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May, 2007 - FE blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The FE Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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May, 2007

  • FE blog

    Do you need VPN access into a Windows Vista PC?

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    This may not seem all that interesting at face value but there are a LOT of people in education who have workstations that use public IP's.  There is a secure way to connect to your machine remotely, for example if you need to access a set of files that you only want to store on your machine, or you need access to a file from within the college or from home.  Michael Greene talks through the steps in his blog on how to setup your Windows Vista workstation to accept new incoming VPN connections.  This was also available in Windows XP but you have to know where to look in Windows Vista to enable it.

  • FE blog

    Moodle Web Parts for SharePoint 2007 released

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    When I last wrote about the Moodle integration with SharePoint, it was only with SharePoint 2003.

    The new web parts developed to help you to integrate Moodle into a Learning Gateway based on SharePoint 2007 have been released, and are now fully available on the CodePlex Moodle page, our "open source project hosting website". CodePlex is an initiative for 'communities'n building solutions using our technologies. You can download work from current projects, join existing project teams, or start your own new project. Although it is Microsoft that has kick started CodePlex, there are an increasing number of non-MS projects starting up.

  • FE blog

    Do you Shibboleth?

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    Internet2 (the US networking consortium for the research and education community - akin to Janet in the UK) has just announced a Shibboleth collaboration project with Microsoft, to develop interoperability with the Windows CardSpace system.

    Before we go any further, let's deal with the basics:

    Shibboleth is a federated authentication architecture - it allows users to have one set of login credentials across different systems, rather than having to have loads of usernames and passwords. There is a fantastic video animation on the JISC website that puts this all into plain language

    Windows CardSpace is a user-based system which allows users to store their credentials and pass them across to systems at their choosing (an example is that you can store your different online identities in CardSpace, and pass them over to websites as appropriate - for example logging into a website, or providing credit card details)

    The collaboration is described as "a very important step forward in creating a ubiquitous Internet identity layer" (hip, hip hooray from those of us that can't remember 642 different usernames and passwords, and as a result end up using our first cat's name as a password on too many websites).

    This is really important in the world of Further Education, where the need for identity management in intra-institution systems is almost as wide as the need for inter-institution ID management. And is becoming increasingly important across the rest of education, as the need grows to provide a single identity for students to be able to access learning resources in school, from home and anywhere else

    All of the details are provided on the Internet2 website

  • FE blog

    How do I do that? .... Buying software as a student (for less)

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    If you're a student, and you want a copy of Office 2007 for your home PC or laptop, what are the chances of paying a lot less than anybody else for it? Well, they are pretty good, if you know how...

    One way is to buy the "Home and Student" version in a shop, which contains Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote ...But better than that...

    SoftwareforStudents

    One company is about to launch a new scheme for students where they can buy software for up to 80% less than the normal retail price. It's a partnership between Naace and one of our partners, Software4Students.

    The idea is that students go to www.software4students.co.uk where they can buy a whole host of MS software for a lot less than normal retail pricing (for instance Office Pro Plus 2007 comes down from £365.85 to just £68.90!) They verify what college they attend, and if these colleges are Naace members the colleges also becomes eligible for a rebate off their licensing costs. It doesn't just stop at Office Professional either, they also supply other versions of Office, like Enterprise - which includes OneNote and Groove - other Microsoft applications, and even Windows Vista.

    It's helping to address issues like the digital divide and home access, not to mention ensuring that students are equipped to get the best learning experience possible.

    I think the real value in this scheme arises from how it brings low cost, high quality software to students with absolutely no administrative hassle for the college. This is all made possible by the special Academic pricing available to educational users if they belong to a licensed education establishment.

    The program is just about to go live so keep your eyes peeled for more updates! 

  • FE blog

    Grava - what's in a codename?

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    Is it me, or is there a random code-name generator somewhere in Microsoft. A but like those big clunky ones that sit in the cellars of the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall? (Okay, I know it's not true, but hey)

    Today's code name is Grava - something which shouldn't really have a codename at this point, because (a) it's public information and (b) we talked about it to lots of people at the BETT show in January.

    "Grava" is the code name for a new set of tools from the Microsoft Education Products Group (based over in Redmond in the States) that is designed to allow the education community to create and assemble interactive materials that will increase discovery and allow learners to go at their own pace and learning style.

    It's a great thing to go with your virtual learning environment (whichever one you choose), and the reason I thought I'd mention it now is that I've heard that you can sign yourself up for the early adopter programme (the CTP programme) on the Connect.microsoft.com website. This means you can play around with it, see what it does, and decide whether it's going to be something that will help your students and staff.

