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August, 2010 - 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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August, 2010

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    New Microsoft Office Education Add-Ins

    • 2 Comments

    The education products team in Seattle have been busy writing add-ins for Office 2007 and Office 2010. They’ve just released 2 free education add-ins, 20 new education templates, and how-to materials designed to help teachers both inside and outside the classroom. The new Interactive Classroom Add-in, Mathematics Add-in, and Learning Essential Templates could save your teachers time as well as help creating more engagement with students.

    Interactive Classroom Add-in

    The Interactive Classroom Add-in for PowerPoint 2007 and 2010 and OneNote 2007 and 2010 provides real-time polling and interactive note-taking to foster interaction and collaboration between educators and students.

    I like it, but perhaps a better recommendation would be somebody within education. Professor Beth Simon of the University of California in San Diego has had a chance to use the beta version of the Interactive Classroom Add-in, and said:

    It’s very easy to insert polls automatically as I’m designing a lecture. When I’m lecturing, it’s so easy to recognise when a poll comes up and to start and stop the polling software. No longer do I have to try and interact with the clicker software, it’s all right there in PowerPoint.

     

    Mathematics Add-in

    The Mathematics Add-in for Word 2007 and 2010 and OneNote 2010 uses dynamic 3D graphs and charts to help teachers illustrate complex math problems and concepts. From algebra and pre-calculus to physics and statistics, teachers and students can unravel equations and visualise formulas through 2-D and 3-D graphs. The add-in helps students plot functions, calculate numerical results, and dynamically solve for "x".

    The Microsoft Office Education Add-ins are easy to install and use. Just follow the instructions on the Download site.

    Office Templates for teachers

    The Learning Essential templates are a set of Office templates created specifically for the education setting. From grading rubrics to tests and quizzes, these templates can help educators get more done faster. You can download the templates for free.
    These are written for US teachers, so some may need a bit of tweaking.

    How-to Materials for OneNote 2010 and Office Web Apps

    The new teacher how-to materials help teachers learn to use OneNote 2010 and the Office Web Apps in the classroom to engage students more deeply. By using the teaching guide, videos, lesson plans, and easy step-by-step instructions, teachers can get up and running quickly so they can focus on what matters most.

    These new tools provide the perfect complement to Office 2010 for teachers.

     



  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Using technology from today to explore the past

    • 1 Comments

    I’m sure that you’ll have seen Deep Zoom technology in use – either in demonstrations or on websites. It underpins many other applications such as Bing Maps, PhotoSynth and Image Composite Editor. Several schools such as Shireland have used Deep Zoom to organise and present learning resources, whilst others see it as a useful tool to enhance project work and lesson activities. One of our partners, Shoothill, have created a few interesting websites which use DeepZoom, that have a curriculum relevance.

    TimeMap

    Shoothill TimeMap () is a system for displaying historic maps, documents and photos, overlaid on current maps and satellite images from Bing Maps.  The system uses a “TimeScope” to move around the modern world and a “TimeSlider” to move through time. The demonstration version created by Shoothill has Shrewsbury and parts of London in it, and I bet that you’d make the head of Geography’s eyes light up if you show them.

    Why TimeMap?

    One of the problems of overlaying ‘complete’ historical maps over Bing (or Google Maps) is that it is very easy to lose your bearings, as so much has changed over time.  So, the basic idea behind TimeMap is to allow the user to get their position of interest via Bing Maps in ‘the modern world’, and easily reveal the past in ‘historical mode’.  It also allows the user to travel through time by using a ‘time slider’ that reveals different maps of the same place at different times.  Right now, they have processed maps from the 1800’s to today. For the demo version, TimeMap is working on certain areas across these different times for the town of Shrewsbury (their home town on the border of England and Wales and the birthplace of Charles Darwin) and most of central London.

    It’s very simple to use, because you basically drag a box around the scheme, which acts like a time-travelling X-Ray machine. As you drag it over an area, it shows you the historical maps – and you can slide back through time over three centuries to see what used to be there.

    image

    imageAnd on the Options menu, you can easily switch between Historic London and Historic Shrewsbury. The London maps are fascinating, as you plot the changes in certain parts of the city – eg around the City, and the historical areas. The System can also be used for historic aerial photography and if you try the “Historic Photo’s” option you will get an aerial shot of Heathrow Airport in 1966.

