Today I visited some of Microsoft’s offices in London to check out Office 365 for education. This was a very informative visit and Microsoft had a fully equipped showcase classroom where we could get to grips with some of their latest hardware and software. The day was structured to overview Windows 10, inking and the powerful combination of this with Office 365 for Education. This includes not only Microsoft Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher, but an all-encompassing productivity solution that combines Office with OneDrive/SharePoint, Yammer, Skype, Video, Microsoft Teams and more. I’ve seen and used most of these packages, but I’ve never seen them all working together – properly linked and synced and all in the cloud. The result was convincing.
While I am a fairly confident Office and Windows user, it was a great opportunity to try Microsoft’s own hardware. I personally fell in love with the Surface Book, a hybrid laptop-tablet with a powerful processor that delivers a punch on the go. I particularly enjoyed the deep integration of ink within the operating system and Office as a whole. While I am an experienced user of Windows 10, I’ve never had an ink enabled device so it was nice to get to grips with this. I liked it. I like it a lot! I could quite easily see a device like this replacing the MacBook Pro and iPad Pro I carry, although the Microsoft Product would struggle to beat the battery combination of them both. I think I’d miss the general portability of the iPad too.
Take home points from the session
I think one thing I have learned from this process is that I need to be a bit more patient when trailing previews of software. When I tried the very first release of Mix for example I wrote it off. Yes – the outputs were fantastic but they were locked onto the Mix website. This of course is not the case anymore. The introduction of video exports from Mix solves this problem and makes it a great product. Sadly – it has been able to do this for AGES according to the trainer and I regret not playing with it sooner.
Office Mix Snip
This fantastic little tool is in preview at the moment. It basically replicates everything I love about the Camtasia capture tool I use on Mac. It allows a user to ‘snip’ any area of the screen, annotate and share. The tool is far more developed than the in-built ‘snipping’ tool and it takes full advantage of inking in the OS. You can try the Snip Preview yourself.
Ok. I like Sway. I really like Sway. However – students and staff are not really that aware of it. This session reminded me of the important gap it fills in the presentation market. I think we need to really push this out as an alternative to PowerPoint or Word for certain kinds of presentations.
It is getting better and it isn’t as bad as it used to be. I think it is some time away from being a stable replacement for Chrome or FireFox, but I could see this being a contender really soon. I loved the seamless integration with OneNote, but this is replicated within the OneNote plugins for other browsers so not too much a selling point.
Everything is better with Ink. I’d only really played with this on the iPad before, but seeing it across all the Office programs and across the Windows 10 OS I was overwhelmed with the potential. I am so sad I don’t have access to this on a daily basis.
I’ve used OneNote in patches over the last decade, but recently decided to commit to it as my main note taking application. I transferred all my stuff from Evernote and I couldn’t be happier. Today really convinced me I have made the right decision. I already have it up and running across iPhone, iPad, Window 10 and Mac OS X.
While I learned nothing new about OneNote today, I did discover OneNote Class Notebook. This has some amazing potential and I look forward to seeing it in use within higher education.
Training, support and change
I always get excited about the latest shiny technology. However, not everyone is as confident as I am. I work with a lot of novice users and technophobes. The powerful combination of all of these Microsoft products is kind of overwhelming. While this combination can deliver amazing efficiency and savings, it is problematic from a user training perspective.
For some users, the change to 365 solutions for their existing tools (e.g. Slack, DropBox, Evernote) presents a huge transition. This is no where near as large as the transition for some users who have yet to even move to a cloud tools. It is a new way of thinking. It requires all new business processes. Online training can only go so far and an institution rollout that maximises the user of this software and the efficiencies it can deliver seems like a mountain to climb.
All of the exciting stuff we saw today surrounded Ink. No one in the whole team I work for has access to any Ink enabled hardware. This would represent a significant investment and it is one I don’t see coming. At present, a lot of our work relies on BYOD (Bring your own device) and we all pretty much have an Apple iPad. While that allows us to use some Office 365 apps, these are lighter versions than those you can install on powerful Surface equivalent. While these app versions support Inking, the feature set is nowhere near as good as the program.
Ultimately, it made me realise just how amazing it is to be able to pick up a pen and draw directly onto something running full Windows. It’s just something I am not going to be able to afford to do for some time… although I should note there are some excellent devices from companies like HP that do not destroy the bank.
Most of my use of Microsoft Office is on a Windows PC, although I am a frequent user of Word on my Mac. With Word, I notice little difference between Windows and Mac. There are a few differences, but nothing I miss too much. Today I realised there are larger gaps between Windows and Mac in some of the other programs. Ink is one of these gaps but with my MacBook Pro it isn’t something I had even looked for before. Then again – it is little use on my MacBook Pro.
I hope OS X and Windows versions become more aligned over time and I would like to see versions of other programs like Visio and Project joining team Mac too.
Office 365 is amazing. But it is only amazing when you go whole hog. Unleashing the full power requires integrated versions of Office, Skype, Teams, Outlook/Exchange, OneDrive/Exchange and Yammer. It is the totality of all of these tools, speaking and syncing with each other that really brings the power. Access to Ink helps too 🙂
A big thank you to the team at Microsoft and their consultant for hosting us in London. Lunch was excellent and it was a great opportunity to see all of this in practice within education.