    The "Grava" tools that are scheduled for release later in 2007:

    • "Grava" Player—The "Grava" player enables users to view the rich interactive content created in "Grava" Authoring.
    • Developer Tools—The "Grava" SDK is built on Silverlight (aah, not a code word but a real name - the code word for Silverlight was WPF/E) and provides a programming model and tools for building rich educational experiences.
    • Authoring—"Grava" Authoring allows users to create interactive and stimulating non-linear projects to view in the "Grava" player.
    • Services—"Grava" provides an array of services which complement the authoring, SDK and player components. These services include the ability to do assessments, log results, and create intelligent learning solutions.
  • FE blog

    Is this the end for Windows XP? Or the wrong end of the stick?

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    When I read this BBC News story a week ago, I didn't really think about it much. Entitled "Windows XP to be retired in 2008" the first five lines said:

    "Windows XP will stop being available on new PCs from the end of January 2008. Microsoft is keeping to a plan to stop selling the operating system..."

    And the reason I didn't think about it was that I understood the underlying message - from January next year new PCs could only be shipped with Windows Vista.

    But since then, I've had a few queries about what's going on, and people thinking that from next year, you can't install or run Windows XP on a PC, and that we are stopping supporting it.

    So back to the original story - I knew that this wouldn't be an issue for college customers, as many of you buy Windows Upgrade licences under one of the Academic Volume Licensing (VL) Schemes such as the Campus Agreement. This means that you (a) pay less for their software and (b) have more flexibility with your licensing. For example, you can buy a PC with Windows Vista Home Basic, and upgrade the licence using the VL schemes to, for example, Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate. This often saves you money, and also gives you "downgrade rights" - the ability to use a previous version of the software (like Windows XP).

    The benefit is that you can buy the latest licences, and then run an older version of the software until you want to move across to the latest (a typical scenario when you have a classroom/college full of Windows XP machines, and you want to move them all together, rather than have a mix of operating systems). The alternative to this is buying old versions of software, and then having to upgrade the licences later (which overall costs more...).

    If you are worried that from next year you'll not be able to run PCs on Windows XP, then that's not the case. If you've got hundreds of lesson plans that you don't want to change just yet, panic not. You can still run any version, and we'll keep on providing support for Windows XP for quite a few years yet. But if you buy a new PC next year, then it will have Windows Vista on it, and if you want to run Windows XP, you'll need to have a downgradeable licence for it.

    Licensing is complicated - and I admit to not fully, fully understanding it - so take a look at our licensing pages for education, and if you have any questions, then email our licensing team (the email address is on the website)

  • FE blog

    Groovy

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    One of the new programmes included with the Office 2007 System is Groove. It allows you to setup a collaboration environment which is off line, and synchronised across different computers. You can do things like create a shared file folder, which can be used by anybody who has been allowed, whether or not they are on the same network. Which means that you can share files between personal and college computers, or with students who want to continue working on their personal computer.

    All of this is designed to be very secure (MOD-type-secure), and none of the data is stored on a server somewhere (unless you want to set it up that way).

    I can imagine two reactions to this - "nightmare" or "great". Let's put "nightmare" to one side, because there's no reason to think that students will do anything sillier with this than they would with USB Memory Sticks, CDs and emailed files. So what about the "great"?

    There are a number of unique circumstances within colleges that Groove could be used for. Almost 80% of your students are part-time, according to the DfES, which means that as well as being "students" they have another role - as employees etc. If you've got part-time students working on projects, who are also in employment, or you've got a project involving college staff as well as the private sector , then one of the frustrations can be sharing information. How do you easily share between two PCs on two completely different networks? Especially if you want the data available when you're offline? Groove can provide a way to overcome those barriers. You can simply connect them onto a Groove workspace, and they synchronise together over the web, regardless of the network and security infrastructure. And the security aspect ensures that the information isn't available to anybody who simply has a URL handy for a web server!

    In Australia, a pilot in schools has been going on a for a while, using Groove to collaborate between teachers and students at school and from home. The reaction has been very positive, with pupils and parents liking the discussion groups it provides - because the only people able to participate are those invited into the Groove workspace - in this case limiting it to school users. The other big thing that they've liked it for is the easy ability for staff in different schools to collaborate on projects. Traditionally this has been tricky, because each school network has its own security setup, and so collaboration has had to be in a public space somewhere (with all the hassle that entails).

