Students can’t access the software they want, when they want it

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It was 2:15 p.m. when I left my room to go to a cluster to print my homework (due at 3:30 p.m.) using special drafting software. Thirty-five minutes later, I dashed into my fourth cluster, desperate to print my homework and drop it off across campus in Scaife Hall before my 3:30 p.m. class. Why did I have to go to four separate clusters to print one homework assignment? I wondered the same thing as I moved from cluster to cluster. The ADAMS drafting software that I needed is only available on PCs — fine. But why didn’t every campus PC have the software? And why did I find that all the clusters that did have the software were closed?

This story is not an uncommon one. The lack of computer program compatibility across campus is debilitating, at the very least, to students. Many clusters do not feature the same software and applications. This only makes it harder for students to find an appropriate place to do their homework if they need certain software and applications.

So how do we fix this? Obviously it would be way too expensive to buy a lot of major-specific software for every single computer on campus. A good example of this is that my Intro to Biomechanics class is getting a deal with the company that manufactures the physical simulator program Working Model. The typical student retail price for Working Model is about $400 (private ownership costs more than educational purchase). In class, each student will have to pay about $60 because our professor promised to buy at least 10 licenses for it. That’s a great discount, but it’s still pretty expensive.

That being said, I absolutely do not expect the university to go all out and buy a million licenses just so every computer can have everything. Obviously they’re not going to buy Adobe Illustrator for every single Mac on campus when only a fraction of students use it. However, some software is only available in private clusters. Let’s create a scenario: All PC clusters on campus have SolidWorks available. However, you want to use a more advanced version of SolidWorks, with, say, the COSMOSXpress add-in. You would most likely have to go to a private cluster. But which one? There is a website that tells what software is available in which clusters. However, it only gives information for public clusters. What about the private ones? And if you were, say, an art major with a passion for flow vis, you most likely would not be able to get into a cluster where you could use a flow vis program, due to the restricted access of private clusters.

There are also some computers that don’t have basic functions — and I’m still not entirely sure why. The first floor of Hunt Library features a group of computers that are mostly for a quick e-mail check and a Cameo search, which is fair. However, continue around the corner a little bit and there are two other groups of computers. Not one of the computers on the first floor feature Microsoft Office. Why can’t I type an essay on the first floor of the library? In the Engineering & Science Library (which I affectionately refer to as ESL) there are about 12 or so computers. These computers are also apparently not meant for students to do extended amounts of work on — none of them feature SSH, which is what PCs use to access AFS. ESL also doesn’t have programs that engineering and science students might want to use, like MATLAB. It seems a little strange given the name of the library and all.

Another major issue during my crazed cluster search was the fact that there were CSW — excuse me, C@CM — classes pretty much everywhere I went. I’ve had more than my fair share of times where I couldn’t go into a cluster because there was a class in it. It would be nice to know ahead of time that there are classes in certain clusters, so you don’t have to go there and find out the hard way, wasting time and energy. Some clusters do feature signs outside the door that list cluster availability hours. A website also gives this information, but I had a hard time finding it. I had looked many times for this information on the computing website. I entered search queries such as ‘cluster availability,’ ‘cluster hours,’ ‘classes in clusters,’ ‘cluster schedule,’ and more on the university’s main page. As it would happen, I finally went to the computing services site, where if you click on the “clusters & printing” link on the sidebar, and then go to reservations, and then click “today’s reservations” on the right, you can finally see what classes are in the clusters. Of course, you can’t actually see anything in the future as far as I could tell, which is mildly inefficient.

The main problem I have with computing on campus is not that you can’t find absolutely every program you want in every cluster, or that you can’t use any cluster whenever you feel so inclined. It’s more that the information about when there are classes in specific clusters and also which clusters carry what software is not easy enough for students to find. In addition, the vast number of private clusters on campus helps to further divide our students, and doesn’t allow people to explore various interests through the use of interesting software. I shouldn’t be going on a two-hour search just to find out when a class is going to get out of the CFA PC cluster. And for a campus that is self-proclaimed as “diverse,” when it comes to computer software, Carnegie Mellon does not do a very good job at bringing together students of various disciplines.