Choosing your software for the next academic year
We are here to support the University in delivering world-class teaching and a key part of this is our software consultancy. This process makes sure that our academic staff and students have the right software on the PC's in the Departmental teaching rooms, general teaching areas (GTAs) and public access PCs across the Claverton campus, in the Virgil Building and also for use through the remote Windows service (UniDesk/Uniapps) and our remote linux service (linux.bath).
One part of my role as an IT Service Manager is to review changes to ensure they are straightforward and efficient, and to address any delays or confusion within a process. Software consultancy is a complex process, so I wanted to take some time to explain what we do, and the factors that we think about when deploying teaching software in the right areas and in good time for the new academic year. This is very much a combined effort, involving colleagues from Software Delivery, Supporters, Software Licensing and other teams.
Over the past few years, we have been putting in place a new process for handling these areas, which has been very successful so far. From the requests we received last year over 240 different software titles were provided for teaching use in different combinations for different spaces, reaching almost 2500 PCs in total, which were all re-installed during August and September ready for the start of teaching. We aim to improve things yet again this year and also increase the emphasis on including Departmental teaching areas and PC labs within the main process so that we have a single point to request and collate requirements for teaching software, wherever it may be needed across the University.
Where to find the form to request your software
We have sent out an email to staff who may need to request software with a link to the request form, but if you don’t have that email simply visit go.bath.ac.uk/software-consultation to get to the form.
Why do we ask you to let us know each year that you want software? As a simple answer, the software collection that we are creating is extremely large and complex, so to be able to minimise the conflicts that can occur between packages, and to be able to deliver any necessary security updates during the year, we can’t have unnecessary packages within the image. We also have to consider the storage space available on the PCs, and so keeping packages that aren’t specifically requested isn’t really an option. The only people able to tell us if packages are required are those people using them, and teaching with them.
You don’t necessarily have to request every single package you need on the GTA and public access PC, as some of the most frequently requested packages are now installed automatically, and there is a list of those available. However, if you need these in a Departmental room, please still request it.
The software deployment stage is also the time when we deliver the latest version of the Microsoft Windows 10 Operating system on our teaching PCs, so we will always be starting from a clean installation at the start of teaching, and not have the worry of upgrading to a newer release during the teaching year.
We have certain criteria that software being requested has to pass in order to be accepted into the image for the next year. These are a series of questions that we need to answer to be able to process the request and provide the software:
- Has sufficient information been provided, to allow us to make this software available?
- Is the software licensed, or is funding in place to purchase, if required?
- Will the software work with the hardware specification that we have?
- Does the software provide the same functionality as another package being requested (we aim not to have too much redundancy in the image, to save space and time)?
- Is it technically possible to provide this software? i.e. Does it work on Windows 10, will it work in a shared environment and similar considerations.
- Does the software conflict with any other packages being requested? Some packages just won’t work together on one system, or have conflicting requirements.
- Does the software work when installed in our environment?
- Can we deploy and remove the software in an automated manner? This is essential so that we can provide security updates if necessary.
Some of these questions we can only answer when we start testing.
Although we can see if a piece of software has installed, very often we don’t know how to test if it actually works. Within the request form, we have questions about testing and we would value any testing procedures that you can supply for the software that you are requesting. This ensures we can be reasonably certain that it is working before we start to deploy it. For some packages, this could be quite simple but for others, we recognise that it’s more difficult. If you provide instructions for students showing how to use the package then we are happy to receive those to work through. We aim to be testing the software during August, so if you or someone else that knows the software can help us with that, please let us know on the form.
Although I can’t guarantee that it will be possible, I am hoping that we will be able to provide an area to test the new image as it is being created. If this does prove possible, we will be in touch with requestors to let you know where and when this will happen.
In many cases, this isn’t an issue, but to be certain we have to check the licence condition of every piece of software being requested. For requests that would require the purchase of licences, we need to know that funding is in place to enable these to be purchased and maintained throughout the period of the deployment. Obviously, we would like to have funding to provide everything, but we don’t, so please keep this in mind when placing your requests.