Microsoft offers free cloud-based Office software for colleges, schools

With the announcement, Microsoft could strike a blow against Google, which has offered a similar suite of free online tools for schools.

In a back-to-school move that could be the large company equivalent of distinguishing who has the cooler Trapper Keeper, Microsoft has released a free version of Office 365 for education, a cloud-based suite of tools that includes Office applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, as well as Exchange Online for eMail, SharePoint Online for collaborating, and more—rivaling Google’s education cloud.

Office 365, which Microsoft introduced last year, now is available free of charge to students, teachers, and faculty, the company said. Upgraded packages are available for a fee, including unlimited eMail storage, archiving, and hosted voice mail support.

With the announcement, Microsoft likely aims to strike a blow against Google, which has offered a similar suite of free online tools for campuses. Google Apps for Education have been adopted statewide in Oregon, Iowa, and Colorado, among other states, as a means of enabling students and teachers to share documents and collaborate on projects online.…Read More

Ed-tech accessibility could hinge on Congressional action

Recent lawsuits have focused on the use of eReaders in higher education.

Advocates for blind college students commended a federal report recommending steps for improving ed-tech accessibility on campuses—but without prompt attention from Congressional lawmakers, the laundry list of suggestions won’t become policy in much of higher education.

A federal commission released its 18 recommendations to expand accessibility to students with disabilities Dec.5, highlighting plans to incentivize publishers of educational material to make the material usable for all students, creating professional development programs to make educators more aware of accessibility issues, and including accessibility-related metadata in classroom material.

The Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities, released its recommendations after studying accessibility on campuses for 14 months.…Read More

Higher ed cautiously embraces the cloud

Only 5 percent of colleges say they aren’t considering cloud computing options.

There’s a nightmare shared by college IT directors who have moved some of their online services to off-campus cloud computing networks: Becoming the focal point of a massive cloud data breach, and having to answer to administrators, students, and parents about what went wrong.

Even this disastrous scenario hasn’t kept higher education from moving—however tentatively—toward the cloud, at a higher rate than many industries.

Read more about cloud computing in higher education……Read More

Google lures more colleges to Gmail with bigger inboxes

Google announced 25 new education customers this month.

It’s already higher education’s most popular eMail hosting service, and Google’s Gmail could attract more university IT departments after the company more than tripled its Gmail inbox size for educational customers.

Gmail inboxes will jump from 7 gigabytes to 25 gigabytes “over the course of the next few weeks” for schools, colleges, and universities that use the suite of online educational tools known as Google Apps for Education, according to a June 24 company announcement.

Read more about Gmail in higher education……Read More

After balking, Yale switches to Gmail

Fifty-three percent of Yale students already forward their university messages to Gmail.

More than a year after Yale University technology officials delayed the school’s adoption of Google’s Apps for Education, citing privacy and security concerns, the campus has announced students and faculty will use Gmail and a host of other Google programs by 2012.

Yale was among several high-profile universities that hesitated to move students and faculty to the cloud-based eMail system, which would move data off the campus and onto Google servers.

Read more about Google Apps in higher education……Read More

Claim: Google Apps for Education inaccessible to blind students

A Google official pledged to make its applications more accessible to blind students.

An advocacy group has filed a complaint with the federal government accusing New York University (NYU) and Northwestern University of discriminating against the blind by adopting Google’s eMail program.

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) said March 15 that Gmail and other Google applications used by the schools aren’t fully functional with text-to-speech technology, and their adoption violates the Americans with Disabilities act.

The Baltimore-based group is asking that the Justice Department investigate. It also wants colleges to halt adoption of such software until it’s accessible to everyone.…Read More

Google makes ed-tech splash with apps marketplace

Google's education app marketplace begins with 20 options.

Google opened an Apps Marketplace for educators Jan. 25, creating an online repository filled with learning management system (LMS) software, web-based grade books, and other content that could be shared among an entire school district or college campus with the click of a button.

The Apps Marketplace’s education category will start with 20 applications from 19 companies, according to Google’s official blog, and the applications can be integrated with existing app accounts, such as Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google docs.

Using free applications from Google’s new selection—which includes spelling and grammar tutorials and bibliographical management tools—could help educational technology officials avoid installing and updating software on dozens or hundreds of computers in a school or on a college campus.…Read More

Brown University expands Google services, could save $1M per year

Brown University will bring Gmail to 7,000 staff, faculty, and graduate students.
Brown University will bring Gmail to 7,000 staff, faculty, and graduate students this fall.

Reports of Gmail’s demise, it seems, have been greatly exaggerated. After a spring that saw at least three prominent universities move away from Google’s free hosted eMail and applications, technology officials at Brown University will expand the use of these tools beyond its undergraduates this summer after faculty clamored for the services over the past year—a move that could save the university $1 million annually.

The Ivy League university in Providence, R.I., launched the free Google Apps for Education for its 6,000 undergraduates last academic year—a migration that made students “happy,” “productive,” and “excited,” Brown’s IT director of support services, Geoff Greene, wrote in a June 29 post on Google’s official blog.

“And then some people got jealous,” Greene wrote.…Read More

Google Docs upgrades storage to all file types

Users of Google Docs will have more storage ability.
Users of Google Docs will have more storage ability.

Google Docs users now will have access to 1 free gigabyte of storage in the online suite of word processing, spreadsheets, and other commonly-used programs, and each file can be as large as 250 megabytes.

Google already offered unlimited storage for files that were automatically converted into the Docs format. With the change, Google Docs also will store files in their original format, and only those will count toward the limit.

It’s the latest step in Google’s crusade to make it easier, cheaper, and more convenient to store information in its data centers instead of on individual computers in homes, schools, and offices. This remote method of storage has become known as “cloud computing.”…Read More

The top higher-ed tech stories of 2009: No. 5

College campuses have become another battleground for Microsoft and Google.
College campuses have become another battleground for Microsoft and Google.

It might not be on par with the infamous platform wars between Microsoft and Apple that have spanned three decades—at least, not yet—but the rivalry between technology giants Microsoft and Google heated up significantly during the past year, with schools and their students as key beneficiaries.

Aiming to capture the loyalty of a future generation of computer users, both companies now offer cloud-based communication and productivity software to schools free of charge. It’s an offer that many colleges and universities acted on this year as they struggled to balance their budgets.

Microsoft’s Live@edu program gives schools a set of free hosted and co-branded collaboration and communication tools that include Windows Live Hotmail, a hosted eMail service, and Office Live Workspace, an online space to collaborate on Microsoft Office documents.…Read More