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July, 2009

  • FE blog

    The Good Blogging Guide - PDF version now available

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    After a little bit of prompting, and a few requests, I’ve pulled the chapters of the “Good Blogging Guide” into a complete PDF booklet.

    You can now download the whole thing as a PDF and read it at your leisure, and share with colleagues.

    Chapter One – Writing for your audience

    Chapter Two – Have an objective

    Chapter Three – Getting onto page one of Google

    Chapter Four – A blogging Code of Practice

    Chapter Five – No lawyers please

    Chapter Six – When (if) things go wrong

    If you prefer to still read it online (which does make it easy to disagree or add your own thoughts via comments) you can get to all via this Good Blogging Guide page.

  • FE blog

    A comprehensive list of what's new in Windows 7

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    image

    I’ve just finished scanning an excellent series of articles on TechNet, about what’s new in Windows 7. Whilst not every feature is critical for education, there are some areas which are answers to current challenges in education ICT.

    And there’s plenty more on AppLocker, Biometrics, Print Management, Search, etc etc.

    Read the full set of articles on TechNet

  • FE blog

    Integrating Moodle with Microsoft Live services

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    Who’d have thought it, not only would I be looking for the Moodle logo for the blog, but other strange things have been happening this week:


    • We’ve released two projects under the open source GPL v2 licence for the first time ever
    • Following on from the experimental OfficeLabs project, we’ve launched Education Labs, to allow ‘quick’ projects to release helpful applications (or more likely ‘applets’) specifically to support teachers and learners
    • We’ve released software development kits to allow programmers to connect our Live services into other applications (like web portals)
    • …and it is only Thursday

    The background

    Let me go back to the beginning…

    • Moodle is an open-source virtual learning environment used in the majority of colleges in the UK, and in a minority of schools. (More on Moodle at moodle.org)
    • Colleges typically either implement Moodle as a stand-alone web portal, or use the SharePoint webparts for Moodle as one way of integrating it with the rest of their ICT systems
    • GPL is the licence scheme that most open-source software is released under. We don’t normally use it, because once something is released under this licence, control of it passes over to anybody who wants it. It’s different to the usual licences we use, where we retain the rights to the software – eg to modify it, or to introduce a fee for it.
    • OfficeLabs was started a year ago, to share some of the projects we work on internally, that produces prototypes products (a bit like ‘concept cars’). Previously these projects would have been used by Microsoft staff, but only the occasional product would make it out in the big wide world. But OfficeLabs allows the release of small projects which can add to the Office experience, even without them being fully engineered products. It’s come out with things like PPTPlex for PowerPoint (which completely transforms presentations from being a start-on-the-first-slide-and-go-all-the-way-to-the-last-slide experience) and the Forgotten Attachment Detector for Outlook (which looks out for key words like ‘attached’ in your email, and reminds you when you’ve actually forgotten to attach the document in your email)
    • Education Labs is the new equivalent for education projects from Microsoft. If you imagine Microsoft as a car factory, then Education Labs is the guys around the corner building a Go Kart – it’s the fun, hobby side of the team.

    The Live Services plug-in for Moodle

    What we’ve released on Education Labs this week is a toolkit that allows you to integrate the Live@Edu services onto your students’ Moodle homepage. Live@Edu is our hosted mail and collaboration service for students, which provides a free 10GB mailbox, 25GB of general online file storage, and additional 5GB of online document storage for collaborative projects. A large number of UK universities have started using it, and an increasing number of colleges – with budgets so tight, the idea of outsourcing student email to a free provider is looking more attractive!

    What the plug-in does is allow a student to see their live, real-time inbox and calendar on their Moodle home page, via a single login. And it also allows lecturers to do things like send out student alerts – things like “Your homework assignment is due in tomorrow” with an easy step, and the system will handle the delivery of it to students (through email, mobile phone etc).

    When I saw a brief demonstration of it yesterday, the bit that impressed me was seeing the email inbox on the home page of Moodle – not just a link to it, but the actual emails themselves. It is another step towards making your school Learning Platform the core of everything that your students and staff do.

