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News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Freebies of The Official Magazine Windows


    imageDo you read the Windows magazine? It probably shows up on the shelves of your local WH Smith, and larger newsagents. I’ve managed to lay my hands on some spare copies of this month’s magazine, so if you’d like to grab one of them, then just drop me an email with your postal address, and I’ll stick one in the mail. Sorry, they've all gone! (And this month’s edition includes a DVD with our free anti-virus solution for home use - Microsoft Security Essentials. Fortunately you can download it free - see this info).

    So for now, you'll have to make do with the Official Windows Magazine website

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    It makes sense to review the way you buy software – it might save money


    hI’ve blogged about software licensing before, and have hopefully managed to explain the various options and the cost saving possibilities – especially in number 12 of my Top ICT Money Saving Tipsh and in “Get the best deal on Microsoft software”. So, having done that ‘top-down’ stuff – explaining licensing from the MS point of view - I thought it might be an idea to reinforce it from the other direction.

    To make sure that I didn’t confuse the story with too much inside knowledge, I asked Gerald Haigh to take another look from a school’s perspective. Gerald was an ideal choice as he looks at ICT from a school leadership perspective – he writes for TES, NCSL and The Guardian, as well as writing books on school leadership. So here’s Gerald’s story, passing on some thoughts from conversations with two people – Richard Gibbons from one of our Authorised Education Resellers (AERs), Bechtle and Nyall Monkton, who’s ICT Manager at Dean Close School in Cheltenham.

    Richard, who’s a mine of information about licensing, reminds us that the fundamental choice for school ICT managers is whether to buy Microsoft software licences outright with money up-front – ‘perpetual licences’ – or to pay an annual subscription instead. The most common outright purchase scheme for schools is Academic Select, and the subscription scheme is the Schools Agreement. Richard says that schools aren’t always clear about the choice, because software is most often sold as a perpetual licence without schools realising there’s a choice. Schools Agreement can be, in his words, “a well-kept secret”.

    That’s a pity, he says, because although he’s careful to not to be dogmatic, it’s pretty clear he believes that most schools he deals with are better off with Schools Agreement. It comes with Software Assurance included, for one thing, which means they’re entitled to upgrade to whatever is the latest version of the software. In today’s fast-changing world, says Richard that’s significant.

    “Network managers will ask me before they buy if there’s a new version of some software coming. They’ll postpone a purchase just on the strength of a ‘maybe’. But with Schools Agreement they can buy what they want now, safe in the knowledge that they can upgrade.”

    There are other benefits, too. Schools Agreement means you get the Enterprise version of the software, with all that means in terms of extra features, says Richard,

    “The one that’s key for schools, with new and stronger legislation on data protection, is BitLocker Drive Encryption in Windows 7.”

    (The array of extra benefits available with different licensing arrangements is helpfully set out currently in a post on Richard’s blog)

    Then, for many schools, removing the big up-front payment for the licences will make all the difference to their ability to provide staff and students with the latest software. That was very much the case for Nyall Monkton, ICT Manager at Dean Close School in Cheltenham, one of Richard’s customers. Nyall, arriving at the school in May 2008, wanted to move quickly to give his students up-to-date ICT, and he wasn’t happy with the forest of perpetual licences that he had to manage. (He has a thick wad of them to show to visitors who ask him why he made the change)

    “I came from a business environment and I was used to corporate subscription licensing. Richard explained there was something similar for schools.”

    Moving to Schools Agreement, with a much reduced initial cost enabled Nyall, with Bechtle’s support, to roll out Windows 7 quickly (he was one of the earliest adopters in Summer 2009), as well as opening up a number of other possibilities, including giving all of his students a school email address with the aid of Microsoft Exchange.

    “It gives them a much more business-like image when they’re contacting universities for example.” (As he points out, with a particularly lurid example, sixth formers’ personal email addresses don’t always promote a scholarly image.)

    Really, though, for Nyall, the bottom line is that the Schools Agreement is just a lot more businesslike, akin to what he was used to in the commercial world. He’s freed from the task of keeping tabs on his pile of separate licences, and there’s a real sense of control.

    “It fits the way I manage my budget. I know what I’m going to spend across everything – PCs, servers, printers. Year on year my budget remains almost the same. But if you buy licences outright you have less control over costs – one year they’re fantastically high, and then three years where they’re low.”

    The consistent annual payment makes it much easier to work with school governors and finance committees, who understandably don’t like to find big spikes in expenditure at what to them can look like random intervals.

    All that said, why aren’t more schools using Schools Agreement? Richard Gibbons says, “It’s a mindset thing. People like to feel they own something. But really they should show due diligence and study the alternatives.”