    They’ve just created their TimeMap for Berlin too

    image

     

    Tiger Mosaic

    Shoothill has recently been working with Flora a Fauna International too, using DeepZoom. The FFI is one of the world’s oldest conservation societies, and was one of the founders of the World Wide Fund for Nature. To help publicise their work (and to coincide with the International Year of Biodiversity and the Chinese year of the Tiger), Shoothill has created what they believe to be the biggest (and hopefully one of the best) Deep Zoom images in the world of one of the world most endangered species: the Sumatran Tiger.

    The image you see is made from 180,000 cell images of endangered species from around the world, but because of its enormous size it is very difficult to tell it is a mosaic at all, until you start to zoom in.

    imageThe Auto Mode is very useful – it would be a good thing to put up on a whiteboard whilst you’re waiting for a class to settle down, or to stimulate a discussion about biodiversity.



     


     





  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Parental Engagement–bringing parents on to the Learning Gateway

    • 1 Comments

    Last week I wrote about schools using Learning Gateway to connect with parents and followed that with looking at the practical issue of making sure your data is up-to-date.

    The targets for schools to provide online parental reporting are DCSF & Becta guidelines, not legislation – and as such there probably aren’t penalties for schools that fail to reach the September 2010 deadline for making information available to parents through their school website. However, there are plenty of schools who have done it, and that talk about the benefit it has brought to the families as well as staff in their school.

    Deciding to give parents access to their children’s data is one thing. Making it happen is something else, and it needs a bit of thought, especially as you need to ensure that you’re also meeting the Becta Data Handling Security Guidelines too.

    One of the most practical questions is “How do I give parents their passwords?”

    Do you send them by post once you’re sure they’re going to the right people, who’ve signed a document agreeing to use the system properly? Or, at the other end of the scale of caution, do you insist not only that each parent presents themselves in person to collect a password, but also brings photo ID? I’ve encountered both of these approaches, and a range of others in between, together with various levels of complication about how you deal with separated parents.

    Where a local authority hosts the MIS and the gateway, you’d expect a pretty tightly organised approach.

    That’s the case in Bolton, for example, where the authority hosts the Sims Learning Gateway and although it’s made clear that schools are responsible for running the Gateway, the ICT Unit provides schools with a set of proforma documents that takes them through a process. Parents have to read and sign an Acceptable Use Policy, log in details and passwords are sent separately, once the Acceptable Use return slips are in and contact details matched with the addresses of students. Schools also have the option of a letter inviting parents for a training session at which passwords are given out face-to-face. Neil Gregory, System Consultant at Bolton Schools ICT Unit is happy to discuss the way things work in his authority – you can find him on Twitter @nkgsolutions

    Whether or not you need to give out passwords face-to-face is one of those debating points.

    At Monkseaton High School, for example, passwords are given out to new parents at the first consultation meeting at the start of the academic year. They sit with an administrator who checks their identity and gives them a brief demonstration. Parents who miss the occasion are picked up one by one as they visit the school for other reasons. All of that, of course, takes up time and resources, so issuing passwords by post, after careful checks, has a pragmatic appeal. The thinking at schools where they do that seems to be that the MIS data in question, after all, is quite limited in scope.

    The system will allow access only to the same information that you find in a written school report, and I can’t believe there’s a single school where they haven’t at some time put the wrong report in an envelope.

    The general point, though, is that developing online reporting inevitably throws up detailed issues that either you didn’t see coming, or turned out to be more (or perhaps less) taxing than you thought. It would be good to hear more of your own experiences on this, especially if it helps colleagues who are still working through the process.

