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  • FE blog

    Guidelines on web usability – useful for college websites


    When I wrote the Good Blogging Guide last year, I concentrated on audience, purpose, search and writing like a real person (I hear voices saying “Look at yourself Ray, you’ve forgotten it all already!”). What I spent little time on was the technical side of blogging and the web – navigation, usability, content such as images, and other areas.

    But the COI (Central Office of Information) for the Government have produced an excellent, and easy-to-read, set of usability guidelines for creating usable website in the public sector. It includes technical and design advice, as well as some very good pointers towards writing effective web content.


    If you’re involved in a college website project – whether that’s external for the public, or just internal for students and staff, it is a very worthwhile read. Useful too if you’re planning a new SharePoint 2010 project.


    You can download the PDF’s of both guides too:

  • FE blog

    Getting the cold-shoulder the day after Valentine’s Day?


    From tomorrow, if you’re running Windows 7 RC (Release Candidate) - ie the pre-release version from last summer - then your computer will start to remind you that you really, really need to get on with upgrading to a fully released version of Windows 7. I know that quite a few IT people in colleges installed it on their own netbook or laptop. And some of those have been too busy since last August to get around to putting the released version on.

    So, if you’re running the released version of Windows 7, you’re good. But if you’ve left upgrading too long, then you need to pay attention to it.

    If you don’t, your friendship with the Release Candidate is going to be a bit like a failing relationship in your personal life:

    • From 15th Feb it’ll start by nudging you and dropping hints – like a little message here and there.
    • From 1st March, things will be a little frostier – every two hours you’ll get the silent treatment (well, a controlled shutdown) and when it is talking to you again, it’ll claim to have forgotten everything you’ve said (ie it won’t save your work when it shuts down).
    • And then finally from the first of June it’ll be terminal decline – painting your wallpaper black, announcing “This copy of Windows is not genuine” on your desktop, and refusing to talk to your friends (or at least, your Windows Update server)

    More details, and advice about making the switch, on the Windows Team blog

    This won’t be news to you – it was all covered in depth when we gave you the download for the RC. Just a nudge to get on with it before 1st March. And as most of you have got a Campus Agreement, your licence is already covered by that. You just need to find the time!

  • FE blog

    Windows 7 in Welsh


    We’ve just released the Language Interface Pack for Windows 7 in Welsh. It’s free as a result of the collaboration between Microsoft and Welsh Language Board. As the press release makes clear, we pay for the work, and the Welsh Language Board provide the translators through the Cymen translation company of Caernarfon. They then get busy translating big swathes of Windows 7 into Welsh with us.

    You can read the announcement from the Welsh Language Board for more details.

    Download the Welsh Language Pack for Windows 7

    I’m told that this page contains the download (well, it certainly looks Welsh, doesn’t it)


    There's a complete "How to Install with Welsh Language pack" guide here

    imageWe have plenty of other things in Welsh too – like Office 2007, Office 2003, Digital Literacy Curriculum and SharePoint ar gael in Gymraeg. And there are 48 other languages for Office here

    Things you didn’t know about Welsh?

    • The longest place name in the United Kingdom, and one of the longest in the world, is
      Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave).
    • Welsh is spoken by about 25,000 people in the Chubut Valley, a colony of Welsh immigrants in the Patagonia region of Argentina.
    • To secure communications without using complicated cryptography, Welsh regiments serving on peace missions in Bosnia (now known as Bosnia and Herzegovina) simply used their native language.
  • FE blog

    TechNet webcasts


    Each month the TechNet and MSDN teams over in the US host a wide range of webcasts on technical subjects.

    As they are held on Pacific Coast time, they first one of the day is normally at 4pm. There are others, later on in the evening, which are also good, but I know that you’re going to need a burning interest in something to turn up for a 9pm webcast.

    You can find this month’s webcasts on this page (all UK times), and also look at the future ones.

    Key February Webcasts

    Here’s the ones I think might be useful for you. Unfortunately the appropriate February ones all look like 7pm ones. Mind you, maybe you need an excuse to skip out of Corrie. And there is a special Higher Education one on the 24th at 9PM, on creating public-facing websites, which may also be of interest.

    SharePoint 2010 and social networking
    Thursday 18th, 7pm Momentum Webcast: Social Computing with SharePoint 2010 (Level 100)
    Ideal to understand how the new social networking features of SharePoint work, to help you plan for their use within your campus.