    And that fits, in a way, with Nyall’s contention that there’s a need for network managers to be more aware of strategy and planning.

    “I came from business and I had that instilled into me. That’s often lacking.”

    So how do you feel about that? Should network managers be more business-minded? Or do they have quite enough to do already, just managing their networks? Is the answer for school business managers to be more aware of the issues around budgeting for ICT, and the choices between perpetual and subscription licences? Gerald told me about a call he made when researching this piece. He left a voicemail for a school business manager, hoping to talk to her about the school’s software licensing policy. When the call came back, it was from the network manager. Presumably the business manager felt that was the kind of thing that had nothing to do with her. Despite it being a big annual outlay for the school. Food for thought there maybe?

    There are a number of different options for perpetual and subscription licences, and the main ones for schools are:

    You can find out about all of these by starting on our main UK Education website, in the Licensing section

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Don’t forget – enter the Innovid competition and win 20 netbooks!


    MP900400665 We know how busy things are for teachers this time of year, and if you’re anything like me the sunny weather is a further distraction. So I wanted to remind you that the deadline for the Partners in Learning Innovid video competition is fast approaching – but there’s still time to remind a teacher or two in your school about it.

    Don’t forget to get your entry in to the Partners in Learning Network before 17:00 on the 29th of March (this month!). All the details you need for the competition can be found in this blog or on the Partners in Learning Network. In addition, Stuart and Kristen have posted a list of frequently asked questions about the competition in this blog, and have updated it in the contest community on the Partners in Learning Network.

    For those of you who are planning on entering, please make sure to complete a contest entry form and submit that along with your video.

    To further entice you, let me remind you that the prize is 20 Netbooks. And Kristen & Stuart have selected the netbooks that will be awarded to the winning teacher’s school – which are 20 N105 Netbooks from Stone. These netbooks come installed with Microsoft Windows 7 and will come with a 3-year warranty from Stone and a protective carrying case. N105_FLS_Win7

    For the full specs on the Stone netbook, go to their web site.

    If you have any questions on the competition, see the Partners in Learning Network. I know that Kristen’s looking forward to seeing your Innovids on the 29th – Good luck!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The NAACE Annual Conference


    For the last three days I’ve been at the NAACE Conference in Blackpool, with over 300 others. NAACE is the “professional association for those who are concerned with advancing education through the appropriate use of information and communications technology (ICT)” – which means that the conference attendees are a mix of local authority IT advisers, private consultants, school leaders, people from government agencies, and also commercial companies.

    You can find out a little more about the conference, and see some of the content, on the conference website.

    Along with Nick Singh, our Schools Business Manager for the north of England, we ran a Microsoft breakout session on Tuesday evening, where we mixed together a story of how people may work in the future, and the technology and learning implications. I  used our ‘Productivity Vision’ video, which looks at the workplace of 2019, and then continued by deconstructing the technology behind the video – to look at what exists now – either in research labs or in real life - and how the components might build to get to the vision described for the future.

    Unfortunately, I can’t share the whole presentation (I used a multimedia, interactive piece of software to present it), but I can share the short video that I used as the introduction, which is the starting point for the story I told.

    Productivity Future Vision

    You can view the video on our Officlabs Envisioning website, and you can also watch a video as Ian Sands, Director of Envisioning, steps through the video scene by scene and describes in greater depth the story behind the people and technology on display.

    Free cloud-based email

    After the story of the future, Nicky briefly talked about our Live@edu service, which is a cloud-based service for school email. It allows you to switch your email services from your own servers to using our servers in our Dublin data centre – but your students keep their email address, and we run the services remotely on our Exchange 2010 servers. And the good news is that we do it at no cost. (As you can imagine this led to a lot of questions and answers after the session. One of the local authorities was good enough to write out their top 10 questions, and next week I’ll post their questions, and the answers). London Grid for Learning switched to using Live@edu last year, alongside a number of local authorities – and recently we have also allowed individual schools to sign up independently. You can find out more about the service on our UK Education website, or for more techie background, read Ben Nunney’s Live@edu blog.

    A big pile of free software

    After the presentation, we had a long discussion about some of the free resources and software downloads available to schools, and I committed to add a list of download links to the blog – so here it is, the list of Ray’s-favourite-fabulous-freebies:

    • pptPlex
      A number of people asked me after my presentation about the interactive tool I’d used for it. And the secret is pptPlex, which is an add-in for PowerPoint 2007. It allows you to build amazingly interactive presentations, and also allows you to move around a storyboard in a completely non-linear way. The public version isn’t quite as fancy as the application I used, but if you want to wow your colleagues/students, then this is a great presentation tool for it. Let me assure you that the learning curve is rewarded massively on the other side!
      Go to the pptPlex site.