     

    imageYou can read more about Monkseaton’s approach, as well as that of five other schools, in our “Engaging With Parents” case studies

     




  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Money Saving Tips Update - Bristnall Hall Technology College

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    At the end of 2009, I worked with a group of schools, and with Gerald Haigh (an ex-head teacher and educational writer) to create the Money Saving ICT Tips, which was used for a presentation at the BETT 2010 show, and also for a series of later case studies looking at the numbers in more detail. The original idea was to identify ways in which ICT leaders in schools could save money, in both their own budget, and in other budgets around the school. The total saving possible for a secondary school was over £300,000 in 3 years – more than an average school’s three-year ICT budget.

    During this year, we’ve continued this work, with a number of new case studies providing a lot more detail on schools’ approaches to projects like power saving and server virtualisation. Recently, Gerald has been out to visit some schools who’ve followed up on some of the ideas. Here’s what he found at Bristnall Hall Technology College:


    imageBack in January, I contributed to Ray’s discussion of cost saving ideas. One of the schools I referred to was Bristnall Hall Technology College in Sandwell, where ICT and network manager Phillip Wakeman was working to encourage and develop the use of SharePoint for publishing and sharing documents. So as the 2010 Summer Term ended, and as Sandwell’s not far from me I took a trip over to Bristnall Hall to see how Phillip was getting on.

    What I found was a knowledgeable network manager who’s still very focussed on cost saving.

    “In fact,” he says. “It’s one of our constant preoccupations.”

    Both cash and time are in short supply at Bristnall Hall. The four-person IT support department I visited in January is now down to three because one who left hasn’t been replaced. The annual budget’s been reduced too, with further cuts to come. And just to add insult to injury, says Phillip, Bristnall Hall is one of the Sandwell schools that’s missed out on a planned BSF rebuild. As a consequence,

    With very little capital and little in the way of budget we’ll have to compete with schools on each side of us that have had new buildings.

    The first priority after my initial visit had been to develop the school’s SharePoint learning platform, and Phillip tells me that during the Summer term the school’s made huge progress with it. Where there were documents and folders stored in various places on the school network, they are now properly available on the Learning Platform. They’re easily available to share, or to project in class, without printing, and accessible as appropriate to teachers and students from anywhere in school and from home, and to parents.

    The use of SharePoint has grown sevenfold since Easter,” says Phillip. “We’re already seeing the effects on printing, and that should really take off in the Autumn.

    Philip has also made the move – seen in so many of our cost-saving case studies – to virtualised servers. He’s looked at virtualisation in the past, but the availability of the free download version of Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 has made it possible to go ahead, and where he had 20 physical servers he now has 2, with all the well-documented cost benefits to come from reductions in both energy use and hardware replacement.

    Phillip’s very aware of the hidden costs of wasted time, especially since his team’s been reduced, so he’s interested in any software that will make his job easier. He points to Office Communications Server, for example, as a tool for cutting down on the simple business of walking around the school to find people.

    If it only saves ten minutes at a time, that soon adds up.

    Phillip made a strong case to me – and no, he needed no prompting – for sticking to Microsoft products. It’s a policy, he says, that saves valuable time.

    We don’t have to train staff. They come in and find that we’re using packages that are familiar to them.

    So, although the staff member he’s lost was responsible for developing SharePoint, the nature of the software means that everyone’s coped.

    I suppose it’s because SharePoint is easy to use. Once you’ve shown someone what to do they don’t forget it. We do a few training sessions, and then we can point people to the ones who can help them.

    There’s the students to consider too. Wherever they go in the future will need to have used business standard products

    Of course there’s always the cost of licensing, but this, too, is an area where Phillip’s been able to find the most efficient answer for the school.

    In April 2010 we went to the Schools Agreement. It costs us £21,816 a year for 600 desktop machines, about 10 different servers and includes 1,100 Schools Agreement Student Option licences (which gives every student their own copy of Office for home use too). When I told the bursar, it sounded like a lot, but I pointed out that if we’d wanted to buy licenses outright I would have been asking for £100,000, and probably the same again in less than four years time.

    The reason for the projected request for more money is that no school that wants to provide its students with the latest ICT experience can really leave its software alone for five years. Schools agreement recognises this through built-in software assurance that provides for upgrades as and when they arrive.