    Windows 7 deployment
    Monday 22nd, 7pm TechNet Webcast: Everything You Wanted to Know About Windows 7 Deployment in 90 Minutes (Level 200)
    Described as a “whirlwind tour of the tools and methods used to deploy Windows 7”, from manual, to automated light-touch and zero-touch installations.

    SharePoint website migration in Higher Education
    Wednesday 24th, 9pm TechNet Webcast: Higher Education, Public-Facing Web Site Creation (Level 200)
    In partnership with Dell, this looks at migration from an .NET content management system to SharePoint

    What does Level 100/200/300 mean?

    I can’t find an ‘official’ definition, so here’s my scale:

    • Level 100: If you can logon to a webcast, then the content won’t go over your head
    • Level 200: There’ll be some technical content, but the majority will be in plain English
    • Level 300: Propeller-Heads only. Personally, I only get about 30% of the Level 300 session
    • Level 400: As Steve Ballmer would say, “Developers, Developers, Developers”
  • FE blog

    How many people are using Windows 7 in UK colleges?


    Browser statsI just had a look at the statistics for visitors to this blog, for UK colleges. The answer appears to be nearly a quarter now. The table is the last month’s visitors.

    Although I don’t believe that it means that a quarter of all college computers are running Windows 7, I do believe it is representative of IT staff in colleges. And they’re probably already planning whether they are going to roll out Windows 7 to the rest of the college at Easter or in the summer.

    imageQuickly find all the other Windows 7 posts on this blog

  • FE blog

    Ready-made IT user documentation


    When I started working at Microsoft, I hadn’t been in such an open, technology rich culture before. And with so many IT systems around, and so many different software resources, my head was buzzing. In fact, I remember that at the end of the first week, the number of links in my Favourites was massive – just to internal websites.

    I’d never used internet telephony, encryption, instant messaging, live meeting, SharePoint or Groove before, so I was all at sea until I could play around and work out how they were supposed to operate. Meanwhile, people who’d been at Microsoft for a while were metaphorically whizzing past me, as they collaborated, shared, published and distributed information. Whilst I was trying to work out how to answer my desk phone.

    imageOne of the godsends for me was a set of documents called Work Smart Guides, which walked me through the basics of some of the new technology I was encountering.

    As our IT team describe it, Work Smart Guides bridge the gap between technology and users. Work Smart guides provide employees with scenario-based, best-use productivity aids on Microsoft products and technologies.

    We produce them because we expect to see more consistent, productive, and cost-effective use of products and technologies across the company – which helps the business ROI on IT investments, as well as helping people to understand the benefit the IT team deliver to users.

    Ready-made IT guides

    I found out today that we have also published them for customers to modify and use. This seems a great step – because I’m guessing that every college in the UK is producing user documentation where 80-90% of the content is identical. So these guides would make a good starter for 10, either for the format, or the instructions, or the simple screenshots. As an example, here’s the Email Basics one.

    The subjects covered in the step-by-step guides for users include:

    • Environmental sustainability (hints like using Balanced power settings on your laptop)
    • Protecting data with BitLocker
    • Getting started with email
    • Transfer files and settings to a new computer
    • Collaborating with SharePoint
    • An overview of collaboration tools
    • Customising SharePoint sites
    • Integrating Outlook with SharePoint
    • Basics of managing email (Are you a stacker or a filer?)
    • Office tips
    • Outlook email signatures
    • New features for users in Windows 7

    Download the Work Smart Guides

    You can download the customisable versions of Work Smart materials from TechNet. There are 23 of them, and they come in one big Zip file for you to play with.

    Bonus: You should also be looking at the Windows 7 Problem Steps Recorder, described by Long Zheng as a miracle tool. It does what it says on the tin, and the best bit is that the document it creates is brilliant for creating user guides, with screen shots and step-by-step instructions. Just stick “problem steps” into the search box of your Windows 7 Start menu.

  • FE blog

    Windows Azure in four minutes


    This blog post is definitely for the techies amongst you!

    Things are changing very rapidly in the way that ICT services can be delivered and used in education. Although most of the developments from major ICT providers aren’t specific to education, they are addressing the issues that education faces today.

    Windows Azure logo blOne of the developments is the Windows Azure system, which is designed to allow you to run services and develop applications for a cloud-based system, instead of having a big pile of servers within your college.

    Unless you’ve got a pile of developers in your college (and I know that some of you do!) then I guess you aren’t going to be buried in the detail of how these services work – because it will mainly be used by your suppliers, as they think about moving some of their applications to the cloud.

