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The FE Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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January, 2008

  • FE blog

    Ultimate Steal Update - PayPal

    • 15 Comments
    ShoppingTrolley

    There are some new changes to the the Ultimate Steal website (Office 2007 Ultimate for students with an .ac.uk email address, for £38.95, only available online). One of the most significant is that we now accept PayPal (and since we switched that on, it appears to be a popular method).

    When students buy their new laptops, it appears they normally do it with Dad's credit card (in what one parent described to me as "the last big present" - they wish!). Once they're spending their own money, it appears that PayPal is more popular.

    Another reason to tell your students about the Ultimate Steal

  • FE blog

    Collaboration - do we need fresh ideas?

    • 4 Comments

    MicroSpeak1At today's College Principals' Meeting, I came across a new word "ideation" - which a colleague used on one of his slides. I'm not sure if it's a 'real' world, or one that sounded good when it went on a slide. It reminded me of my first few months when I joined Microsoft - there were all kinds of acronyms and new words that I had never come across before.

    Some it makes perfect sense - when you're trying to describe a complex international business like Microsoft, in a fast moving market like IT, then it is inevitable that you'll end up using acronyms quite a bit, if only to shorten sentences and save breath. But take it one step further - put Microsoft, IT, international AND education into the mix, and you've got a world where whole conversations can be made up entirely of acronyms. And become completely unintelligible to anybody walking past the door of the room!

    Which inspired me to another cartoon - perhaps the first of many, many, many that I could do on the same thing.


    Anyway, enough about the language barrier.

    How did "ideation" get into a discussion?

    IdeationIt came up on this slide - which was in the middle of a discussion about how collaboration takes place, and where ICT supports it. Nick Umney's story was about the fact that 'knowledge workers' (there's another one of those Micro-Speak phrases) tend to spend all of their time in the upper quadrants - living in the world of ideas, discussions and acquiring information. And IT people spend their lives the lower quadrants - the processes of documenting and publishing, and the process of driving processes.

    Which led to the point that sometimes it is difficult for the IT people to see eye to eye with some of the others within a college, because they tend to be trying to pin down the detail, whereas others may want to be more 'creative' with their thinking


    Imagine the downhill spiral the user specification meeting would take if an IT project team had been asked to create a Wiki:

    IT Team: "What do you want it to do?"

    User: "Publish information to people"

    IT Team: "What information do you want to publish and to whom?"

    User: "Anything, to anybody"

    That's the kind of challenge we're facing today with some of the collaborative technologies available. They could allow all kinds of flexible collaboration, and the boundaries aren't well defined, in fact in many cases we're only scratching the surface of what they can do. Which makes it difficult to get users engaged within the college to use them across the organisation - because each person or team may want to use them in different ways.

    What we need are some good role models - some excellent practice which can be held up for others to share, across or between institutions.

  • FE blog

    Microsoft's CRM system launch

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    Dynamics CRM Launch

    I've noticed how the use of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems have been growing rapidly in education. I have traditionally thought about "students" rather than "customers", but the changes that have happened in the FE sector over the last few years, and an increasing focus on business customers (through things like 'Train to Gain'), have meant that sophisticated customer management techniques are vital to support the continuing development of your business. And after all, building a relationship with an existing customer is a lot less expensive than finding new ones every year.

    The Microsoft Dynamics CRM system version 4, is being launched on 31st January, at our main offices in Reading, with a follow up launch at The Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh on 26th February. The event will give you a chance to see how the CRM system is developing, and an opportunity to hear a customer talking about how it is being used within their business. (I notice the General Manager for Dynamics CRM worldwide will be there, so a chance to ask some deep questions about our strategy too!).

    Use these links to find out more about the event, and register to attend, in London on 31st January or Edinburgh on 26th February.

    A customer case study within education

    You may also be interested in reading about how one of our customers is using Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The case study is just over a year old, and examines the issues that the DfES wanted to tackle when they implemented a pilot CRM system in their Corporate Services and Development Directorate. You can read more about it on our worldwide Case Studies website.