    Phillip Wakeman purchased his School Agreement licences from Insight UK, a Microsoft Gold Partner and Education Large Account Reseller. Insight's Marketing Director, Paul Bolt, explains, 

    We understood that Phillip was looking for cost savings on licences. We began by producing a 'cost comparison', which revealed that a schools agreement over a period of five years would cost two thirds of what they would have to pay to buy the licences outright.  We were able to achieve this cost saving, whilst still reaching Phillip's requirements in terms of the software upgrades which were required.

    Do the maths, and it’s clear that’s a potential saving of at least £30,000 over five years – although Phillip acknowledges that having laid out £100,000 for licences, he simply wouldn’t have had the money to spend on all the upgrades. Schools Agreement has transformed that picture:

    Up to this Summer we had Office 2003 in school, where students and staff were using 2007 at home. Now, we’ll be able to upgrade everything.

    So, still to come this Autumn, is a roll-out of Windows 7, and the introduction of Office 2010, and SharePoint 2010, as well as number of other upgrades.

    According to Insight, some schools are still reluctant to sign up for an annual commitment, but, a spokeperson there says:

    The figures are quite compelling, and where schools are in competition for students they need to show that their ICT is as up to date as possible


    It’s all going to add much needed support to a school which is focussed on success (last year it was named the most improved school in Sandwell) and which is tackling the after-effects of BSF cancellation.

    Phillip’s very clear about how ICT contributes to the school in terms of interactive lessons, support for SEN students and much more.

    The way to convince any doubters would be to invite them in to see what we do, and then show them what happens if we switch everything off. Everything that happens here is IT driven. There’s nothing we’re not involved in.


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Building Clouds - how to make a data centre more energy efficient

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    imageWe have a team, called Microsoft Global Foundation Services, who have the job of building clouds. Or at least, building ‘the Cloud’ – they design, build, run and support our global data centres which are at the hub of all of our cloud services. In Europe, we have one in Ireland and one in Holland. I don’t know about the Amsterdam one, but the Dublin one is roughly three times the size of BETT at Olympia (imagine – instead of lots of snazzy stands, that space packed full of humming server racks, a bit like our Chicago datacentre on the right). The Dublin one is where we host all of our UK Live@edu email services and data.

    Obviously, at the rate we’re building these data centres, and the huge cost involved, there’s a constant journey to work out how to make the data centres increasingly efficient – especially because of their energy usage, which is a huge part of the cost of running a data centre.

    Now, some of the lessons we’ve learnt aren’t things you can apply in your school server room easily (like cleaning the roof and painting it white, which reduces cooling cost), and playing around with the wall positioning to improve air flow.

    However, some of the things that have been learnt could be of use to you, and help you to reduce your carbon emissions and running costs – like making a trade-off in processor performance to achieve the most efficient Performance per Watt per dollar (which is one reflection of the true cost of providing a server service). We’ve also made adjustments to the temperature servers are cooled to – and switching to using more free air cooling to replace air conditioning. And we’ve even experimented by operating servers outside under a tent.

    imageThe good news is that as we do this work, we publish it in a consumable format. If you’re interested in how to help reduce your server running costs, or in what we’re doing when we’re building massive data centres, then I can recommend “A Holistic Approach to Energy Efficiency in Datacentres” from the Microsoft Global Foundation Services team.

    There is also a lot of detail about different projects going on to look at energy efficient computing, within data centres and elsewhere, on our www.microsoft.com/environment website. Some of the research up there is around Cloud Computing futures, data centre monitoring and optimisation, reducing disk energy consumption, universal parallel computing and power aware developer tools.

    And finally, if you’re interest knows no boundaries, then you might be interested in the MS Datacenters blog, which has tells the story of how we’ve grown our data centres around the world over the last few years, and shares some more of the lessons we’ve learnt.

     



  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Freebie time - Desktop Virtualisation for dummies booklet

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    Let’s start by getting the jokes out of the way. Yes, the ‘…for Dummies’ books are my kind of books. And, No, that’s not me on the front cover.

