Monthly Archives May 2011

The following features could be useful in an educational environment.
  
Libraries
Libraries are a location on a site which provides users central access to important work documents and files. There are different types of Libraries for different purposes, such as ‘Document library’ for many file types like word documents and spreadsheets. There are libraries for images called ‘Picture library’ which is dedicated for digital images and graphics. Functionality varies between different library types, just as folder functionality varies in Windows Explorer, for example a slideshow option for picture folders or libraries. There are many more library types such as, Process Diagram Libraries, Record Libraries, Report Libraries and Slide Libraries.

Libraries allow the great control over documents for people working on a project together. Everyone can have access to the latest version of documents, with document versioning included, see who last edited the docment and when, and you can even specify specific permissions to documents to protect the most important ones.

Lists
Lists offer a collection of data that can be shared with team members and other site users. There are a number of list templates, which provide a good starting point. The way lists are organised can be customised for the specific needs of the business. SharePoint sites often include many lists by default, such as, Links, Announcements and Contacts, that you can use for team collaboration. One type of list that is also very useful is ‘Calendar’, with Calendar it’s easy to show all of your groups events, whether these be meetings, all day events or milestones. This will enable the whole group to see what is happening with a project for example and most importantly when. ‘Tasks’ is another useful List type. You can use it to assign tasks to specific people within the group. It is also possible to create a custom designed list.

Blogs
Blogs provide a running commentary or news thread of a particular subject, same function as personal online diaries. Blogs are useful to keep upto date with a particular subject and are often a good learning material.

Wiki Pages
Wiki pages are a useful tool, that enables webpages to be quickly and easily edited by any user.

My Sites & Profiles
My Sites and Profiles integrates the social side to the learning environment.  It enables you to connect with other people around you and build your professional network. It is important to remember that just like other social networks, your should consider what information you share with who. This can be controlled by privacy settings, that allow you to specify which people can see each piece of information that you share. You can also apply these settings to documents that you share. The organisation implementing the system, can also restrict what information you may share with others.

Discussion Boards
Discussion boards are a great way to share ideas and knowledge, or to discuss a particular topic. These can easily be setup by a user and moderated by an administrator. It could be important to ensure that the boards are moderated to look for cases of plagarism, although this is a possiblility there are many processes already in place to identify plagarism.

Mobile Browser Support
The system will also work on the go on mobile phone web browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari, giving users even more choice to where they can access thier data. Some phones can even display the documents that are stored on the system.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Having read a few comparative reviews it is clear many people have their own opinions, thoughts and ideas of the two systems. Some reviewers seem to give the impression that they thought Micrososft would not reach Google’s standard of the ‘cloud’ experience of storing documents online, sharing and editing them with colleauges and other students.

Some have described Google’s offering as a more consumer product compared to Microsoft’s which can be orientated to almost anyone or any business large or small. Google does not offer such flexibility and has been described as one size fits all. However Microsoft offer a range of different plans and licences that are user specific and not machine specific. Which means that the organisation could save money in areas where some members of staff need very little and others need that bit more functionality.

Google does not offer a downtime promise in it’s SLA, which could work out badly should there be any major problem. Microsoft has pitched an agreement that should their downtime be any less 99.9% they will refund a percentage of the fees paid (upto a maximum of 100%, depending on the length of time the system has been unavailable for).

Google’s system from the outset was designed to be web based. The tools that Google produced are brilliantly integrated and were created just for the cloud. This somewhat differs to Microsoft’s offering, whereby one method offers purely access to their Web Apps (with limited functionality) or a compination of the Web Apps with the full desktop applications to give a full set of tools. This in my opinion is better, mainly due to the fact that they can back each other up. By this I mean should a network connection be unavailable users can still work on documents using the desktop applications.  

More on this topic to come soon…

Office Web Apps
Office Web Apps is a great way for anyone to access a document from almost any device at anytime. However Office Web Apps may not be able to fully replace the software version, as they are only light in their functionality. This means that Office Web Apps will not have the same feature rich facilities that users are familiar with. This may or may not be a problem for some users. The system can be combined with the software version to provide a more complete package.

Browsers
It is important to note that there may be limitations depending on the web browser you use or your clients use. Microsoft notes that it [Office 365] is fully supported by Microsoft Internet Explorer (7.x or higher) and partially supported by Mozilla Firefox (3.x or higher) and Apple Safari (3.x or higher). Other web browsers may have functionality issues.
This link details known issues with specific web browsers: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc263526.aspx

Operating Systems
It should be noted that Windows XP Home and XP Media Center don’t support federated identity for authentication across firms’ IT infrastructure or partner IT systems using single sign-on (SSO).