  • FE blog

    Independent Study Advises IT Planners to go OpenXML

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    Firstly, what is OpenXML? Well, it's the underlying document format in Office 2007. Market researchers with the Burton Group have issued a 37-page study– not commissioned by Microsoft or any other tech vendor — that finds Microsoft’s OOXML document format to be more useful than the rival ODF format backed by Microsoft’s competitors.

    After comparing the respective merits of OOXML and ODF, Burton made its recommendations for IT managers:

    “Any organization directly or indirectly (e.g., exchanging files with business partners) using Microsoft Office applications should plan to exploit OOXML. In addition to being the default file format in Office 2007, OOXML offers significant compression and security advantages relative to earlier, binary Microsoft Office file formats.

    “Although moving to OOXML file formats involves some administrative challenges, the opportunities for improved content management and productivity outweigh the short-term inconvenience of migrating from binary file formats.”

    The full article can be found at: http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=1107

  • FE blog

    Heroes Happen Here - Windows Server 2008

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    We've been talking about it for quite some time - and the beta and trial versions of the new 2008 products have been floating around on the web. The official launch event for all of the products - Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008 - is happening on March 19th, and will be followed by a series of technical roadshows around the country.

    In WIndows Server 2008 there are new web tools, virtualisation technologies, security enhancements and management utilities to help save time, reduce costs and provide a solid foundation for your IT infrastructure. If you'd like to find out more - or download a trial of the products - to help with your ICT planning going forward, then click across to our Heroes Happen Here website, which has all of the latest information, downloads and links to more detailed product information.

  • FE blog

    Preview - Mac Office 2008

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    Around a year ago, Microsoft issued a press release announcing its intent to deliver Office 2008 for Mac.  Well, it seems that we're now even closer and there is a preview article on Computerworld with quotations from the Microsoft Mac Business Unit here.

    For a more detailed overview of what's under the bonnet on Mac Office 2008 then please visit this site.  It has some great graphics of the new release plus access to the Mactopia newsletter.

    The official release for Mac Office 2008 will be/was at Macworld where you can join in if you're lucky enough to be over there.

    I know of one university that has been on the beta for Mac Office 2008 and is ready to start installing the final release once they're able to get hold of it.  IMHO one of the main features of this new release is that it is all about re-connecting users with the power of Office.  As well as this, there are some significant updates to the components in the suite which should impress.

    I'm not a Mac user but I look forward to having a tour of Mac Office 2008 with friends that are, and I'm sure they'll give me their opinion of the new version.

  • FE blog

    IE7 update coming your way - automatically...

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    This isn't specific to education, and I'm sure that if you need to know things like this, you'll automatically be registered to our update and security blogs, but for the network managers out there, here's a quick note:

    Windows Update will automatically deploy Internet Explorer 7 next month, if you are using Windows Server Update Services (WSUS). If you don't want it to, then read more here.

    If you're not a network manager, or you are using Windows Vista, or you don't know what WSUS is, then ignore this - it isn't going to affect you...

    Although this is the kind of generic technical stuff I try to leave off this blog, because I'd rather be talking about education, I am aware that sometimes holidays\play havoc with your information timescales. This update will come out in half-term for most schools, and I know that's when a lot of staff in education take holidays, so you may need to get things sorted before then.

  • FE blog

    Executive Briefing - Performance Management

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    Government Header

    My colleague in the Government team, Ian McKenzie, runs a series of Executive Briefings in conjunction with Microsoft partners. Each briefing covers a specific hot topic within central and local government, and looks at how particular government departments have applied Microsoft's products and services as part of their answer.

    Executive Briefing: A New Era for Performance Management in the Public Sector

    Thursday January 31st, 2008 – London Microsoft & IMGROUP

    Next week, Ian's running an Executive Briefing on Performance Management in London, and I thought it would be of interest to some colleges and universities. The issues faced in education are often similar - forecasting, planning, budgeting, financial consolidation and performance analysis - however the methodology for cracking these problems can be different when compared to other parts of the public sector. When I looked at the agenda for this briefing, I thought that there would be some value for you in hearing how  central government tackled it - in this case, Nick Manton from the Home Office.

