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January, 2010 - The UK Higher Education Blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The HE Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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January, 2010

  • The UK Higher Education 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. The overwhelming majority of universities 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!


  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Looking for another Microsoft blog – take a look at the directory


    My colleague Daniel Good, keeps a directory of all of the Microsoft team blogs – those that are run by, or on behalf of, Microsoft teams. It’s a really handy reference if you’ve got a burning interest in a subject, product or programme. It’s just been updated, and checking it out today I realised we have blogs for all kinds of stuff, like:

    Of course, they’re not all as regularly updated as this one, or as beautiful Smile. But I bet that 99% of them are more technical. And the ones I’ve highlighted answer about 1/3 of the regular questions I get asked (and especially “How do I get a job at Microsoft?” question).

    For individual blogs, then take a look at the Microsoft Technical Communities website – as well as pointing towards all the places you can go to discuss and get self-help, the blogs page lets you search all of the blogs written by individual Microsoft people, with just one search box. I only found that today, but already I’m addicted.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Running the cloud


    A few years ago, when we first started the Live@edu 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

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Eduserv’s report into the use of SharePoint by Higher Education Institutions


    The final report from the University of Northumbria, completed through the Eduserv-funded ‘Investigation into the uptake and use of Microsoft SharePoint by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)’ is now available for download. I’ve taken the key findings directly from the website:


    • Most UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are using SharePoint to some extent (78% of the 40 UK HEIs interviewed in a telephone survey of IT Directors said that they were making some use of SharePoint)
    • SharePoint’s rapid rise in the HE sector can be attributed to several factors: (i) the ease with which it can be procured; (ii) its wide variety of functionality the gap in the HE information environment for such a product; (iii) its devolution of a lot of power to local users which suits the federal culture of HEIs.
    • Two distinct types of SharePoint implementation were discerned: organic (bottom-up) implementations and corporate (top-down) implementations
    • Drivers for implementing SharePoint included: improving document management; supporting collaboration (internally and externally); improving an intranet or external website; targeting information to particular audiences; improving and automating cross-institution processes; providing a personalised portal for staff and students; bring together and managing data from different information systems in the HEI
    • A range of critical success factors for SharePoint implementations were identified.
    • With most HEIs already having a virtual learning environment (VLE) in place only two HEIs were found to be using SharePoint as a VLE; but SharePoint is being used in teaching and learning, particularly for functions such as group collaborative work, ad-hoc non-repeated courses, and work that cuts across different courses
    • Several HEIs are using SharePoint to support collaborative research work with colleagues in other institutions; whilst there is plenty of scope for SharePoint to support research groups it will face strong competition from open source systems in this space.


    The research is the first study into the use of SharePoint in UK HE, and was very comprehensive – it involved telephone interviews with 40 HEIs (mostly IT Directors and Project Managers); an online survey attracting 51 responses from 47 universities; three case studies; an online community consultation and a literature review. It was conducted in the summer and autumn of 2009, and one conclusions is that “2010-11 is likely to see significant development in the SharePoint space

    This study was funded under Eduserv’s Research Programme to improve HEIs’ understanding about the level and nature of interest in SharePoint and whether it is justified in terms of accepted good practice, and to enhance Eduserv’s understanding about the uptake and usage of SharePoint solutions in the UK HE community and influence their 2-3 year plans for service provision in line with their charitable mission.

    You can download the SharePoint in Higher Education Final Report from the University of Northumbria website, as well as download all of the detailed appendices.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    What to do if you get supplied with fake software


    After reading a post on Dave Morrison’s blog (I have no idea whether he’s right or wrong about having bought fake software, but the pricing certainly seems too,too low!) I found out a bit more about the Product Identification Service that our licensing team run here in the UK.

    It’s ideal if you’ve bought a copy of software (for example, if a student on your campus has a query, or a lecturer has just received a new computer with software) and although it looks legit, you think there might be something be wrong.

    Basically, what you can do is send it in to our team, and they’ll check it out.

    • If it is legitimate, they’ll send it straight back to you, along with a letter confirming it is genuine.
    • If it is a fake copy, then they will replace it with a legitimate replacement.
      Of course, this only applies to a single copy – if you’ve bought 100, we’re only going to send you one back!

    Of course, it has to be a sophisticated fake – if you knew it was a fake when you were buying it, then we’re not going to swap it for a legitimate version! But if you’ve genuinely been taken in, then its your route to rescue!

    Take a look at the “Product Identification Service” and perhaps keep a bookmark for it – even if you don’t need it, I’m sure one day a student might need your help.

    What’s in it for you? Well, if somebody has scammed you, you get a full legit copy in return. (And avoid the risk of viruses & trojans that exist in fake copies, or the risk that at some future point your fake version stops running)

    What’s in it for us? We get some help in trying to track down the suppliers of fake software, because it’s bad for us and our legitimate Microsoft partners.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Ribbon Hero – combining games and learning


    It seems that one of the trendy topics discussed at education conferences these days is the combination of gaming and learning. Most of the time, it’s discussed in the context of the classroom or of students, but I’ve just learnt that we’ve now applied it to product training, in one of our experimental Office Labs releases


    Today Microsoft Office Labs released Ribbon Hero, a free prototype app that works with Office 2007 and with Office 2010 beta. The new prototype is designed to test the effectiveness, feasibility and appeal of delivering Office training in a game-like setting.  The heart of Ribbon Hero is a set of challenges that users play right in the Office applications. These challenges expose users to features that they might not be aware of and which can help users get their work done faster.

