Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Technical Post on a "What If?"

It's been a while since I've written a post, stretched between several various projects. However, I have been thinking of what I had wanted to write in this post. As many of the recent posts have focused around the pedagogical aspects of using TurningPoint, I wanted to consider some technical aspects. What will make this post different is that it proposes a 'what if?' scenario, as opposed to focusing on a current set of features.

Relatively recently, Microsoft released a technical preview of Office 2010. It is natural to assume that Turning Technologies will incorporate features for TurningPoint use at some point during this suite's life. One of the key ideas that progresses the new Office forward is its integration with web-based versions of some of the applications, one of which is PowerPoint (in a direct competition with Google Docs).

So, what if TurningPoint included an add-on for the web-based version of PowerPoint in addition to the stand-alone desktop version?

To provide my perspective on the idea, I present two follow up questions. First, how could this be possible? Second, what implications (both good and bad) may this have? By no means could I provide an exhaustive explanation, yet I can think of some potential ideas.

From an outside perspective, integration of TurningPoint in the web-based version of PowerPoint seems plausible, especially in a 'Web 2.0 era.' Obviously, there will be some difficulties, particularly communications between the receiver and the web browser; this I see as the main trouble maker, due to JavaScript's security settings.

Yet I don't think that the creation of the TurningPoint slides will be much of an issue, though. With TurningPoint 2008 v4.1, Flash-based graph support has been included, which itself is a web-based technology. SVG could also be used to build static graphs, although this would not include easily implementable interactivity with the graphs. Also, TurningPoint can extend the web-based functionality contained within PowerPoint. Since this functionality itself needs to be interactive, graph support could be included to be as interactive (if not more so) as TurningPoint currently stands.

If formatted correctly, TurningPoint can import data in varying types, one of which includes an XML document. Once the XML document is parsed, it can be understood as a TurningPoint presentation, whereby using XSLT or some other related technology, an appropriate server can output the (X)HTML document (more likely some data structure, possibly in JSON) the web-based PowerPoint can interpret.

With respect to the web-based versions of Office 2010, will Microsoft allow the creation of 3rd party widgets (toolbar, ribbon, or whatever else Microsoft comes up with for their GUI), or will they only be allowed specifically for the desktop variants? With the Web 3.0 mash-ups of web documents and applications, I see no reason for Microsoft not to allow these web-based widgets. In fact, if web-based widgets were allowed to be integrated into the web-based Office, this will give Microsoft a huge leg up on Google Docs. Then again, it's Microsoft, so who knows?

Supposing that there could exist a TurningPoint implementation for the web-based PowerPoint 2010, what then? What benefits or drawbacks could this portray?

First and foremost, all Office 2010 web-based applications will be relatively limited compared to their desktop versions. This obviously will have huge implications on a web implementation of TurningPoint, with respect to how much Turning Technologies themselves could implement in their web version. As such, the web-based implementation could simply be a 'Lite' version.

However, there is one key factor that involves the whole notion of web-based software. As long as you have an internet connection (and also an appropriate browser), you will have access. Simple as that. No installation by various IT departments. Start a class, direct your browser, open your presentation, done.

Of course, there will be drawbacks. In order to use the web-based Office suite, you need a Microsoft Live account. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially since documents created will be stored (I'm assuming) on a Microsoft server in much the same way Google Docs stores documents on Google servers. Also, training would have to be done for teachers / professors learning the web-based PowerPoint in addition to its potential TurningPoint add-on, including an understanding of how they would compare / contrast their desktop counterparts.

Since Excel will be included in the web-based Office, generating reports could export them to the web-based Excel with little trouble. The reports could be viewed anywhere with a high-speed internet connection and appropriate browser. However, training would need to be provided once again in using Excel 2010.

In the end, there appears to be a potential in which this all 'could work.' Whether or not this will come to pass doesn't entirely matter (up to a point), but it still makes for an interesting 'what if?' scenario.

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