I’m learning all kinds of things teaching two sections of “Technology 4 Teachers” at the University of Central Oklahoma this semester. I think it is important to help people (including future educators) understand what a web browser is, and that alternative browsers are available in addition to Internet Explorer. Since many people have only used Windows-based computers up to this point, there are misconceptions about browsers. In my presentations Monday to about 150 librarians and staff of the Pioneer Library System here in Oklahoma, one of the participants asked me (when I suggested running a different web browser to IE) if it was possible to run more than one web browser on your computer. It certainly is possible, and I was glad to have an opportunity to address this question. I suggested FireFox, Google Chrome, and Safari as alternative browsers. (Opera is also a great option, but I have less experience with it.)

Talking and learning about web browser alternatives is not just a “nice thing to do,” it’s also critical from a security standpoint. According to MSNBC on 3 February 2010, an estimated 45 million people in the United States alone are still using Internet Explorer 6. Back in mid-January, information security organizations in France and Germany recommended users abandon Internet Explorer as a browser altogether. According to Infromation Week’s 19 January 2010 article, “France, Germany Say Stop Using Internet Explorer 6:”

France’s CERTA and Germany’s BSI each cite Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8 in their warnings and also advise that users disable JavaScript, a recommendation sometimes put forth by US-CERT after significant browser vulnerabilities are revealed. Disabling JavaScript can hinder the operation of many Web sites, or render them inaccessible.

In my T4T class at UCO in the College of Education, I’ve requested a second web browser (in addition to IE) be installed in the computer lab where our class is held. Having worked five years in the College of Education at Texas Tech University, I know it can be a big deal to get new software installed on ALL the computers in the labs. What I did not expect this year, but is a major issue in the college labs, is that PRINTING is a major concern and a reason college staff are questioning whether or not FireFox specifically should be installed in the labs. Currently IE is installed but is very locked down, in terms of printing restrictions and other college-imposed use limitations. If FireFox was installed on the computers, students would be able to directly print from the web in the labs, and this would likely lead to BIG wastes of computer paper and printer ink.

I think this situation highlights yet ANOTHER reason for 1:1 laptop initiatives on college campuses. When students have their OWN laptops in college and have the ability to install new software programs, THEY can decide to install and use alternative web browsers. A layer of complexity and bureaucracy can be stripped away from requests like, “Can we install another web browser to use in class” when students are DIRECTLY empowered to install new software on their computers. Of course, “empowerment” comes with risks. If students can install software on their computers, they can also accidentally install malware. That was another question a librarian asked me on Monday: How do you avoid getting viruses and malware on your computer when you’re online? My answer was two-fold:

  • Run an operating system which is not as prone to virus/malware attacks, like Apple’s OS X or Ubuntu (which is free)
  • Run an alternative web browser instead of IE

We need a 1:1 laptop initiative for students here at UCO in the College of Education, and in the rest of our departments. These initiatives could be BYOL (bring your own laptop) programs, university-provided laptop programs (like Tennessee Tech’s COE) or university-mandated laptop purchase programs. Either way, students can be empowered to participate a wide host of blended learning activities when they have their own laptops, and participate more SECURELY in those activities online by using more secure operating systems as well as web browsers.

An audio podcast of my TCEA 2007 presentation, “The Case for 1:1 Computing in Schools,” remains archived on the Apple Learning Interchange. I need to share an updated version of this, which includes this discussion of alternative web browser options!


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  • http://problemfinding.labanca.net Frank LaBanca

    There is another potential, generally successful, strategy for windows users that my tech department suggests and supports: Do not use the default administrator account as your working account, rather create a user or a poweruser account. (Control panel/users). This prevents malware from installing programs, as these types of accounts do not have software install privileges that affect Windows directory files.

    When I need to install software, I go to the admin account, do the installation, and continue to work on my user account.

    Is this the best solution compared to other operating systems? Maybe not. But when you work in an environment with a specific platform, sometimes there are compromises to be made.

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