Rosetta Stone Language Learning Software

You’ve probably seen the silly ads in those upscale magazines… “she was an Italian supermodel, he was a farm boy from Omaha”… or something similar. Very weird ad campaign, perhaps, but the consensus among many foreign language educators, and teachers of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) is that Rosetta Stone is a powerful program for teaching a second (third, fourth… ) language.

One of my clients, a provider of literacy and workforce development education has been happily using the standalone version of Rosetta Stone for some years. A couple years ago they somehow got talked into buying a network version which requires installation on a network server, and some hours of configuration and installation. This was probably not a good choice for them; they don’t really have the wherewithal or the need for this. After several weeks of phone calls and eMails attempting to exchange the licenses for single-user copies, we gave up and are now attempting to install the network version. (To be fair, their exchange policy states that there is a 180 day period after purchase in which to return their products…and we’re actually attempting this project 18 months or more after they purchased the program).

Rosetta Stone is available in several different configurations, including an online subscription which can be used via a web browser. Either this or single user copies would have been ideal. Instead, what they were sold appears to be the Rosetta Stone Enterprise version which includes a management server which tracks student progress.

One ironic twist is that this network edition includes the open source MySQL database and the Apache web server. Yet the Rosetta Stone server requires a Windows machine to run. So, instead of the server running under Linux, you have to have some kind of Windows box to host the server applications. The server installer then installs MySQL and Apache for Windows running as services and also installs Ruby. The server requires a static IP.

This was not something we wanted on our organization administration file server which is a a Windows 2003 Server. Hence the Dell T105 mentioned previously, running Windows XP.

Once the server applications are installed, you install the languages. In our case we have three levels of English, each on a its own CD. There is an installation program which prompts for the language CDs, and then gives you the option to activate them.

Activation is rather like activating Windows over the internet. For each language/level you’ve purchased, you can have one student running the program at a time. The license keys are similar to windows…. four groups of six letters and numbers. If you have already activated a language license elsewhere, then activation will fail…you have to go back to the computer on which you originally performed the activation, and “remove a language”. How this would be resolved if a hard drive had crashed or the computer was otherwise unavailable, I’m not sure.

The Rosetta Stone Manager is the management interface that allows managers to create user accounts for Rosetta Stone. This program is installed separatly from the server and is available in a Windows or a Mac version. The Mac version appeared to work OK, even on Snow Leopard.

Before going further, I called Rosetta Stone Tech support to inquire about updates. I figured that since the software was 2 years old, they probably had updated it within that time and there were no obvious links in the screens to obtain updates. Oh, yes… they would send new disks, and I need to do a complete reinstall. (Sigh), another three hours out the window. As Jerry Pournelle says….”we do these things so you don’t have to”.

After preparing the server. and adding myself as a user, I then attempted to install the workstation version of the software onto my Vista machine. This runs an Installshield installation. It worked great on an XP box. I was able to log in to the account that I set up in the Rosetta Stone server, and run the program. Seemed to work fine in a Vista session on my Mac with Parallels.

There is also a native Mac installer; this seemed unusual as I don’t recall ANY Mac software, no matter how complex, which actually requires an installation process on the Mac other than copying the application file to the Apps folder. This installer, “powered by Vise X” so far seems to be doing a search of all my hard drives. Once it does the search however, it then installs over 2000 files (!) including a Flash Player and a ton of JPG and Gif graphics files. Still, the application came up fine.

So, we’ve now got Rosetta Stone running on a Mac machine, a Vista virtual machine within Parallels on the Mac, and on an XP machine. I’m feeling confident enough to bring the server in tomorrow for a trial run.


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