system manager has edited the white list of tags to allow embedding (PDF link), but it’s ugly – certainly compared to Wikispaces and similar services.

Similarly, a Mac user who expects seamless integration such as that provided by the iLife suite, where the Sharing menu allows easy re-purposing of data, will initially be flummoxed, then annoyed at the need to export data from iLife, then import back into to the wiki. Not cool.

Apple may say that these sorts of functionalities are a great opportunity for a third party, but why develop 75 percent of a solution?

Isn’t Apple’s overall strategy to create solutions in toto, providing an integrated ecosystem and not risk the mess that a multi-part supplier like the Microsoft strategy produces?

Why can’t we drag and drop to Leopard wiki pages from iLife? This was a feature of the original product when it appeared as the ‘Teams’ server at WWDC three years ago.

Additionally, why are we limited only to viewing pages on an iPhone or iPod touch? Admittedly, the touch screen of these existing devices is a bit limiting, but there is an excellent opportunity to at least upload photos.

It’s curious, but I don’t believe Apple understands what it has here. Yet this is it‘s core business, where collaboration and content creation is king.

However, the Balkanisation inherent in any large organisation, where one business group is separated from others, often precludes the viewing of the big picture where synergies can be identified.

Apple, I think this is a case of “Could do better”. Please see me after class.

This article originally appeared in the March issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

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