    You can download the Moodle plug-in from Education Labs, or watch the video of it on this page.

    This project will only appeal to a minority of colleges – you’ll need the technical skills to get it working (but then you’ll have needed those to get Moodle working in your college too). But if you are using Moodle already, this project is a step in the right direction to help integrate a range of your ICT services together, and builds on the work we did a couple of years ago to help the integration between SharePoint and Moodle.

  • FE blog

    Windows 7 release date announced – 7th August for most UK universities

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    The Windows Team have announced, via The Windows Blog, more information on the various availability dates for Windows 7. Whilst the consumer product launches on 22nd October, it will actually be available earlier for customers using our ‘volume licensing’ schemes – like the Campus Agreement and Select Licensing.

    The very good news in their blog post is that customers who have bought their existing Windows licences with a Campus Agreement will be able to get the full released version on 7th August. (Whilst the rest will have to wait until at least 1st September).

    This ‘thank you’ to Campus Agreement customers means that some colleges can start to roll out Windows 7 during this summer holiday, whilst the rest will proably have to wait until Christmas or beyond, when the classrooms are quiet enough.

    Full details of all of the dates are on the Windows 7 team blog

    It may seem adventurous to roll out a brand new operating system very early, but this time things are very different – over 2m downloads of the Windows 7 beta, and millions of people running it means that we’re releasing a pretty mature product which has already had significant amounts of real-life testing. The old adage of “Wait for Service Pack 1” doesn’t seem to apply in the new release model, where the Beta and the Release Candidate are both widely available for public use.

  • FE blog

    Windows 7 release dates for education

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    Our Worldwide Partner Conference was on this week, and there has been a flurry of announcements. I’ll summarise those that may be important to you over the next few days, but if you can’t wait then go over to our PressPass site.

    One of the most important things mentioned at the conference was the imminent release of Windows 7. The Windows 7 team immediately added some more info to their blog, to give a bit more detail.

    The most important thing is that our customers who have a Campus Agreement, or another agreement with Software Assurance, will be the first to get access, and it looks like that’s in the middle of August.

    So the race is on to be the first university to deploy the release version of Windows 7 widely this summer!

    Here’s the verbatim from the Windows 7 blog:

    Firstquotes

    As previously stated, we expect Windows 7 to RTM in the 2nd half of July.

    Once Windows 7 is complete, how do I get it?

    The answer depends on who you are:

    • MSDN & TechNet Subscribers: Subscribers will be able to download the final version of Windows 7 a few weeks after we announce RTM.
    • Volume License (VL) Customers: Customers with Software Assurance for Windows will be able to download the final version of Windows 7 Enterprise a few weeks after we announce RTM. As announced today by Bill Veghte during his WPC09 keynote, customers without Software Assurance will be able to purchase Windows 7 through Volume Licensing on September 1st.
    • Consumers, Enthusiasts, & Beta Testers (Everyone else): The retail version of Windows 7 will be available in stores October 22nd. If you pre-ordered Windows 7, it should be delivered sometime around the October 22nd timeframe (depends on the retailer).
    • On New PCs: OEMs are expected to start shipping new PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed on them around October 22nd.  Endquotes
  • FE blog

    The Good Blogging Guide for education

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    original[1]Last year, the UK Schools blog won the Computer Weekly Public Sector Blog of the Year award, and the blog has proudly sported the badge since!

    As a result, I’ve run a few blogging workshops for internal colleagues, and followed that up with workshops for people within education who are thinking of taking up blogging, or want to discuss taking an existing blog further. Following on from a blogging workshop I gave in London, I thought I should sit down and turn all of my slides and other information on good practice in blogging into a series of blog posts. And I’ve finally managed to get them up and published on the UK Schools blog. Rather than repeating them here, either go and look at The Good Blogging Guide page, or use the individual chapter links below.