    Now, that’s over with…

    image

    I’ve got my hands on 30 copies of the ‘Desktop Virtualisation for Dummies’ booklet to give away. And, let’s face it, desktop virtualisation is the kind of thing that needs a booklet like this. Despite believing that it would be important for education (after all, who else runs 300+ end-user applications on their network, with a typical support team of less than three people) I still find it confusing. After all, who wouldn’t be confused when you’re presented with so many choices:

    • User state virtualisation
    • Application virtualisation
    • Session virtualisation
    • Virtual desk infrastructure
    • Blade-based virtual desktops
    • Single-desktop virtual machines

    So this booklet is a good starter guide to help you think about where (and whether) to start with desktop virtualisation. It’s just 32 pages long, so just about the right length, and it sets out the strategies for virtualisation clearly. And it deals with the reasons for doing it in a clear way. For example:

    It’s not as straightforward as saying ‘desktop virtualization will save you money’, but it certainly gives you more options when you come to deciding how that money might be spent – either by reducing operational budgets in terms of minimised downtime, or lowering management and support overheads, or potentially enabling capital expenditure to be reduced or deferred.

    If you’d like your own free copy of Desktop Virtualisation for Dummies, then simply drop Mir an email, and he’ll get one in the post to you (As they say in America, this offer is “good while stocks last, for people in the Great Britain area”)

    ps Have you already implemented some of the strategies for desktop virtualisation? If so, either drop me an email or add a comment to this blog, because it would be good to know how it’s going.



  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Saving money - how to get started with server virtualisation

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    I’ve been writing quite a bit about examples of schools virtualising their servers, especially as it is one way to significantly reduce your school budgets (Wootton Basset School, West Hatch School, Neville Lovett School and Lodge Park Technology College are all saving a minimum of £10,000 a year through virtualisation). And a recent snapshot survey on EduGeek showed that an ‘average’ secondary school has over a dozen servers. So there’s plenty of reason to consider virtualisation.

    But knowing it’s a good thing to do is one thing. Knowing how to do it is completely different. So here’s a little help

    Of course, one starting point should be the Microsoft website’s Hyper-V section.

    Education Technology Now

    And for education specific information, there’s an added gem available. Alan Richards, who’s the IT Manager at West Hatch School, has written about various aspects of virtualisation on his Education Technology Now blog. At every step of his virtualisation journey he wrote about what he was doing, and the decision he was taking, and it provides a detailed case study on how to virtualise school servers.

    imageThe series of blog posts he’s written take a step-by-step journey:

    The Design Phase

    The second part of the Design Phase

    The Physical Phase

    iSCSI Setup – Video

    Windows Server Failover Clustering Setup – Video

    Windows Server Failover Clustering Setup – Corrections

    Clustered Shared Volumes – Video

    Installing Hyper- V – Video

    Live Server Migration

    And Alan’s now writing more specific posts about specific parts of your school network infrastructure, such as Upgrading, Migrating & Virtualising SharePoint 2010.

    11 Golden Rules for Virtualisation

    I’d also highly recommend Steve Cassidy’s excellent article on PC Pro - 11 golden rules for virtualisation - which provides a straightforward set of rules to consider and decisions to make. For example, he starts by advising that you measure the potential savings (and demonstrate them to the head & school business manager):

    Virtualisation projects pay back by reducing power bills and server purchase budgets. The latter is easy to demonstrate; the former requires some distinctly non-computing work.

    To really see the benefit, you have to be able to compare hosting rack-space invoices, or monthly electricity bills, or stand in the blast of the cooling fans – it’s very difficult to translate the massive efficiency improvements into something tangible. The most basic fat-plug current meter can form the basis of a good solid demo for that disbelieving finance director, standing in the server room watching you start up the old boat-anchors and chalking up their power draw on the wall.


    Find a Microsoft virtualisation partner

    And finally, you might also want to find a Microsoft partner for some advice. The easiest way to do that is to use Microsoft Pinpoint, which allows you to find partners with specific competencies – this link gives you all UK partners who are listed as working in Education, and offering virtualisation solutions. You can easily refine it further by adding your location, and finding the local ones.