    In addition, Ribbon Hero awards points for using both basic features, such as, Bold and Italic, and for using the features introduced in the challenges.  Ribbon Hero does some analysis of the person’s usage patterns to prioritise the order in which it presents challenges.Endquotes

    image And then to add the competitive element, Ribbon Hero integrates with Facebook so you can share your success (or in my case, failures) with your friends.  Ribbon Hero offers to post an update to your Facebook profile when impressive point levels have been reached.  This feature enables you to compare your success with Ribbon Hero with your friends and compete for bragging rights.

    Ribbon Hero is a free download, and has got to be a big step up from conventional training ideas and manuals. And timely too, as Office 2010 approaches, it’s another useful tool to help with the migration from Office 2003.

    You can read more about it on the Office Labs blog, or watch the short videos to see how it works.

    And finally, to download free Office 2010 beta visit

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Reducing Costs


    Microsoft and Business Insights Group are presenting -

    “A Change in Fortunes”72471594web

    Which is a Cost Reduction seminar at Microsoft’s London offices on 26th January.

    Business Insight Group, also known as Insight4Education is active in the Higher Education sector working with the most innovative institutions implementing the next generation of Student Information Systems and Finance Systems.

    The seminar will be presented by a range of companies and illustrated with real world examples, the event demonstrates how can significant economies can be made through the use of modern technologies and applications.

    This free seminar covers:

    • modern integrated financial and administrative systems
    • the treatment of the whole student lifecycle
    • the benefits and use of the latest technologies

    The event is of particular benefit to IT, financial and administrative personnel.

    Further details and registration can be found at

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Amazing University website built with Microsoft tools (Sharepoint & Silverlight)


    image According to my colleague Michael Kleine in the Netherlands, the University of Florida “web Site of the year” award goes to Hogeschool in the beautiful city of Utrecht.  I’ve just had a quick tour around the website and I’d find it hard to disagree with the University of Florida, it makes excellent use of:

    • Multi Language
    • Mapping
      • You have to do the “go for a walk
      • It even shows where the local bike shop is
    • Student engagement
    • Immersive interaction
    • Community orientation
    • Social networking (flikr, Twitter, YouTube etc..)

    Which altogether helps to create a powerful message about a progressive and exciting university.  There are lots of zones to explore on the site and it makes for a compelling experience. I know there are some great websites for UK universities but this one really lifts the lid on what’s possible.

    See for yourself or have a brief look at the video tour:

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Using Windows 7 DirectAccess to connect staff to your university network securely


    Ever since Windows 7 was launched, I’ve had a steady stream of people asking me if I know of educational establishments who have implemented DirectAccess.

    DirectAccess allows you to setup your staff laptops so that they can always have secure access to your university network wherever they are, but without forcing them to use a VPN connection. There are a number of benefits for universities and staff:

    • Unlike a VPN connection, it only reroutes some network access through your network connection, not all Internet access. Which means it doesn’t slow down or filter normal Internet access at home from the laptop.
    • It is transparent to the user – so they just access a network share or VLE folder as they normally would, just as if they are on campus.
    • It can be used with two-factor security (eg a smartcard) so that it meets Cabinet Office guidance on information security on remote access to sensitive student data
    • It minimises the amount of sensitive data that your staff put on their laptop. This could save you getting into hot water with the Information Commissioner’s Office if a laptop goes missing.
    • You can manage your laptops through policies, even if they are rarely connected to your campus network

    Although I use it myself (and as a user, I’m a big fan of it, because VPN access used to be slow, and I’d avoid VPN’ing as much as possible) I don’t know of any universities that have implemented it fully.

    So I thought that perhaps I should share some resources to help people who are experimenting.

    A short video introduction to DirectAccess

    There’s a 2 minute video demonstration of it which you can download, which shows how very simple it is for the user.

    DirectAccess webcast


    View the TechNet DirectAccess webcast home page

    In this webcast, John Baker from the TechNet team focuses on the DirectAccess feature in the Windows 7 operating system, which provides secure anywhere access on the network. We explore how DirectAccess makes it easier for IT professionals to manage the network infrastructure and how it helps reduces IT costs. We also discuss how DirectAccess works and how to set up and configure DirectAccess in the network infrastructure. The session includes demonstrations on how to setup and configure DirectAccess on Windows 7-based clients and the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system.

    Networking Enhancements Whitepaper

    There’s a whitepaper, called (takes deep breath) “Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Networking Enhancements for Enterprises” which takes a detailed look at new networking technologies in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, with particular emphasis on enhancements to improve connectivity for a mobile workforce. New features and enhancments including DirectAccess, BranchCache, VPN Reconnect, mobile broadband device support, URL-based QoS, DNSSEC, and support for green computing.

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

    Infrastructure and Planning Guide for DirectAccess

    The TechNet site has a growing series of Infrastructure Planning and Design Guides for all kinds of areas – virtualisation, Windows Server 2008, SQL Server, Online Services and the Optimised Desktop. The one that’s relevant is the IPD Guide for DirectAccess in Windows 7.

    Want more on DirectAccess?

    Head to the TechNet DirectAccess page, for a big bundle of further documents and information that will help.

    And if you’ve implemented it in your university, then drop me a line or add a comment, to share your story.

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