I was having a chat with Jack Kenny, a journalist, in the middle of last week, and we were talking about the many different ways that your teachers and students can access Office in ‘the cloud’. As I summarised it for him in our conversation, Jack prompted me to write a more detailed summary too – something which I’ve committed to do with this blog post. So here it is – an overview of the different ways that students and teachers might use cloud-based versions of Office - the Office Web Apps.

Overview of Office Web Apps

The suite of Office applications available through Office Web Apps are browser-based, lightweight versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. This means that you can start editing a document in Office 2010 on your laptop or desktop computer, and then view, edit and share the document using the web version. You can read a more detailed overview of the Office Web Apps on the Office website. So it means that your students can edit Office documents at home, without needing the full version of Office on their computers. And it works with a broad range of web-browsers, so they don't even need to be running a Windows computer.

So if your question is "How do I get Office Web Apps?", then there are three answers:

Office Web Apps in SharePoint 2010

The new version of SharePoint released this summer, SharePoint 2010, now includes Office Web Apps as part of the package. Which means that your students and staff can access documents directly in the browser on your SharePoint site - they don't need to load Office to preview a Word document, or to do basic editing etc. This is particularly useful if you wan to upload a worksheet onto your learning platform, and then ask students to work on it collaboratively - they can edit it at the same time, and the SharePoint version of Office Web Apps will manage all of the changes simultaneously.
For a summary of Office Web Apps in SharePoint, take a look at this article. And one of the nice things about the Office 2010 suite you install on your desktop/laptop is that it now has the option to save directly to your SharePoint, making it easier to share documents and upload them onto your Learning Platform (if it's SharePoint-based)

Office Web Apps in Windows Live

If you have a free SkyDrive account (which is part of the Windows Live service), then you can also save documents from Office 2010 directly to your SkyDrive. SkyDrive is a 25GB web-based storage area, based in our datacentres. You can store files there for your own use, or share them with specific other people, or save files that you want anybody to access - it's what I use quite a bit to share documents for this blog. If you haven't tried out SkyDrive, then just sign up for a free account at http://skydrive.live.com - either using your existing Windows Live ID, or by creating a new one.
The benefit of this option is that the data is stored in our cloud-based data centres, not on your school server. That's good for some situations (especially for students to access files from home), but it isn't something you'd use for any school data that's sensitive (ie don't go putting your exam performance analysis spreadsheets up there!). Once your files are there - whether that's done by uploading them, or by saving them directly to your SkyDrive from Office 2010, you can then use the Office Web Apps to view, edit, print them etc.
There are step-by-step instructions to getting started with Office Web Apps in WIndows Live here.

Office Web Apps in Live@edu

In many ways, this option is similar to the Windows Live service above, in that your students and staff will have a Windows Live login to get to their free email inbox, SkyDrive and Office Web Apps. However, it fits more effectively into your school IT infrastructure, as you manage all of your Live@edu user accounts (normally via your own Active Directory). This means that when you add new student on your server, it automatically creates their email account (on your own .sch.uk domain) and their account that can be used for SkyDrive, Office Web Apps etc. You can either read a brief overview of Live@edu, or for a deeper view of the technology and roadmap, take a look at the Live@edu blog

In a nutshell, what are the differences between the three options?

  • With Office Web Apps in SharePoint, you need SharePoint 2010 in school (or from your Learning Platform provider) and all of the data is stored within your SharePoint.
  • With Office Web Apps in Windows Live, any person can sign up for a free account, and the data is stored in our datacentre - it's basically a consumer-centric service
  • With Office Web Apps in Live@edu, you manage all of the accounts for your school, allocating .sch.uk email addresses, but the data is stored in our datacentre.

Read the Getting Started with Office Web Apps article to continue the journey...