          • PhotoStory
            About half the people in the room had used PhotoStory, and whenever I mention it there’s always a buzz generated by people who have used it. It allows you to take a set of photos, set it to music, and then generate highly stylised slideshow with text, animations etc. And the video file it produces is fantastic for display screens or digital photo frames.
            Go to the PhotoStory download page

              • AutoCollage
                AutoCollage is a picture editing tool with a big difference – it works out what to do with your pictures, so that you don’t have to. You point it towards a folder of pictures, and it analyses the contents, using a range of intelligent features, including face detection and saliency filters and uses this to identify interesting parts of pictures. It then uses that analysis to blend your photos and combine them into an AutoCollage.
                Find out where to get AutoCollage free if you’re a teacher/student

                  • Free Movie Maker(s)
                    You’ve now got a choice of movie making software. Windows XP & Vista have the inbuilt Windows Movie Maker. And there’s now Windows Live Movie Maker, which is the one that we’re continuing to develop from now. The first is good for all ages, and works in a traditional way, whereas the latter is very good for primary age children, and especially good at integrating video and photos, and makes it very easy to automatically upload movies to websites, as well as store locally. (If you’ve moved to Windows 7, you’ll have noticed that neither are built in – you need to choose which to download).
                    Take your pick – download Windows Movie Maker (if it’s not pre-installed) or Windows Live Movie Maker

                      • Photosynth
                        You can use Photosynth to turn regular digital photos into a three-dimensional, 360-degree model. And you can then share your synth with others – who can walk in your shoes through the same place. The technology does the hard work – reconstructing the scene or object from your flat photos – by looking for similarities between images, and using it to estimate the shape of the space/object, and work out the original camera position. And the new Bing Maps Beta actually places your Photosynth on the map, so that others can easily find it too.
                        Find out more about Photosynth

                    • Microsoft UK Schools blog

                      One quarter of Home Access Grants now in parents’ hands


                      I’ve been at the NAACE Conference this week (more to come on that later today), and this morning Terry Piggott from Becta talked briefly about the Home Access Programme.

                      Up to yesterday, 77,058 grants for free computers and internet connections had been issued to parents – which is nearly a third of the way towards the total of 270,000.

                      If you’ve not yet sent info out in a newsletter or other way to parents, then take a look at my previous Home Access post for more information.

                      imageRead the previous Home Access summary post on this blog

                    • Microsoft UK Schools blog

                      The EU Browser choice screen and school networks


                      The browser ballot screen has been rolling out for a few weeks now – and will have been appearing on a screen near you already.

                      Here’s some of the detail, from the official blog post:

                      The browser choice screen software update will be offered as an automatic download through Windows Update for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. The software update will be installed automatically, or will prompt you to download or install it, depending on which operating system you are running and your settings for Windows Update. If you do not have automatic updating enabled, you can get the choice screen by going to Windows Update and clicking on “Check for Updates.

                      The browser choice screen, shown below, will present you with a list of leading browsers. In keeping with our agreement with the European Commission, this list is presented in random order. You can also scroll to the right to see additional browsers, which are also presented in random order. The browsers that are listed and the content relating to them will be updated from time to time.


                      What does the Browser Ballot screen mean for schools?

                      Although this is being driven by the need for consumers to have a choice, this does have implications for schools and their networks. If your network uses Windows Server Update Services, then you have control over how this rolls out over your school network. But if you don’t use WSUS, and you’re wondering what levels of control you can have over how it appears in your school, then I’d recommend having a read of The Angry Technician’s blog – he’s gone to great lengths to pull together all of the different information available, and talks you through the steps you can take.

                      Read The Angry Technician’s “The irony of having to block the EU browser choice screen” blog post

                    • Microsoft UK Schools blog

                      Microsoft Further Education Briefing 2010 – London 19th March


                      Does your school have a sixth form? If so, then it’s worth repeating this, in case you may have missed this announcement on our Further Education Blog

                      The booking deadline is approaching for our Further Education Briefing day, which this year falls on 19th March in London. If you haven’t registered yet, then it’s worth taking a look at the agenda, as we’ve built it to make sure that you can get lots of value from the day – whether it is learning about new products that will be covered by an existing Campus Agreement, or it is thinking about the ways that you can use  your ICT strategy to save money across your college.


                      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

                    • Microsoft UK Schools blog

                      Virtually saving money


                      Virtualisation again. Just to remind you if you’re still not up with it, virtualisation is shorthand for replacing your bank of network servers with just a few, more powerful ones, each housing a number of virtual servers. And why has it suddenly become a talking point? Because although the principle’s been around for a while, it’s become both easier and cheaper with the advent of Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V.