    (Looking at the list that Pinpoint shows, it appears that many of our partners haven’t updated their specialisms in the database. So if you’re a Microsoft partner, and you’re reading this, you might want to go to the Microsoft Partner Network, or talk to your account manager, to do this)



  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    How do I get a job at Microsoft?

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    You may not be surprised to learn that it’s a frequent question that I get asked. And in the summer holidays I know that people’s thoughts often turn to their future, so I thought it was time to share the answer more widely.

    imageThe answer is partially straightforward – you watch http://careers.microsoft.com/, which is where all of our permanent jobs are posted. It allows you to search in different parts of the world, or different specialisms, or on key words. I think the keyword search is important, because many of the jobs are described in Microsoft-centric language (with references to internal acronyms etc) – so if you want to find a job related to education, I’d recommend that you use the keyword search first!

    We also hire quite a lot of people into contract posts – and they will often be dealt with by local employment agencies. The links are all on the careers site too.

    But, of course, finding a job advertised, and actually getting that job are two different things – because there’s the screening and interview process to get through too. The Xbox team have done a great job of describing some of the things you can do to help with that process in their blog post “How do I get a job at Xbox”, which also links to some of the recruitment team’s Career Communities on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

    As an aside, if you’re into gaming, the Xbox Engineering Blog is brilliant for detail behind the scenes of the gaming world. Like the post on “Xbox LIVE Avatar Technology” which talks about the science behind creating dynamic avatars in games.

    And finally, your students may be interested in finding out about the graduate and internship schemes. The graduates join on our specialised scheme, which takes candidates who’ve graduated with a 2.1 or above. And each year we take just under 100 interns into our placement scheme in the UK. These students are normally in between their second and third years at university. More information on the Microsoft graduate and placement schemes can be found on this link.



  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Do cloud-based datacentres run as fast as your onsite ones

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    The Bits blog from the New York Times ran an interesting article a couple of weeks ago called ‘How Fast Can a Cloud Run?’ (you’re right, I’m still catching up with my reading!). It talks about a service called CloudSleuth, which measures the speed of response of various cloud services.

    Our Microsoft Azure cloud came out on top (I’d like to think I’d still be writing this, even if it didn’t).

    Living near clouds is a good thing

    But the thing that interested me was the impact of geography on response times. I used to remember the good-old-days-of-the-Internet, when the service would start to slow down to US-based websites from around 2 o’clock in the afternoon – which coincided with people waking up and getting online on that side of the Atlantic. But that was a decade ago or more – I’d forgotten all about it.

    image

    The chart above, snipped just now from CloudSleuth, shows the picture that caught my eye. Basically, the closer you are to the datacentre, the better your cloud experience is going to be. And because most datacentres are in the US, that’s where the best response times are.

    It sparked off a few of thoughts:

    • How transparent cloud computing is going to be, compared to today (because the whole world can look up your response times)
    • I wonder if that’s why we’ve been having high take-up of our Live@edu cloud email services for education in the UK – because the datacentre is in Dublin, not Dallas.
    • We obviously need more cloud datacentres in Europe.

    So, do cloud-based datacentres run as fast as onsite ones?

    Well, it’s pretty clear that the answer depends on a variety of factors:

    • How fast is the cloud datacentre?
    • How fast is your own datacentre?
    • Where is the cloud datacentre?
    • Where is your users? (because if your user isn’t on-site, they probably get a completely different experience)


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The easy way to install WordPress

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    Do you remember a couple of weeks ago I mentioned WebMatrix, which gives you an easy way to install a bunch of web applications – like WordPress, Moodle and Joomla! – on a standard Microsoft platform (which means you can more easily fit into the rest of your ICT infrastructure).

    Well, I just read an article on PC Pro (who sometimes enjoy being mischievous about the downfalls of technology) where David Moss talks about how easy it was to install WordPress in six simple steps. I’m not a WordPress user, so I haven’t tried it myself, but it’s a nice endorsement to get for our “let’s make websites easier to setup” initiative.

    Still unsure? Well, jump over and read the article “Microsoft Web Platform: the easy way to install WordPress
    to learn how David did it.



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