Education: No service for you

Martin Levins
20 November, 2010
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Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi has revisited me over the last few weeks. You know the guy: his product is excellent (I still recall Elaine becoming weak at the knees after sipping one of his takeaways), but you must do things the way he wants – any departure from his purchasing regime gets a gruff “No soup for you!” and you’re shown the door.

My Snow Leopard servers have been behaving the same way, and it’s all got to do with contacts.

But let me give you some background.

Some time ago, when revising our telephone network, I found that the myriad of landlines and existing mobiles could be consolidated and made much more efficient at much the same cost by giving every staff member an iPhone.

There are lots of side benefits to this: really handy access to our student database, the web, email, GPS, video and so forth, either via our wireless network or Telstra’s NextG.

Everyone was (understandably) excited as we checked iTunes accounts, loaded apps, configured calendars and loaded contacts. And it was with the contacts business where we got stuck.

Snow Leopard’s Address Book Server uses CardDAV; a standards-based server protocol for storing and modifying contact information using Vcards. Apple’s description for this server states:

“With the new Address Book Server in Snow Leopard Server, it’s incredibly easy to share contacts across multiple computers. Address Book Server … also acts as a gateway to search for contacts within your organisation’s directory service. Often called a Global Address List, Address Book Server delivers real-time search results from personal and group address books.”

Note the reference to ‘shared’. Sounds good, but it all depends on your definition.

To achieve a ‘Global Address List’ we have to create a special user (let’s call her Sharen) whose address book is shared out to the network, with write access granted to all staff. Clunky, but It should work.

So, each staff member can update their own address entry (hopefully without deleting anyone else’s), and everyone’s Address Book app on their computers can access the changes.

If we put notes or use fields in the address book entry, users can use Smart Groups to filter cards and create mailing lists for science teachers, junior school teachers and so forth.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Any CardDAV compliant application should be able to read the data, including the iPhone. But this is where it all falls down – the iPhone won’t synchronise Smart Groups, or Networked Global Address Lists via iTunes.

I guess Apple would answer this by stating that there is a CardDAV facility in the phone itself (as of iOS4), but then I have to instruct my users that they are to synchronise their contacts data to the phone using iTunes except for the shared address book via CardDAV on the phone.

Urk – we’ve now got confusion (and we still don’t have Smart Groups included in this scenario).

Maybe (like lots of things computerish) we have to wait for server 10.7. However, in the meantime, it does distress me that many on the net have decided that the best server for iPhone users is from Microsoft.

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

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