    Bear in mind, these are all personal opinions - you may find that some of the things I outline don't work for you, or you disagree with their intent, so feel free to take the bits you think are useful, and ignore the bits that aren't! Hopefully, some of it will be useful.


    image_thumb[1]

    Chapter One: Write for the audience
    How to select an audience and focus on it. To help I share the profile of the person I’m writing for when I sit down to write the UK Schools blog.


    image_thumb[1] Chapter Two: Have an objective
    Two simple rules which help you to stay focused on what you want each blog post to achieve, and to know what to write.


    image_thumb[1] Chapter Three: Getting onto page one of Google
    Also known as SEO in plain english, or ‘search engine optimisation for blogs’, this gives you four simple  rules to get your blog noticed, and found by people searching for your subject.
    NB: Chapter 3 1/2 shows what happened when I used the rules on Chapter 3


    image_thumb_1[1] Chapter Four: A blogging Code of Practice
    Advice on how to construct your own blogging guidelines, if you’re part of an organisation. With examples from the Civil Service, Microsoft, my own team’s guidelines, and a council code of practice for education bloggers.


    image_thumb[3] Chapter Five: No lawyers please
    I have a personal dislike for people that write in language the rest of us can’t understand. Hence “No lawyers please”, with quick rules on writing style and some tools to help you to understand your own.


    image_thumb[1] Chapter Six: When things go wrong
    Not the use of ‘when’ not ‘if’. Some advice about how to deal with tricky situations, and how to get your organisation on your side when things don’t quite go to plan!


    Chapter Seven: The best tools
    Okay, I admit this is still in the works. But it’ll be here soon, and then I’ll come back and add the link.

  • FE blog

    Free Windows 7 Release Candidate download will end shortly

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    W7banner_thumb[2]

    This isn’t specific to FE, but as it hasn’t got much coverage worldwide, I thought it worth a mention. If you’re thinking of experimenting with Windows 7 in the summer holidays – eg testing some of your old educational software using the XP compatibility mode – then you may want to know that the free download of the Windows 7 Release Candidate will end on 15th August.

    The Release Candidate (RC) is our last public release before Windows 7 is finalised and actually released as a full product. The RC version is free to use until Spring next year, and although the download won’t be available after 15th August, you can run it right up until March 2010 without interruptions.

    Visit the download site to get a copy and a licence key

    It’s handy if you want to install a copy for:

    • Testing software compatibility
    • Seeing whether it runs on old cronky hardware (see this if you want an idea)
    • Running on one of your non-mission-critical computers whilst waiting for the final release
  • FE blog

    Newcastle event next week - Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 networking

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    Jonathan Noble has let me know that there are still plenty of spare spaces at the free event at Newcastle University next Wednesday (the 8th), which will be looking at Windows 7 & Windows Server 2008 R2 for education. And the agenda includes DirectAccess, BranchCache and XP Mode – all mentioned earlier in the week.

    Find out more on Jonathan’s blog, or just sign up directly at the VBUG site

  • FE blog

    Typing in Arabic on a Qwerty keyboard – a simple free download

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    In my local library I often pass by the computer section, where people are sitting typing away into Hotmail in languages I don’t understand (I live in rural Oxfordshire, so much of the time I think it’s eastern European languages). And I guess they’ve become fluent in finding the key combinations to create the accents, umlauts etc. But I’d never considered that it would be possible to send an email in Arabic from a qwerty keyboard.

    Microsoft Maren looks ideal for any computer where there may be a requirement for Arabic as well as Roman languages. For example, in a community access suite, or open access areas such as libraries.

    imageLack of access to an Arabic keyboard or lack of familiarity with one are two of the most common problems preventing Arabic users from communicating in their own language.

    But the team at the Cairo Microsoft Innovation Lab have, and they’ve created a simple Windows extension that allows users to easily chat, search, blog, email and create documents in Arabic, by converting it on the fly from Roman characters.

    It’s available as a free download from the Maren website, and there’s also a funky animation that shows how it works.

    Microsoft Maren allows you to type Arabic in Roman characters (Romanized Arabic, Arabizi, Arabish or Franco-Arabic) and have it converted on the fly to Arabic script.

    This download isn’t just for education institutions – you can also point students to the site if they want to download it for their home PCs.


