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June, 2012 - Microsoft UK Schools blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The UK Schools Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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June, 2012

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Building School Networks for the Future – Deployment of the Remote Desktop


    *Updated post from last week  - content added

    This is the fourth instalment from the Building Networks for the Future series, written with Stuart Wilkie from Marine Academy Plymouth. Stuart takes us through use of a technology which has been used in industry for years, and is now making an impact in the Education Sector.

    In the earlier parts of this blog series we covered how the upgrade of "traditional” ICT suite machines, and how virtualisation has the power to improve your server system. We also touched on how you can also virtualise applications using the App-V framework, to add further flexibility to your desktop deployment.

    Thinking right back to the first article, where we were planning what to do - the decision was made to deploy new laptops (kindly provided by Stone), to negate the need for classroom “teacher computers”. This gave us a good quantity of legacy equipment. The problem was that now, although we had some “good specification” legacy, it was still legacy - and the last thing we wanted was to have a split Windows XP/Windows 7 estate. After all, XP is coming to the end of its supported life.

    “Consistency was one of the big changes I wanted to make – to unify the experience users had, no matter where on the system they were. We wanted the same look and feel, with the same program set, and settings that followed you”.


    The answer came from discussions though the TechNet Membership held by the Academy, and earlier “Beta” work that had been done. Because of these links with Microsoft, a test program for a new product called Windows Thin PC was suggested. This was previously known as Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs, when it was essentially a cut down version of Windows XP. The new version was based on Windows 7, ideal as it maintained the same look and feel and also contained all the same core features. These included, crucially; support for domain joining and group policy. However, "Thin PC" is a cut down system, and limited in its capabilities - so you can’t use it as a true standalone operating system. Instead, it is designed to “connect” to something else, such as Citrix or Terminal Services.

    Terminal Services, now called “Remote Desktop Services” (RDS) is not new technology. In fact, neither is Thin Client! Use of both of these in schools for anything other than Server Administration by techies is, however. RDS has been a part of the Windows Server system since the NT days, when it was an extra install. Now, it is just a “role” that you can choose which has been the case since 2003. The Server 2008 R2 version though, adds a whole raft of extra functionality, and changes the playing field in terms of deployment and scalability.


    RDS is designed to be split into its component parts, and spread across a number of servers. Teamed with the virtualisation power of Hyper-V (see earlier article) you have something truly scalable. You split the hosting (where all the programs run), from the web accessibility (yes, you can do that too, but more on that later) and the “brokering” (who connects where). Licensing is also handled as a separate role. A typical implementation often looks as shown. Leveraging Hyper-V for hosting the Remote Desktop Session Hosts (well in fact, pretty much all of the system) has two significant benefits. One of these is the snapshotting - a feature built into Hyper-V. This can be used as an obvious backup route. The second is the way you can let Hyper-V manage the memory usage. Dynamic Memory Allocation is a killer feature, allowing the hosted OS to “claim” more RAM as it needs it, and release it when it doesn’t. This is ideal for a varying workload such as RDS.

    Now we’ve done a quick overview, lets deep dive into some of the setup. The basic Windows Thin PC and Session Host bit is obvious from earlier posts. You can just let SCCM (System Centre Configuration Manager) deal with that. It will do the OS install, and drop our basic application set on as well. Even the App-V “bubble” installations work on Remote Desktop Servers. There is a special App-V installation pack on the Microsoft Download Centre. When it comes to the power of App-V, this is even more attractive when combined with RDS. You are separating the application from the OS (which is 64 bit don't forget), so compatibility and stability is much improved - handy with frequently troublesome education applications!

    What next? Well, it is time to sort out your “Broker” service. The broker deals with the “which user session connects to which server” issue – when you have more than one Session Host. You are using more than one Session Host server aren’t you? If not – it is well worth running at least two Session Host servers, even on the smallest of deployments. This means you can perform maintenance on one – while your users carry on using the other. Rather than repeat a how to guide on setting this up – here are a few great resources for this process…

    You may be thinking why do I need to worry about setting up a Web Access server? Well, the joy of Web Access is in its title! Just think of what a VLE is supposed to be – the ability for students (and staff) to collaborate and work from anywhere, at any time. Nothing speaks true anywhere, anytime like being able to logon and get the same desktop and application set – from any internet connected computer.