    Like most of the new Office 2007 applications, you can download a free copy of the Groove trial from the Office website

  • FE blog

    Talk to the Hand

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    There's a lot of new things inside Exchange 2007 - things like new features in Outlook Web Access and the ability to access e-mail, voice mail, calendar, and contacts from virtually anywhere that you have a connection (telephone and computer). In Exchange Server 2007, people can access their inbox information from virtually anywhere using their desktop computer, laptop computer, a browser window from any Internet-connected computer, their mobile device, and even using a standard telephone when no Internet connectivity is available. For colleges, there are lots of different potential uses - especially where you want to provide access to email for staff when they are away from site, or for distributing voice messages to staff via their email (oooh, imagine the fun they can have in the admin block!)

    But while it is great to hear about this stuff, I'm the kind of person that likes to see it in action. Which means that often I have to wait until someone I know has started to use it. So if you're like me, you might enjoy the new programme of Hosted Trials - and especially the new one for Exchange 2007

    Just go to Exchange Server 2007 Hosted Trial and sign up for a demo account. Briefly after that you'll get an email with login credentials which allow you to "feel" the new Outlook Web Access and also "talk" to Exchange Server.

    Your account will be pre-populated with sample messages, calendar appointments and contacts to help you have a rich experience. You will be able to send and receive mail, schedule meetings, and adjust your options. You can access your account via Microsoft Outlook Web Access, Outlook Voice Access , Microsoft Office Outlook, or an Exchange ActiveSync compatible application.

    Log in, send mail, create calendar appointments and subsequently phone in to play around with OVA ,Saying "Main Menu" will always take you to the main OVA menu.

    You can also view Frequently Asked Questions for instructions to setup access to the Exchange 2007 Trial

  • FE blog

    Longhorn Server - first public Beta release available

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    The race is now on, as Microsoft released the first publicly available test version of Windows Server, code-named “Longhorn” as Beta 3. 

    The release allows you to evaluate the new features, designed to give you increased control, flexibility and protection, and is available for download today.   The final version of Windows Server “Longhorn” is on track for release in the second half of this year.

    Whilst there are lots of new features in the "Longhorn" server, one of the most interesting for colleges may be the extension of the capabilities of Network Access Protection (NAP). NAP is integrated with Microsoft Update and Windows Update to enable administrators to decide which updates are critical and set policies accordingly. What it will allow you to do is have better control over PCs and laptops connected to your network. In the commercial environment this is a useful feature, but in colleges, where many of your students or staff may have their own, personally-owned, laptop that they want to connect to your network,

    it could be the thing that keeps your network stable and running! Typically businesses just ban users from connecting their own devices to the network, but with the high ownership of student laptops, we've probably reached the tipping point where that isn't going to work for you. And where to effectively run your service, you are going to need to make network provision for user-owned devices. With NAP you can mount much more effective 'border protection'

    Other new and improved features in Beta 3 include the following:

    • Windows PowerShell is now included in the product.
    • Active Directory Federation Services improvements allow customers to implement new policies and make it easier to set up a relationship between trusted partners. 
    • The Server Core installation option now comes with additional roles and enhanced functionality, such as print services and Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services.
    • The Server Manager console includes additional remote administration tools to provide a more integrated management environment.
    • Windows Firewall with Advanced Security, now on by default, provides a persistent and more secure environment beginning at installation.

    Get the beta, or find out more, here.

    As always, this public beta is not supported for use in a production environment, so you'll need to find a server sitting in the corner of a lab somewhere, and fire it up on that.

  • FE blog

    JISC Funding for projects exploring e-learning, e-infrastructure and e-repositories

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    That's potentially e-good news for some. The JISC Circular that has just appeared is asking for nominations from Higher and Further Education for capital funding for e-learning projects. The deadlines look tight - a briefing day for would-be participants on 9th May, with a deadline for submission of 21st June, but it looks like there's £5.6 million to be bid for, so worth looking at!

    Some details of the JISC Circular

    JISC Circular 1/07 invites institutions to submit funding proposals for projects in the following areas:

    *       e-learning;
    *       e-infrastructure;
    *       repositories and digital preservation;
    *       institutional exemplars aimed at supporting existing institutional strategies.

    Proposals may be submitted by HE institutions funded via HEFCE and HEFCW, and by FE institutions in England that teach HE to more than 400 FTEs. However, HE institutions in Scotland and Northern Ireland are eligible to bid for institutional exemplars. Funding is available for projects starting in September/October 2007 for up to 18 months depending on the area of work. All projects must be complete by the end of March 2009.

    A briefing event will be held in Birmingham on Wednesday 9 May 2007 for those interested in bidding. Institutions will need to register to attend this free event, using the form available at: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/events/2007/05/event_capital_apr07briefing.aspx

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