All that glitters is not gold: RM Unify

RM Unify – tiles = shortcuts

Aww, it’s a cute kitty

There is no denying that RM Unify is pretty.  I’ve had the interface as my Glow front end since Monday December 10th, it presents a reasonably slick JQuery based user experience – the style is ripped from the X-box tiles interface – that’s not a criticism as the Xbox interface is really strong and focused on allowing the user to access his/her content.

There is a solid attempt to enable accessibility within the interface but these tools have to be separately enabled (I would have designed them in from the start).

The RM Unify interface does make accessing specific services easier than in the previous Glow (in fact it follows a service shortcut model that I demonstrated in Glew at the start of the year) but I was expecting much more from a product touted as RMs ultimate solution for placing users in the cloud.

Having used the interface for two weeks now, I am increasingly frustrated and annoyed with a product that offers very little to the user experience.

Under the hood

RM Unify frontend is based on the free JQuery library of javascript tools and functions which provide many of the lovely UX effects we see on modern web sites. It’s clear from tearing down the code for the service that it isn’t complete (there are even developer comments still in it about moving javascript to core libraries rather than leaving it embedded in other code!).

There are buttons hidden with Cascading Style Sheet code that I can show by changing the CSS in my browser. I haven’t dug around enough yet but some of the functionality of these buttons may be live as well (security by obscurity isn’t security!).

Unify uses the WebTuna engine for analytics which are hosted in Amazon’s Cloud (based in Ireland) and authentication is based on attributes released from the current Glow service (including my name and education establishment).

rmloc

I’ve been working out where RMUnify is hosted and at the moment it seems to resolve to a Microsoft server in the US.  A ping of the glow.rmunify.com domain shows that it points to the IP address 168.63.53.205. Resolving this IP shows it as a Microsoft server in the US (probably part of Microsoft’s Azure Cloud but not in Ireland, in the US?).  Try this link to see for yourself.  This is backed up by the Traceroute query which shows the data disappearing into Microsoft’s cloud network. Hmm. I don’t have a problem with safe harbour agreed services but did someone tell the local authorities that RM Unify wasn’t UK hosted? (If I’ve got this wrong someone please let me know, it could also be incorrect GeoIP data) – (UPDATE: Please read comment from Microsoft with details of the published IPs of data centres.)

Why have an app library when I can’t install apps?

When I look at the app library, I see all these things that, I as a teacher, might like to add to my Unify launchpad. I can’t install any of them, I can’t add my own tiles, I can’t customise the tiles, in fact, I can’t do anything of interest with the interface.

There is no point in letting me see apps in the library if I can’t do anything with them unless RM just want to advertise their services (or the product is incomplete?)!

At least with the previous GlowLight I could add my own shortcuts (and GlowLight is still in the Glow portal for now). But that option to add my own links has been taken away from me in RM Unify.

Jim, I think it’s dead!

In this day of notifications, alerts, live content feeds and widgets RM Unify is a dinosaur. It has no live tiles, no notification feed integration, nothing – it is an empty space where the user comes and goes as quickly as possible. Bookmarks in my browser toolbar to the services I use would be just as effective (or a browser app like the one I wrote for Glew and Chrome).

There is no integration with the apps/services that RM Unify links to.  It doesn’t show the activity within these linked services. How can a service  help build effective online learning if there is no way to see, share and communicate with other users in a common environment?

Maybe the product is meant to be this static shortcut service? But it was portrayed as much more.

Captain, It’s not finished yet.

The RM Unify product that is deployed in Scotland clearly is not finished.  When you examine the feature set on RMs web site (http://glo.li/VVqeyn) there are whole sections of the technology which are not yet deployed.  

The biggest area, the management console part (called the bus) doesn’t exist in the Glow version currently.  RM Unify uses the current Glow user management tools and authentication service. It feels to me like Glow is being used to test RM Unify as a product.

Make it better, please!

I really hope that RM Unify can significantly improve.  It feels like a polished beta of the initial UI part of the product but I suspect the rest of it is still in alpha.

I’ve been developing a PHP/Drupal port of the fabulous DropTiles (http://droptiles.com/) for the new front end on Glew and this includes push notifications of activity from associated services, an element of social networking for learning and an API for 3rd parties and users to make their own live apps.  I’m planning on sharing some of this work over Christmas ( or when it’s ready!).

RM Unify, it looks pretty, it provides shortcuts to services – but what does it do for the user?

 

 

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