    Assuming you have followed the above guides, you will now have a fully functional RDS Farm. There are some “gotchas” here though. Make sure that you have chosen a Farm Name – something like RDS-FARM – which is used for all client access, and that you have set up DNS round-robining and the broker to use this name. The second is certificates. Certificates can be a bit of a pain if you are not careful. By default, when you set up a Session Host server, the connection certificate uses the Server name. Now, because you are using a broker and a single farm name – your actual connection could go to any of the other servers from the farm name (which isn’t an actual server). This will cause a certificate warning to show on the client, which is a bit ugly. To fix this, you will need to set up a local certificate authority (CA) on your domain. This is really easy to do though – and here are two great guides to get you going…

    Then, once you have done this, a little bit of tweaking is needed to get your new CA to dish out a certificate for each of your Session Host servers. The process is nicely covered in these articles, although you will find plenty more around the internet too.

    Following these will save you a whole world of pain with user adoption. This is particularly relevant when dealing with RDS from Windows Thin PC or Windows 7. Of course – one of the key benefits of Windows Thin PC was the domain joining ability. With this – we could then configure Single Sign On for the machines and Remote Desktop. What does this mean in plain English? When the user goes to the Thin Client, it looks exactly like a normal logon screen, and it is! They enter their username and password, and then the system will automatically login to the Remote Desktop using the same details – without needing to prompt them to enter them again.

    To complete this even further, how about after logging in – the machine automatically runs the Remote Desktop without even showing the other desktop. Well, yes – this is exactly what Stuart has done. Back to the power of System Centre for this one; where part of the build of the machine runs a bit of script. This changes the way the system starts – “replacing the Windows Explorer”. How do you do this? Well, the details can be found here...

    That’s not the end of the story though. What do you do about giving access to printers - for example? Normally, you would assign printers by Room – but of course, the Remote Desktop farm has no way of knowing which room the users are in (well – not unless you do something fancy with the connecting machine name). Well – this is where the changes to Group Policy in R2 can help you out. Here is the link you need -

    This will work nicely for your Windows or Non-Windows machines, as all the processing happens on the Server system. For the desktop machines, since they are Windows based – we can do something even simpler. Like you would normally script the connection of printers at start-up or logon, the same rule would still apply to these machines. Remote Desktop options in Group Policy will allow you to control whether locally connected devices and printers will be transferred and made available in the Session. Perfect! This is also explained in the same article.

    Of course – these same settings will allow your users connecting from anywhere to access their USB sticks and home printers through your Remote Desktop session too. Before the security conscious jump in – you do of course have control over this (for example what can be run) because all your usual Group Policies also apply in the connected session.

    So – let’s get back to the new feature – Remote App. What is it? Well… think about wanting to just be able to quickly run one single application from a Remote Desktop Session. You want to do this, without getting the full desktop of the Remote Session – ie, for it to look as if the program is running directly on your computer. Welcome to Remote App!

    And how do you set it up? Well, that is remarkably simple. You need to have already completed all the previous Remote Desktop steps, including Session Host and Broker – and for off-site working, you also need Web Access to be fully functional.

    Then, all the rest of the real work happens on your Session Hosts – and this Microsoft Technet guide tells you all.

    So there you have it – a complete overview, and pointers for how to’s on Remote Desktop in both the traditional desktop user experience sense, and the new-fangled single application sense.

    If you have not yet read any of the previous posts from Stuart or would just like a recap, here they are -

    Building School Networks for the Future - System Centre and Hyper-V

    Building School Networks for the Future – Server Infrastructure ‘’System for the Future’’

    Building School Networks for the Future – Deployment of Microsoft Windows 7

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    A fast way to freshen your lessons with Bing


    Today’s students are raised on multimedia. They absorb information fast when it is visually presented. Bing helps teachers search for engaging content that can improve student learning.


    The best comes first
    Bing presents the richest, most useful result to your search query, front and centre. Bing summarises the site and offers time-saving links that let you jump directly to relevant content such as a colourful slideshow of the country.

    Look before you click
    Let Bing lead you to compelling content and keep clicks to a minimum. Simply hover your cursor on an interesting search result, and Bing gives you a Quick View and helpful summary of the site. So you can judge its quality before you click.

    Improve your lessons
    Can your lesson use a lift? Bing can help infuse any subject with new energy. Use Bing to help find compelling content that can improve student learning - and make it fun.


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    A day in the life of a student


    Following on from our day in the life of a teacher post last week, here’s a nice infographic showing the student experience of working with Microsoft Office 365 versus using Google apps.

    Whether you are a school’s IT leader, an educator, a parent, or someone who values learning, you know students and care about their success. Successful students are excited about learning, are well-organized and make good use of their time.

    With Office 365 for education, this secondary school student works anywhere. He prints an assignment at home without worrying about formatting issues, and reviews a presentation without Web access on his way to school. At school he jumps right into learning, taking notes in all of his classes and organizing them in a digital notebook. He welcomes group projects, because the entire group is excited in using the latest tools, sharing information from their Office 365 desktops, brainstorming with an online whiteboard, and keeping a strong pace in video call discussions.

