Monthly Archives: October 2008

Microsoft Office Live online workspace

I was working in Google Docs yesterday and thinking that I could be more efficient by creating documents in Word. However, Word doesn’t allow me to share my documents with coworkers. Perhaps Microsoft’s online Office Live workspace would bridge that gap.

I signed up and was pleasantly surprised that the site allowed me to use Firefox. After two confirmation e-mails I uploaded a Word doc and tried to edit it. Office Live prompted me to download and install a program to my hard drive. However even with this program it is not possible to edit documents directly using the web interface. The system “checks out” the file and opens it using your own copy of Office. This is true in either Firefox or Internet Explorer.

Sharing the document was easy enough. I’m not sure how many hoops my invited viewers will have to jump through to access the document, as they are not regular Office Live users. There is a checkbox that will allow viewers to see the document without logging in, so I hope that will streamline the sharing process.

So far the lack of direct online editing and the cumbersome signup process are major hindrances to this service. I’ll try it a bit more to see if there are any features that outstrip Google Docs in the online collaboration arena.

Visit with Google

Patrick and I were in Chicago late last week for a presentation from Google. The Google rep was good but did not have a lot of deep insight into any of the specific areas of interest to higher ed. We did find out that Google donates advertisements to nonprofit groups, including colleges and universities.

You might think that after a pitch from Google I might be even more enthusiastic about the adoption of Google services at IWU. I’m actually even more skeptical now than I was before. Google isn’t able to engage in a long-term agreement, so there is no guarantee that free e-mail hosting and apps will continue to be free after 3 or 4 years. It wouldn’t be much fun to engage in a big migration to Google only to have to do it again in a few years.

This has started a healthy discussion about the positive and negative effects of this service. Why do we even provide e-mail hosting at all? Why not just create forwarding aliases to students’ existing e-mail?

The Google rep also explained that the eternal “beta” nature of their software is basically a software design philosophy. The current version is always the public version and updates, changes, and improvements are continually being worked on. This is a sound, positive, user-centered philosophy. I actually like this aspect of Google apps quite a bit. However I am a “power user” who is interested in adapting and learning. Many users are not so adventurous. I don’t think many of our users want to hunt around for features that may or may not have changed since yesterday. It actually sounds like our front-line staff would have a crazy moving target to support.

On the upside, Google is offering 7GB of mail storage per person as opposed to our 250MB. They have tons of data centers which means uptime and performance will probably be better than we can provide. On the downside, we are small fish in the big Google pond, with no financial stake in the deal. What leverage could we possibly have if the system goes away or doesn’t perform as promised?  A small university complaining about a free service to a huge company? I’m not sure the move to Google is right for us. I hope the discussion will continue among the campus community before any decisions are made.

Wireless changes coming soon

A lot of people have been confused by our wireless networks of late. This is because there are really two different wireless networks at IWU. This means that there are two sets of physical hardware, each with their own setup process for the user.

There is a new one, which we are calling “IWU Wireless”, that has been installed in a few buildings: Welcome Center, Harriett, Adams, and the East St Apartments. The old wireless network is still called “IWU Secure” and is in all the remaining places, including Ames, Buck, Hansen, and the Memorial Center.

We are tentatively planning to swap out all the old equipment very quickly – perhaps within the next week. We are working on a timeline and documentation for users to switch their computer configurations over to work with the new network.

Once we have new documentation, you will be able to find a link to it on the IT Home Page.