    The official summary blurb for Azure describes it thus:

    The Windows Azure platform offers a flexible, familiar environment for developers to create cloud applications and services. With Windows Azure, you can shorten your time to market and adapt as demand for your service grows.

    Windows Azure offers a platform that is easily implemented alongside your current environment.

    - Windows Azure: operating system as an online service
    - Microsoft SQL Azure: fully relational cloud database solution
    - Windows Azure platform AppFabric: makes it simpler to connect cloud services and on-premises applications

    And I’ve found a short video that provides an overview of Windows Azure in a much more digestible form. Having watched it, I can now describe it to other people much better (and now fully appreciate why it’s a good thing!).

    The best simple introduction I’ve seen for Windows Azure

    If you can’t see the video above, then here’s a direct link. However, as it’s a YouTube video, it may be blocked by your web filter – unfortunately I couldn’t find a copy anywhere else.

    Fascinating fact: Steve Marx has blogged about how he made this video - using just PowerPoint & Community Clips. I’m envious of his talent.

    If this is a bit lightweight for you, then you may prefer to read the Introducing Windows Azure whitepaper (PDF) – just one of many whitepapers on Windows Azure

  • FE blog

    Microsoft Further Education Briefing 2010


    Bookings are now open for our Further Education Briefing day, which this year falls on 19th March in London.


    Microsoft will be holding our annual Further Education Briefing on 19th March 2010 at our London offices in Victoria. The agenda for the event runs from 9:45 to 3:00 with breaks to catch up with colleagues from other colleges.

    As well as getting the latest news on Microsoft’s product roadmap, there will be the opportunity to hear from other colleges and to hear how they are responding to the economic pressures that all colleges are feeling. Of course, this current academic year is full of launches of new Microsoft products, and we’ll be able to use the day to bring all of this into context – explaining the value and relative importance of some of the key new product launches still to come.

    The event will be suitable for senior managers, whether or not they are involved in IT strategy on a day-to-day basis.

    Further Education Briefing Agenda

    09:15    Registration and coffee

    09:45    Welcome and Introduction

    10:00    Looking ahead a decade: The future vision of work

    10:40    Office 2010

    11:05    Break

    11:20    Microsoft SharePoint 2010

    11:45    Live@edu

    12:10    Lunch

    13:00    When budgets don’t meet aspirations - Customer case study

    13:25    Linking Moodle to your Microsoft infrastructure

    13:35    Introduction to “Cost saving and Revenue Raising”

    13:40    Virtualisation to reduce costs

    14:10    Office Communications Server    

    14:40    The Microsoft IT Academy

    15:00    Summary and close

    Amanda Bicknell, the Microsoft UK Further Education Business Manager will lead the day, introducing experts from Microsoft and case studies from our customers.

    We’ll be holding the briefing at our offices in Victoria, and there will be plenty of Microsoft colleagues available for discussions.

    You can book your place online now

  • FE blog

    Download the Office 2010 Beta and get a head start



    The Office 2010 Beta is available for free download from the Microsoft website, and it’s something that you could install on some of your campus computers to see what’s in it, and how it helps your staff and students.

    Remember how sometimes you felt smug when you were running Windows 7 Beta at least 6 months before everybody else on campus? Well, you can feel it once again!

    Why trial the new Office system?

    In the past, when we released new software, you had to wait to see what it will do, and whether it is the right thing for your campus. But now, with our new approach of releasing very public Beta versions, you can actually download an early versions months before release, and try it out with some of your staff and students, as well as trying it out from a technical installation perspective. With Office 2010, there’s a bunch of new features which are going to be especially useful for education, such as:

    Save to SharePoint allows students and staff to use shared sites or their personal site more easily. A large number of colleges are using SharePoint and looking for new ways to grow it’s use. This removes all the hassle of having to save to your local disk, and then leave and upload the file to SharePoint.

    • Let’s face it, anything that makes it easier for staff to use your SharePoint is a good thing, and encourages active sharing of information.

    Save to SkyDrive is one step further by connecting your users to their 25GB of free storage on the SkyDrive site. And because SkyDrive allows you to have private folders, shared folders and public folders, each user can easily control what’s visible to others, and available via any Internet connected computer. This is also the way to activate the Office Web Applications – once you’ve saved something on your SkyDrive it can be opened in the web version of Office 2010.

