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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!)

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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!