[unisog] Laptop-Only Academic Computing Environments

Darden, Patrick S. darden at armc.org
Wed Apr 30 16:58:06 GMT 2003

I'd have to add some more concerns:

- laptops are more apt to get damaged/stolen
  what about the intellectual property on the
  laptops?  ssn, bank accounts, credit cards,
  research papers, dissertations, theses,
  complete body of work....

- ergonomics

- backups--perhaps cdrws on each laptop

- data security--perhaps pgp desktop

- antivirus has to be very good, as laptops will be
  more apt to access widely divergent networks

- ditto for personal firewalls

--Patrick Darden

-----Original Message-----
From: Bruce Campbell [mailto:bruce at engmail.uwaterloo.ca]
Sent: Wednesday, April 30, 2003 9:53 AM
To: rossd at cns.me.berkeley.edu
Cc: windows-hied at stanford.edu; unisog at sans.org;
educause at central.murdoch.edu.au
Subject: Re: [unisog] Laptop-Only Academic Computing Environments

Quoting rossd at cns.me.berkeley.edu:
> ...among the engineering faculty about converting all
>   of our desktop
>   computer labs to laptops only for students...
>    6. If someone told you they had decided to do this, what advice would
>       give them?

My advice would be:

- to share with us your motivation for converting to laptops
- to conduct a small trial first, buy 50 laptops, pick a class
  and some professors, and sign out the laptops, and conduct
  a study to see how it all goes.  ie. support, terminal server
  use for some applications, thefts, insurance, break downs,
  software licensing, etc.  Publish your results.
- test out terminal services under load, and using
  scientific software (assuming you cannot license it
  for student laptop use).
- advise students to setup an ergonomic docking station at
  home, separate monitor, keyboard, mouse, all at the
  appropriate positions to minimize strain.

>    Also, if your university looked at this proposition, and decided
>    against doing so, what were the reasons?

The Faculty of Engineering here has decided against it (which is where I
work as a computer guy),  and to my knowledge no other faculties
at the University of Waterloo are seriously considering a dramatic
shift at this time.

We think about it regularly though, what with 500 undergrad accessible
PCs in Eng, with a 3-4 year replacement cycle.

Cited reasons for not going to the "Laptop U" model are:

 - that the cost of providing computer labs is largely the capital
   cost.  Unless one can get rid of all computers, you still need
   the infrastructure, people, active directory.  Perhaps 10% of
   computers at UW are student lab computers.
 - that students in Eng, in particular, are already bearing a
   large financial burden.
 - a home desktop computer is cheaper, more powerful, and
   ergonomically superior.
 - belief that some student lab facilities would have to
   be maintained in any case, reducing the perceived cost savings.
There is some opinion that computer labs are primarily recreational
facilities, ie web browsing.  Engineering students, beyond week 2 of
classes, have no time for recreation ;-)

Some of my opinions:

 - ask yourself what problem are you trying to solve.  If you
   have underpowered, overcrowded, under maintained student
   facilities, they can exasperate students, to the extent
   that *anything* will look better.  If you can't get
   the financial commitment to a 3-4 year upgrade cycle,
   then, yes, abandon the facilities.
 - put all of the student facilities on the same active
   directory and encourage resource sharing between
   faculties/departments.  At UW, all 6 faculties use
   a common Windows 2000 environment, called Nexus.
   About 1,000 undergrad accessible student computers campus wide.
   It is wildly popular.

The official position for Engineering is here:


which advises students to wait until they get here before buying
a computer.

Bruce Campbell
Engineering Computing
University of Waterloo
(519)888-4567 ext 5889

This mail sent through www.mywaterloo.ca

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