    • This is really important for staff, because they can save an assignment, and know that all students can have access to it, whether or not they have Office on their own laptop. Mind you, anecdotally, it appears that students are just as or more likely to have a current version of Office on their laptop than the version on campus machines.

    Create PDF Document is something I have used quite a bit since discovering it – I can now take my Word document and turn it into something which is perceived to be more ‘professionally published’ because it’s a PDF. And it’s dead easy to use.

    • Although it’s probably not something used every day for assignments, it’s great for staff when they’re publishing anything for external or internal readers.

    PowerPoint has a new “Broadcast Slide Show” option, which takes your presentation and presents it live on a web page – with all the fancy animations and everything else. So now, if you’re delivering a lecture to more than just the students in the room, then everybody can be looking at the same thing, in high resolution and in real time, without needing any extra fancy software. All you do is share a weblink, and you’re ready to teach the world!

    PowerPoint’s new video features will genuinely make staff smile, because it just makes working with video easier, so that lecturers can include video in their teaching more easily. You can now trim the parts of the video to display – selecting when to start and stop the video automatically. It’s a doddle, just using the ‘Trim Video’ option, and dragging the markers to the start and end position. This is brilliant if you’ve got a long video in your library (eg a TV programme) that you want to only show 2 minutes from. Videos are now embedded in your presentation by default, meaning that your one PowerPoint file has all the bits it needs to run, rather than having to remember to copy all the video files.   And finally, you can now easily insert a video from websites like YouTube and TeacherTube just by clicking ‘Insert>Video>Video from Web Site’ and pasting in the embed code from the video.

    • I read in the Times today that schools are considering spending up to £10,000 a year on a filtering system for YouTube that stops the comments and related films showing up on the page. I guess this is a cheaper alternative! Because you embed the YouTube video you want in your PowerPoint, and nothing else. Job done – no comments, no related films. Fixed.

    There’s plenty more (if, like me, you live in your Outlook Inbox, there’s tons there that will make you happy too!). But the easiest way to discover what it can do is to download it, install it and give it a whirl. That way, you can work out whether it is something you want to build into your summer deployment plans (especially if you have a Campus Agreement, and you’re covered for new releases – it can help you to plan your free deployment!)


    I wouldn’t advise you to do something I wouldn’t do myself. I’ve been running the early versions of Office 2010 since last September, and this beta version since November. It’s given me the confidence that it works, and I know I wouldn’t go back now.

    PS If you’re going to do install it, can I highly recommend installing the Ribbon Hero too – and giving it to one of your least-innovative lecturers (the one that’s glued to their Office 2003 Menu, and doesn’t like the new Office Ribbon menus). Ask them to try it for a fortnight with Ribbon Hero, and see if they’ll go back!

  • FE blog

    Running the cloud


    A few years ago, when we first started the http://www.microsoft.com/uk/education/further-education/products/live-at-edu.aspx email service, it was running on the same system as Hotmail. Since then we’ve moved it onto a completely Exchange-based system, which has actually been running Exchange 2010 for quite some time. And so I’d forgotten about Hotmail. But running cloud services at a massive scale requires quite a lot of work in the background, and I was surprised me when I read the “peek behind the scenes at Hotmail” article, on the Inside Windows Live blog, because there are some stunning stats about how Hotmail is now run:

    • We deliver localised versions of Hotmail to 59 regional markets, in 36 languages*
    • We host well over 1.3 billion inboxes.
    • Over 350 million people are actively using Hotmail on a monthly basis.
    • We handle over 3 billion messages a day and filter out over 1 billion spam messages.
    • We are growing storage at over 2 petabytes a month (a petabyte is ~1 million gigabytes or ~1,000 terabytes).
    • We currently have over 155 petabytes of storage deployed (70% of storage is taken up with attachments, typically photos).
    • We’re the largest SQL Server 2008 deployment in the world (we monitor and manage many thousands of SQL servers).

    And the team go on to describe how they keep all of that running, and how they keep the deployment of new storage and systems ahead of the demand for it. I can’t imagine adding 2 million gigabytes of storage every month. That’s an awful lot of disks!

    Gizmodo have a nice graphic which tries to put a petabyte into scale – 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets, or 13.3 years of HD-TV. And it equates 50 petabytes to the entire written works of mankind, from the beginning of recorded history, in all languages. And there’s three times as much as that in the Hotmail data centres!

    * As I mentioned, our Live@edu service actually runs on a different system. For example, data for UK customers is stored in our new Dublin datacentre, rather than outside of Europe or simply spread over a range of different worldwide data centres

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