Loras tests new Laptops

A group of students gathered around a small table in the ACC Monday afternoon. Dan Kurt, the microcomputer specialist for the Loras Help Desk, held in his hand a Lenovo Edge Twist, which he showed off to anyone willing to stop and listen.

On the table was a Lenovo ThinkPad T430, one of the latest computers in the company’s ThinkPad line of products. Both devices are more than shiny attractions to the students gathered – they are the way of the future for their laptop campus.

Every other year, Loras students are eligible to trade in their laptop for a new and improved model. Last Friday, the campus was surprised to find an announcement on the Loras portal, asking them to vote for the next computer to be distributed to the eligible students.

Both the Lenovo Edge Twist and T430 were options being considered by the technology staff. The T340u, a slimmer version of its counterpart and the third option being offered, was unable to be displayed at the showcase, but it was still a part of the discussion.

The Lenovo T430 is a continuation of the series of laptops currently used on campus, down to the operating system and hard drive. The T430u sacrifices its DVD drive in favor of a slimmer design. It was the Edge Twist that was the star of the show, however. Not only is it a smaller and slimmer device, but it also comes with Windows 8, the latest operating system available. It is also equipped with a touch screen that twists into a tablet.

“I think a tablet is a better choice,” said junior Payne Finn. “While most campuses are moving forward with technology, we’re stuck with the ThinkPads. Moving up to a tablet catches us up with technology.”

Dr. John Eby, professor of history, shared a similar sentiment.

“I think the touchscreen is way better. That’s the direction technology is going, and we need to keep pace with that if we’re going to call ourselves a laptop campus.”

For many students and faculty, the thought of moving to a thinner computer worries them, as it would mean sacrificing some key features, especially a DVD drive, which many professors use to deliver content to their students.

If the Edge Twist is confirmed as the next laptop being offered by campus, more will change than just use of CDs. By upgrading to Windows 8, the campus will be making their first major leap between operating systems in 13 years. Windows XP was supported on-campus for nine years before migrating to Windows 7 two years ago, skipping the generally frowned-upon Windows Vista.

Switching to Windows 8 this spring would be the first step in shifting the campus over to a new system. Because only half of the student body will be eligible for the upgrade, the other half will have to use their ThinkPad models for another year before upgrading to the new system as well. The difference in models has been hardly noticeable when switching between varieties of ThinkPads in the past, but with a jump to a laptop-tablet hybrid being offered now, that may change.

“We’re looking for what people want,” said Jim Anderson, chief technology officer. “It’s a big change in that it incorporates touch, and the interface is the same way.”

If the T430 or T430u is chosen, not much will change in terms of how laptops are used in the curriculum. On the other hand, the possibility of using a touch screen in the classroom opens a multitude of new doors.

Perhaps the biggest supporters of the Edge Twist are students involved in art, many of whom are forced to go out and buy their own tablet for their studies. Digital work, using programs such as Photoshop, can also be used on a touchscreen, changing the way students will be required to approach their work, both in the classroom and out.

The exclusion of a built-in DVD drive will not cut students and faculty off from using CDs altogether, however. External CD-DVD drives can be purchased in stores and online for those willing to pay a little extra to have access to their content. In today’s world, however, the role of CDs is beginning to follow floppy disks into extinction.

A majority of the programs, videos and music being developed today are offered as digital downloads, eliminating the need for CDs. Each laptop will still come equipped with USB ports, allowing for usage of external and USB drives.

While the technology staff ultimately decided to work with Lenovo for their 11th consecutive year, a number of other options were considered, including Dell and HP.

Specifically, Microsoft’s new surface tablet, a product similar to the Edge Twist, was considered. However, Microsoft had very little history in such hardware, giving the administration not much to base their decision on.

The final decision on which laptop will be offered this spring will not be known for quite a while. As of Monday night, the Edge Twist earned nearly 75% of the 200 votes that had been cast. The decision is not made on the vote alone, however.

While the numbers mean a great deal to the technology staff, other factors such as written feedback will also play a role in the final decision.

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