Office Web Apps is a great way to access your documents from almost anywhere on almost any device. It also provides a brilliant tool for groups of people to view and edit documents at the same time, removing the need to email back and forth multiple versions of an Excel spreadsheet for example. Everyone can see the most up to date version regardless of their location. The link below contains a video to show how easy it is to use Office Web Apps on the go.
The remote access capabilities that SharePoint Server 2010 and Office Web Apps provide are also of great benefit within educational institutions. From the case study (link below) Herrity says, “Students can connect to resources instantly and easily. Office Web Apps help students accomplish more. They can access applications through the browser, without needing software installed on their home machines. This removes many socio-economic issues.” Now, it does not matter whether students have the latest version of Microsoft Office installed on their home computers. Through the learning gateway, students can quickly and easily make changes within the browser based Office Web Apps, which are covered by the school’s licensing.
The big advantage of Office 365 for Education is the low cost. To have all the services that Office 365 can offer, running and maintaining on-premise systems is far more expensive. Office 365 can offer students free Exchange Email and free SharePoint Online, which includes Office Web Apps. There will be a per user per month charge for staff for some functionality.
One great advantage, that again can save money, is that price plans can be mixed and matched to meet the needs of the workforce. So for example some members of staff may not need the SharePoint functionality, so they could be assigned a lower price plan, which could be free depending on services required. (UK Price plans still to be confirmed for Office 365 for Education).
Office 365 can also offer students Lync Online, again for free. This enables easy collaboration on assignments and instant team meetings as well as instant messaging, voice and even video chat with the click of a button. You can also see who is online, just like many other IM providers.
All of these features can be combined with the Office Desktop software for a small charge (per user per month) for both students and staff who wish to combine the services to give a more complete package.
Microsoft is offering a financial uptime guarantee, whereby if the guarantee is broken the organisation can claim money from Microsoft. The amount this is will vary depending on the total outage time, but upto a maximum 100% or the service fees paid. This guarantee covers any downtime whether it be during the week, in the evening or even at night. A payout will be made once the uptime drops below 99.9%. The fact that the guarantee covers ‘all time’ rather than just business days is essential for the service running within an educational environment. The service would need to be open for weekends and evenings to ensure students can access learning materials at any time.
From a review written by Mary Branscombe for PC Pro, it is suggested that there are a few features missing from the beta version of Office 365. It is not yet clear when or if the features discussed will be implemented.
The first point Mary discusses is the lack of tools available for partners to manage Office 365 for customers. It is said that these tools will become available at some point, possibly once the service goes live to the public. At the moment these tools are said to be missing due to the fact Microsoft are still working on privacy concerns. At this stage I cannot see this being an issue for the implementation of the service within the University.
Another issue Mary discusses is that voice has not been fully integrated with the online service. It is not yet possible to give out one telephone number for all your possible locations; desktop, deskphone or mobile. Currently Lync offers voice and video conversations, but only through a desktop client, meaning that you cannot take advantage of this feature should you be on the move.
Another potential problem is the lack of federation of public IM services. Lync will only let you connect with Windows Live users, and not Google, AOL or Yahoo.
Lync Online does not have many management tools, although you can control domain federation to allows connections with partnering companies, using blacklists or whitlists. However, currently in the beta version you require a Lync Online hosting provider to on-premise Lync servers to make this function work. This is expected to be fixed before the service goes live to the public later this year.