  • FE blog

    Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 networking enhancements for education

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    W7banner_thumb[1]

    I’ve just finished reading the whitepaper about networking enhancements that are included within Windows 7, which are especially powerful when combined with Windows Server 2008 R2. Although I’m not the most technical person in the team, it made sense to me, and a couple of key features jumped out at me as being particularly useful in education:

    DirectAccess for academic staff to replace VPN connections

    The scenario of VPN which the whitepaper describes matches my own use of VPN.

    When I’m working from home, I avoid using a VPN connection when I can, because all of my internet traffic is re-routed through it, and slows down downloads and other web access (VOIP is sometimes lower quality too). And if my machine goes into sleep mode temporarily, I have to go through all of the quarantine and security checks again when it wakes up. So I tend to ‘batch up’ the things I need to VPN for, logon, do them, and then logoff VPN again.

    But as a user, it means that if I get internal SharePoint links in email, I can’t click straight through. And I can’t quickly update my own SharePoint wiki etc. (And, similarly, the IT support team can’t automatically deploy critical updates or Group Policy changes until I next VPN in). I’m guessing that you have the same situation on campus.

    With Windows 7, the inclusion of DirectAccess means that users can have the same experience (and access) when they work at home (or from another remote location, like a wireless hotspot) as they would on campus. So they can access your internal SharePoint, other intranet sites and any internal applications. But it doesn’t re-route their general Internet traffic, so they still have full-speed web access (unless you decide to change that too!).

    There’s a lot of technical details (and acronyms like IPv6, IPsec and 56-bit key encryption) on page 5-6 of the whitepaper

    Better synchronisation for offline files and slow connections

    Windows 7 adds enhanced support for synchronising files between your own PC and a network share – with more sensitivity to bandwidth for broadband and WAN connections, and invisible background synchronisation of offline files. This will be particularly useful where staff keep master files on their local machine (like their curriculum delivery plan) but you want to protect them from losing it all by ensuring it is synchronised to a network connection.

    Well, the alternative is to implant the I-must-make-a-backup-every-day chip in your colleagues!

    Better support for saving money on electricity

    With the wider use of wireless around campus, you’ll be pleased to hear that Wake On Lan has been extended to wireless too – allowing you to use a more aggressive power-saving profile on your laptops and desktops, without compromising your ability to manage them.

    Don’t underestimate how much money this could save you. PC Pro put the potential power savings at nearly £50 a computer if you switch from Windows default power settings to the most energy efficient. With an estimated 1/2 million university-owned computers across campuses, that’s a big bundle of money. (I know that you don’t pay the power bills from the IT budget, but perhaps there’s an opportunity to get some contribution from the facilities teams to support the changes!)

    Have a read of the whitepaper – there’s a lot of straightforward and clear advice

    And bonus materials…

    As a bonus, there are more detailed technical documents on DirectAccess which are also useful:

    • DirectAccess Technical Overview
      Covers the functional and architectural aspects of DirectAccess, a technology introduced in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 to enable mobile workers to seamlessly connect to enterprise network resources when connected to the Internet.
    • Next Generation Remote Access with DirectAccess and VPNs
      Compares DirectAccess with VPNs and describes the scenarios that are most appropriate for each.
    • Using DirectAccess to provide secure access to corporate resources from anywhere
      Case Study: Although broadband services and Wi-Fi have dramatically improved, the connectivity experience for remote corporate users remains largely unchanged. Microsoft Information Technology (Microsoft IT) is adopting the DirectAccess feature in Windows® 7 and in Windows Server® 2008 R2 to enable employees to gain seamless remote access to corporate applications and data. The solution, which only requires Internet connectivity and credentials, significantly improves productivity and can be an important cost-saving mechanism.
    • DirectAccess Early Adopter’s Guide
      This guide introduces DirectAccess concepts, defines new terms, explains requirements for installation, discusses how to design DirectAccess architecture, and then steps you through installation and deployment.
    • Direct Access Step-by-Step Guide
      Step By Step Guide: Demonstrate DirectAccess in a Test Lab
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