    If you are interested in finding out more about the event, on Thursday 31st January, then find out more details here.

  • FE blog

    Is your data at risk?

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    2008 hasn't really started any better than 2007 finished - a laptop is stolen from the boot of a car, containing 600,000 personal data records - heaping data disaster upon data disaster. Reality says that laptops will be stolen, even when we think they are secure. I've had a laptop stolen from a hotel room, as have many friends and colleagues, and I know of friends and colleagues who've had laptops stolen from cars, or worse*

    While it's wise to do everything to avoid theft (I always use a Kensington lock on my laptop in hotels now), the other important step is to minimise the impact of the loss. According to the BBC news report "Teachers put pupil data at risk", which was prompted by research by RM, teachers in nearly half of England's primary schools back up pupil data on CDs and memory sticks, which they then take out of school. The survey of 933 schools found only 1% of respondents were encrypting the data. And I'm pretty sure that you'll have the same - is there a member of the management team in your college who takes home a complete copy of your student database each night on their laptop?

    So what can you do to avoid becoming the next headline?

    The information that I wrote last October on data security is still accurate today, and contains an action plan, but here's a very quick reminder of two ends of the scale:

    • It should be absolutely non-negotiable that anybody using a laptop for work (and which probably have some personal data on it) should always have to type in a password at logon. Do all of your college laptops conform? Do all laptops used by staff in college conform, even if they are not college owned? Has anybody 'tweaked' the system to avoid having to type their password in every time. I know it's a pain (I will admit that I used TweakUI to automatically log on to my home PC, but changed that a couple of years ago when I realised what would happen if my computer was stolen) but it's an important basic step.
    • At the other end of the scale, if you have staff taking home personal data which it would embarrass you to lose, then use encryption of one kind of another.

      imageIf it's a spreadsheet or document file, encrypt the file. (Under the "Prepare - Document for Distribution" menu in Office 2007") 

      If it's a complex database, or series of data files, then you should consider encrypting the whole file storage system, stopping people from easily accessing the data. Windows Vista Enterprise Edition (which is the version you normally licence in education) has BitLocker built in, which allows you to ensure that all files are encrypted (without it becoming a hassle for your users - see Russell's video).

    This is potentially quite a boring subject (and can be quite dry, as I discovered researching this), but the alternative to doing nothing is that you go through quite an 'exciting' time, like HMRC.

    We've been through it ourselves - to read our Trustworthy Computing web site for more about our security journey.

    * Worse: One friend took his laptop into a supermarket (to avoid leaving it in his boot) and had it stolen from his trolley. Or so he thought. When the security staff at the supermarket watched the CCTV tapes, to help him find the thief, it appeared he'd walked in with an empty trolley. So where was the laptop? On the roof of his car...  
    Before you laugh to hard, I bet you've heard of people leaving phones on the roof of their car, and driving off...

  • FE blog

    Windows Server 2008 - Launch Invitation

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    clip_image001

    The launch team have just released the link to be able to sign up for the Windows Server 2008 launch event (actually, it's also the Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008 launch too). This is going to be held on the 19th March, at the ICC in Birmingham. The event is going to feature both Microsoft and external speakers - and I've heard that plans are afoot to have a university on the launch stage!

    Register now – places are extremely limited

    URL: http://www.microsoft.com/uk/heroeshappenhere/events.mspx

    There are two agendas - one for "IT Professionals" and the other for developers, so choose carefully! (Otherwise, like me at IT Forum, you could end up in the wrong room, with somebody using more unintelligible acronyms than your ears can cope with)

    There will be breakout sessions, hands-on labs ready for you to work directly with the products, an Expo area where you’ll be able to see the latest trends in hardware, application development and systems integration, and Ask the Experts where our technical teams will be on hand to answer all your questions.

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