    Working with Google Apps is frustrating and limiting. The student can’t review his latest work without Web access. Working with Google Apps, he captures notes in separate documents and cannot tag or search among them to find critical facts he needs for his term paper. He doesn’t have today’s capabilities to work seamlessly in group projects with online whiteboards and video calling.

    Learn which tools you would want your favorite, hard-working student to use. See what this student’s experience is like using Office 365 versus using Google Apps.


    Originally posted on Why Microsoft.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Sunday Papers Edition–24th June


    A round-up of this weeks posts!

    Have a great Sunday!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Photosynth for Windows Phone

    Last year we wrote a case study about how Wootton Bassett School in Wiltshire ran an exhibition of students’ work in their Design, Art and Technology Show, and had used Microsoft Photosynth and the free Image Composite Editor to create a virtual exhibition of students’ work on the web.
    We're pleased to announce that Photosynth, the acclaimed mobile panorama app, is now available on Windows Phone. Get Photosynth for free from the Windows Phone Marketplace for phones running Windows Phone 7.5 or higher*.

    Screenshot from a panorama captured via Photosynth on Windows Phone of a high camp on Mt Baker, WA. See the full pano here.

    Sometimes a single photo - even a wide angle photo - doesn't do a place justice. Whether it's the view off a cliff, or inside an incredible cathedral, we've all been to places that cry out for a full 360 panorama. Photosynth is the only mobile app that can stitch a full sphere. That's 360 degrees horizontally and vertically.

    The Photosynth app for Windows Phone feels like magic. Start it up, move the camera around, and watch your panorama fill in. Make a 360 revolution and watch it join up. Capture the floor and ceiling too. When you're done the shots are automatically stitched together, and the results are beautiful and immersive.




    Next, you can publish your panorama to the Photosynth site and onwards to Bing, or you can share it via Facebook and Twitter.

    Publish to Bing Maps

    Share on Twitter

    Share on Facebook

    Photosynth has always been a collaboration between research and engineering, and this app continues the tradition by including core stitching and blending algorithms developed by Microsoft Research, and available on the desktop in the form of the Microsoft Research Image Composite Editor.

    If you have a Windows Phone running WP 7.5*, go to the Windows Phone Marketplace and install it now!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Inspiration for student developers –Harry Potter site built on Windows Azure platform


    Pottermore, the official Harry Potter website, was recently launched and attracted billions of page views in its first two weeks. The site is built on Windows Azure, an open cloud platform that lets users quickly build, deploy, and manage applications across a global network of Microsoft-managed data centers.

    Harry Potter is one of the largest entertainment phenomenas of all time, so fans of all ages couldn't wait to experience the world-famous stories and social and interactive experiences that the site offered. Eagerly awaiting the launch of Pottermore, the website based on the popular Harry Potter stories, Brittany Talbot and her sister, Priscilla, raced to sign up when the site went live. "I like being able to go up there and do potions and spells and walk around where Harry was," Talbot said. "I read the first book in the first week because I was so excited."


    The Pottermore website demonstrates the powerful platform that Windows Azure offers for even the most challenging development projects. The site currently features activities and text based on the storyline of the first "Harry Potter" novel, additional material from Rowling, and highly interactive elements such as the ability to make comments, earn house points, learn spells, mix potions, and duel with other fans.

    A factor in favour of Windows Azure, is that it provided a platform as a service (PaaS), which means that Pottermore could simply move its application onto the Windows Azure platform without the burden of managing and maintaining virtual machines. Windows Azure provided a cloud-based testing environment that enabled Pottermore to test whether the site could scale up to meet massive demand. "Elasticity was critical," said Julian Thomas, chief technology officer at Pottermore. "We knew there were between 2 million and 20 million Harry Potter fans who were waiting to get on the site, and we had to be ready."

    Working hand-in-hand with Microsoft, Pottermore had its new site up and running in just three months. On April 14, Pottermore launched the new site with just a single tweet @pottermore "we're opening to everyone."

    "Literally within minutes, the traffic started to flood in," Thomas said. "The demand was just enormous, but the site continued to work properly, running on Windows Azure."

    Visual Studio Achievements for student Windows Azure developers

    There are many talented students working with Windows Azure, and we hope the Pottermore website will provide further inspiration for developers.  As additional motivation for students and to bring some game to their code, Microsoft has released Visual Studio Achievements. The achievements of students talents and learning are recognised as they perform various coding feats. This unlocks achievements and earn badges which can be shared and displayed on social network profiles and web sites.