                      I’ve already mentioned the Lodge Park College Hyper-V virtualisation project, and also the £90,000 that Wootton Basset school will save with virtualisation – big money saving, and much more efficient. Now I’m hearing about other schools going down the same route. One is our old friend West Hatch School in Essex, one of the Windows 7 early adopters, last Summer Holidays (in fact, the first in Europe to deploy the released version of Windows 7)

                      Leading the West Hatch virtualisation project is Information Systems Manager Alan Richards. Everything Alan’s done since he arrived in May 2008 has been meticulously thought out, and it’s not surprising that before he considered virtualisation, he decided to get the network itself right.


                      We’ve rebuilt the whole network, wired and wireless, from scratch with new fibre-optic and network cabling and a managed wireless solution. The school wants to move forward, but with the network as it was it was never going to happen. It would have been like running a Formula 1 car on a gravel track. You’ve got to have basic infrastructure.

                      Then, that work done over the Summer term 2009, Alan turned his attention to the servers.

                      As at Lodge Park, Alan will reduce the number of servers in the server room, in his case from 24 to 9, five of which will run the Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V virtualised environment (that’s a mouthful!). Each server is more powerful and so more expensive than the ones it replaces, but there are still clear savings by reducing by 15 servers, not only on capital expenditure but on maintenance and electricity – the electricity bill alone should come down by £4,000 a year.

                      Savings are important, but Alan’s also interested in the gains in reliability and efficiency.

                      At the moment if a server has a fault, that service it provides ceases to function for the whole school


                      A virtualised server system, though, has a clever way of dealing with breakdowns. If a virtual server, or even a whole physical server fails, it instantly hands over its work to another part of the system. The rest of the school doesn’t even notice.

                      But to get these benefits, you have to do the installation properly. First, you need to know how many new servers you’ll need, and that’s not straightforward because you want built-in redundancy – and expandability because even in the short term, the demands on a school’s network are always going to increase.

                      “You can’t just pluck the answer out of the air,” says Alan. “You have to sit down and work it out.”

                      Then, you have to work out how the virtual servers are going to be distributed among the new physical servers so none has more than its fair share of work.

                      “ You could take a wild guess, or do a *** packet estimate,” says Alan. But somehow you know he’s not the *** packet type.

                      “I’ve got performance logs running on the network that will give me the definite answers,” he says.

                      At the moment, the new hardware’s arriving, and installation and testing will begin. It’ll take some time – two or three months – but you can put money on it being right, providing a better working environment for staff and students.

                      I’m going to follow Alan’s progress, and I’ve asked him if he’ll share some of his experiences – peaks and troughs – and any advice that will help other schools to learn from his journey.

                      imageYou can read Alan’s posts on the blog that he shares with Alex Pearce

                    • Microsoft UK Schools blog

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                      Do you want updates from this blog to arrive with you, instead of having to remember to visit this website?

                      There are two ways to do this – either have updates delivered by email, or subscribe via your RSS reader.

                      Get updates by email

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                    • Microsoft UK Schools blog

                      Free anti-virus protection for staff and student owned computers


                      I was suprised to discover I hadn’t blogged this before. So if you’ve renewed an anti-virus subscription for your home computer since last October, when this was launched, then I’m sorry!

                      We have launched a free anti-virus programme, Microsoft Security Essentials, which is for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, and comes with lifetime updates. It’s simple to install and very easy to use. And free.

                      The “free” bit is restricted to home users, because we don’t believe that this is the right solution for a school-wide anti-virus. For school, you need a centrally managed anti-virus solution, where you can force settings so that all of your machines are updated automatically all the time, and that your users can’t switch off updates. For school use, there’s Microsoft Forefront, which is a cost-effective managed protection system (free trial here)

                      Here’s the official blurb:

                      Microsoft Security Essentials provides real-time protection for your home PC that guards against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.

                      Microsoft Security Essentials is a free* download from Microsoft that is simple to install, easy to use, and always kept up to date so you can be assured your PC is protected by the latest technology. It’s easy to tell if your PC is secure — when you’re green, you’re good. It’s that simple.

                      Microsoft Security Essentials runs quietly and efficiently in the background so that you are free to use your Windows-based PC the way you want—without interruptions or long computer wait times.

                      You can download Microsoft Security Essentials free from

                      If you’ve got students in your school who are bringing in files on a memory stick, or uploading things to your Learning Platform, then it’s in your interest to help them get protected, to reduce the risk of virus infections on your school computers.

                      Here’s a banner and link that you could put onto your school website or learning platform:

                      And there’s also an image that you could use for your noticeboards in school for staff or students.

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