Distance definitions

Also, Mozilla: look before you leap.

I am the training specialist for the United States Bankruptcy Court in Minnesota, and I had just completed a major project on distance training and its possible uses for court education when I saw the July 2002 issue of COMPUTERUSER. I was particularly pleased with the article by Robert McGarvey, On Site from afar. It was very gratifying to me that his description of distance learning possibilities and limitations so closely matched my research results. In particular, I think the most beneficial type of learning will be the “blended learning” McGarvey describes. There is one point I disagree with. McGarvey states that today the terms e-learning and distance learning are “interchangeable.” I believe this places too much emphasis on one particular type of distance learning. It may be true that individuals working remotely on a degree program or advanced job skills rely primarily on e-learning, but the situation is different for organizations using distance learning for their own employees. In such cases, satellite teletraining, video conferencing, and the use of videotaped sessions remain the easiest and most cost-effective means of delivering training to large numbers of people in widespread locations. It takes a lot of programming hours to produce an effective online course, and that expertise is still beyond the reach of most trainers. However, a satellite transmission or videoconference can be as up-to-date as a classroom session, and once the technology is in place, any experienced trainer can conduct that type of training. The Federal Courts have a secure system of downlinks to nearly every Federal court building in the country. At present, the Courts provide over 40 hours a week of teletraining on topics ranging from benefits for employees to changes in law to emerging technologies.

Woody Parks, Training Specialist, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Minnesota

To quote from the article, All for 1.0 (July), “A version 1.0 doesn’t mean much in the commercial software world … In the open-source software world, though, 1.0 is a big thing.” I’m adding a caveat to this: If the open-source software is maintained primarily through a commercial organization (an increasingly common practice), the version 1.0 label may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. Rather, political and/or economic pressures within the organization may cause the version 1.0 label to be applied prematurely. Indeed, one can foresee the time when a version 1.0 label on an open-source project may mean little more than a version 1.0 label on similar closed-source software.

Case in point: the Mozilla 1.0 browser. (The author mistakenly related Mozilla 1.0 to the Netscape version 6 series-Mozilla 1.0 is Netscape 5.0 in the open-source version, and it’s apparently slated for Netscape/AOL version 7.0 in the commercial version. Version 6.x was developed from transitional code–which explains its bugginess.) Mozilla 1.0 is a reasonably stable browser, especially compared to the house of cards common in Netscape 4.x or 6.x, or the inexplicable bugs repeatedly left unfixed in successive Explorer releases. It also has a number of handy features for Web page authors, such as a document object inspector.

Having said that, I quickly discovered that Mozilla 1.0 apparently lacks proper access from JavaScript to much of the document’s contents–access seems to be mostly limited to images, plus a few things such as allowing users to determine which browser is running. Since the JavaScript document access in Netscape 4.x and Explorer was so radically different, few Web pages employ JavaScript beyond a limited level, so this may not be a major issue to the casual surfer. Mozilla 1.0 also doesn’t handle Java very well–again, not many Web pages actually use Java applets, but the functionality provided by such applets is not easily replaced.

It appears that Mozilla 1.0 went out the gate minus a few elements that may not be missed by many casual Web surfers, but which can be really annoying to Web developers like myself. Since it included other features geared specifically toward Web developers, these omissions are all the more conspicuous. Perhaps these missing elements will go in sometime before version 2, but it drives home the point that a version 1.0 label cannot be taken for granted, just because a software project is an open-source project. Rather, each release must be judged on its own merits.

David Sanders, Tacoma

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