    We recently announced an update to Visual Studio Achievements, adding 15 new achievements, all focused on Windows Azure development. The Visual Studio Achievements Extension includes fifteen new achievements, all focused on exercising features of Windows Azure. Using the extension, various achievements are unlocked based on your activity. When you unlock an achievement, Visual Studio lets you know visually with a pop-up. In addition, your Channel 9 profile is updated with any achievements you earn. So, head over to Channel9, sign up for an account and download the plugin.


    There are 15 Azure achievements, such as publishing to Windows Azure from Visual Studio (Heading into the Cloud), using page blobs (Attack of the Blob), using SQL Azure (Database Darling) and configuring start up tasks (It’s My Party). Two of the achievements – Phone in the Cloud and Game in the Cloud – require use of Windows Azure toolkits.


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    A Day in the Life: Teacher


    My favourite secondary school teacher helped me look forward to each class. I wish she had Office 365 tools to help her. Teachers using Office 365 are empowered, productive anywhere, and use the latest tools. Using Office 365, teachers can develop lesson plans offline to post on a class website. They can create and share a digital notebook to pass onto their students as a study guide, and they can record lessons in class or elsewhere. -- None of these capabilities are available or supported with Google Apps for education. Next, teachers share recorded lessons on their class site and also with other educators, reaching and inspiring more students in new ways.

    Competition for jobs among young people is particularly strong, yet teachers using Office 365 foster skills that students will use in the workplace, such as using Word and Excel, and collaborating on group projects with the latest messaging tools.

    With Microsoft Office 365 for education teachers spend more time doing what they care about most – teaching, because Microsoft’s reliable tools help educators work together, prepare for class, and support students’ learning.

    See what a teacher’s experience is like using Office 365 versus using Google Apps.

    A day in the life of a teacher using Office 365 versus using Google Apps.

    Download the infographic.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    System Centre Configuration Manager 2012 free eBooks


    If you’d like some step by step guidance on how to set up System Centre Configuration Manager 2012, you need look no further than this helpful eBook by Neil Hodgkinson.

    Neil is a Network Administrator at Twynham School has been hard at work over the last few months writing the eBook. It is now available at no cost on his blog Technodge.

    Technodge eBooks

    On Neil’s blog you will also find the start of his next series of eBooks, which is around the subject of application virtualisation using Microsoft App-V5.

    You can download the eBooks at


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The top 3 reasons to use Bing in your school


    Bing is more than a search engine. It’s a decision engine that helps teachers and students find what they need fast in a visual and organised way. Bing can save time by making lesson preparation easier. Dynamic features such as Related Searches and Microsoft® Photosynth® technology can increase student engagement in fun and immersive ways.


    1. Immediately engage
    Start your class with the Bing home page. The fascinating Photo of the Day, together with its clickable fun facts, fuels your students’ sense of exploration. Questions spring to mind because the subject of the photo is fresh, visual, and spontaneous. More than simply learning facts, your students are learning to think and discuss.

    2. More organised
    Search engines can overwhelm you with hundreds of Web links. Bing organises results by categories; much like a bookstore sorts its aisles and shelves. Bing also offers Related Search results to help teachers and students trigger a slightly new path to find the right content.

    3. Less clicks, more success
    With Bing Preview, you can hover over a search result and reveal a useful, descriptive summary of that website. This preview can save you time clicking back and forth and searching link after link.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Exciting times ahead with the announcement of Microsoft Surface


    Midnight last night, the announcement made by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in LA that Microsoft are releasing our very own devises for Windows 8, the amazing looking Surface – a new family of computing devices.

    Surface with Windows 8 will offer some exciting opportunities for education, and already there is a real buzz around the office, as everyone wants to get there hands on one!

    At the moment, we don’t have a release date for the two models in the Surface family, Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro however, you can keep up to date with the information here or download the Windows Release Preview.


    And along with Windows 8, comes the following:-

    • It will bring schools a no-compromise tablet, that allows both great app experiences and full productivity – play Angry Birds on the Sofa, then run a SIMS report
    • It will be managed on school networks just like your current Windows 7 PCs are, and all your Windows 7 software will work on Windows 8
    • Schools with a Microsoft EES licensing subscription will be covered for the upgrade when it is released
    • The Microsoft OEM community such as Samsung, Dell, Toshiba, Sony, RM, Viglen etc, will all have exciting new Windows 8 devices on the market soon
    • Microsoft have just announced an exciting new PC platform which has been designed and manufactured by Microsoft – which is huge news for us, and, we hope, for you too…


    And if you are anything like me, you too will love the launch video!

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