Kansas City Public Library proposes using Google Fiber for software lending library

Kansas City proposes gigabit-speed software lending library

Major software manufacturers, including Adobe and Microsoft, are increasingly moving toward selling online subscriptions to their applications rather than one-time sales of licenses for discs that can then be passed on or resold.  The new model may make sense for business users, but it presents problems for individual users who may only need to use an application occasionally. 

Unless they live in Kansas City, the site of Google’s first gigabit-speed fiber broadband network.

With the help of the Mozilla Ignite Challenge – which was funded by the National Science Foundation for the development of applications that take advantage of gigabit-per-second Internet speeds – the Kansas City Public Library is developing a high-speed Software Lending Library that will allow users to “check out” applications hosted by the library.

The library hopes to offer high end (and often expensive) productivity software such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premier.

The Software Lending Library plans to use an existing remote desktop solution to deliver software applications from library servers to patrons across the service area. Using the high-speed connection to deliver the applications will allow library patrons to access brand-name business software from gigabit-wired locations even using typically low-performing or older computers and devices.

According to the Kansas City library’s proposal, the project would not be possible without gigabit fiber connectivity.  Because the city’s Google Fiber network is low-latency, off-the-shelf remote desktop software will be responsive enough for remote users to manipulate images in software like Adobe Photoshop. That kind of response time will also make it possible for the library to “mediate the effects of unequal access to productivity tools in the community,” the proposal stated.

“We want to use this to dovetail with our digital literacy efforts locally, to get the software in front of people who may not already know how to use it perfectly,” said Dave LaCrone, digital branch manager at the Kansas City Public Library and leader of the Software Lending Library team. “That's the real game-changing idea.  And the case we can make to a software company is that we are creating a whole new audience for their products, and we're teaching them how to use it to boot."

Google Fiber achieves its speed by relying on fiber-optic cables running all the way to the client site. Still, installing fiber-optic cables is an expensive proposition.  According to some estimates, it would cost Google $140 billion to provide Google Fiber service to all of the homes in America.

The service also requires a Google gigabit router.  And, at least for now, to get the full gigabit-per-second performance clients need to use a hardwired Ethernet connection to the router. The fastest current wireless standard –- 802.11n -– maxes out at 600 mbps, just a little over half the speed of gigabit-per-second Internet.

But when the community is wired, the library plans to be ready. LaCrone's team has already created a scheduling application so that users can sign up for application time.  What remains is to create a mechanism for users to authenticate with the library.  "The challenges are now not so much technological now as organizational -– getting what we need from the provider of our integrated library system," said LaCrone.

Once that piece of the puzzle is in place, says LaCrone, it will be time to deal with the software companies.  "But in reality it's no different than the way we have patrons access the software on our public computers in our physical spaces.  We have one license for Microsoft Office, someone logs in and uses it for an hour, then someone else walks up and uses that same computer and same software license right after that.  This is no different.  We're going to have one license, one use." 

According to LaCrone, the biggest challenge facing the library right now is trying to find a place that currently has the Google fiber gigabit connection.  "We don't have it at the library.  We're waiting for to be installed," he said. 

LaCrone credits Google for making the gigabit-per-second connections available to locations at no cost.  "All of our libraries are going to get hooked up for free," he said.  "A church, a community center, some publicly accessible place will be hooked up for free so even if you don't have it at home it should be steps away from you."

As a bonus, when users log on to applications they won't be bottlenecked by the local resources of older computers.  "Some people have older machines that may not be able to keep up with locally installed software anymore," said LaCrone.  "We have kind of removed that from the equation. As long as you are hooked up to the network you can be using an old clunker and do pretty well."

LaCrone hopes to have everything working by fall. "We need get the hosting piece solved, but I would love to have a prototype ready and working by the end of the summer," he said.  "And then we want to have something ready by the beginning of the school year to roll out." 

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