Office 365 Plans
General feature limitations could occur as Office 365 has different plan levels, at different pricing levels. Potentially this means that depending on the budget the organisation has for the system, all the desired features may not be available.

Inactivity Periods
Inactivity Periods are a good method to detect when a user’s activity stops and to then log them out of the system for security of personal data etc. Office 365 does not have this feature, and could potentailly leave data at risk of unauthorised modification or theft. Ultimately it’s the user’s responsibilty to protect their data either by logging out of the system when they move away from the PC or by locking the PC. Inactivity Periods are an extra layer of security, but not essential if users act responsibly.

Dynamics CRM
As explained by Microsoft at the announcement of Office 365 last year, it (Office 365) will expand to include Microsoft Dynamics Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Online at some point this year, which will enable organisations of all types and sizes to experience Microsoft’s complete business productivity.

Dynamics Customer Relationship Management is a multi-lingual software package developed by Microsoft. Out of the box, the product focuses mainly on Sales, Marketing, and Service (help desk) departments.

Dynamics CRM is a server-client application, which, like Microsoft SharePoint, is primarily a web application which also supports extensive web service interfaces. Clients access Dynamics CRM either by using Microsoft IE (version 6 or later), most other web browsers or by a thick client plug-in to Microsoft Outlook.

Office 365 for Education
Microsoft also plans this year to have a dedicated version of the suite for educational institutions.It is an improvement and rebrand from the current live@edu. Microsoft can taylor the suite to the specific needs of the establishment. For students the service will be free, unless the Professional Plus (desktop version of the applications) has been opted for. In which case there would be an approximate cost of £1 per user per month. There will be a charge for educators and staff in the region of £7 – £9 per user per month. The variance depends on whether Professional Plus is being used.

Microsoft Office 365 is made up of several components:

  • Microsoft Exchange provides email, calendar and contact lists.
  • Microsoft Office Plus allows Windows PC’s to run Office applications locally or from the cloud.
  • Microsoft SharePoint allows documents, spreadsheets and presentations to be shared.
  • Microsoft Lync Online allows instant messaging and online meetings.

Microsoft are to offer an edition of Office 365 for educational institutions, it will include everything available in Office 365 for enterprises and in addition will be specifically tailored to meet the needs of educators, students and education partners. For students the service will be free, but there will be a charge for educators and staff if they opt for the use of SharePoint Online and Lync Online (this is free for students). Pricing for this version, as quoted by Mary Jo Foley in an article published on ZDNet (http://www.zdnet.com/blog/microsoft/microsoft-details-packaging-pricing-for-office-365-for-education/8413) will be in the region of £7 to £9 per month per user, depending on the exact services opted for. There could also be a charge for students depending on services opted for, this will be in the region on £1 per month per user. This additional charge will be in force should Office Professional Plus be in use.

Office 365 for Education will include Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online, Office Web Apps, support for My Sites and site search capabilities.

This functionality would allow students participating in group projects to work together on documents in real time, rather than working on their own piece and then tying it all together at the end. This method often does not work as there is no good flow to the document.

Office 365 also allows group members to participate in a group chat, similar to that of Window Live Messenger,  to discuss the work being undertaken.

Users will also be able to take advantage of social networking features such as, ‘Like’ and ‘Comment’ to rate documents and other listings, which will help both staff and students recognise good learning materials. This over time will improve the quality of learning materials available on the site.

Students will also have access to Office Web Apps (OWA) for viewing, sharing and light editing of documents.

Microsoft is offering a 99.9% uptime guarantee inline with this service. That means that Office 365 should only be unavailable for 8.76 hours in any given year! This guarentee is also backed financially, whereby a percentage (maximum of 100%) of the subscriptions fee is refunded to the client should this target not be met.

While Office 365 components, like Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), offer a subset of the functionality of their on premise versions, they share the same code base and user interfaces, so they are familiar to end users.

In this manner, organisations can have hybrid cloud/on premise deployments of Microsoft collaboration, productivity and communications, depending on their preferences and requirements.

Before Office 365 is implemented, these points should be considered:

  • Learn about the basic features and potential benefits of Microsoft Office 365 and how it lines up against the rest of the cloud-based application market.
  • Find out how Microsoft plans to evolve Office 365, an increasingly important piece of its cloud strategy.
  • Discover the realities and potential limitations of Office 365 and how IT professionals can best prepare for the greatest possible business outcome.

Office 365 is expected to be released in June 2011.