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Microsoft's Live@edu To Morph into Office 365

Microsoft has shared additional details for its next generation of Live@edu. Named Office 365, the set of cloud-based applications adds additional collaboration and communication components and is scheduled to appear in the second half of 2011. The company has also announced expected pricing. The announcement came during BETT, a UK-based education conference taking place this week in London.

Along with Office applications, Office 365 will incorporate Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync. This last is Microsoft's latest edition of its communication server technology, which integrates "presence" and communication via voice, video, and application sharing.

According to Anna Kinney, director of Live@edu, Office 365 for education will allow students to move their work outside of the classroom and master the same technologies they'll be using in the workplace. "Office 365 for education changes the game for schools and universities by offering enterprise-class tools for better communication and collaboration," she said. "The ability to work anytime, anywhere across platforms and devices is really powerful, whether that's a PC, Mac, tablet, Windows Phone, iPhone, Nokia phone, or other device. Our customers are expanding the boundaries of the classroom and challenging thinking of where and how people can learn."

The addition of the new applications, Kinney added, will enable educators to provide services such as recording online tutoring sessions in Lync, then posting them on a SharePoint class sites for student viewing.

According to Cameron Evans, national technology officer and CTO for Microsoft Education, customers--including those in education--want enterprise-grade applications for mission-critical work. "They want them at no cost or a relative cost, but it has to be high quality. They don't want a situation where students are saying, 'I can't send in assignment. My service wasn't available.' IT wants to be able to report to their stakeholders that things work and that they can deliver services."

By providing cloud-based applications--including cloud-based storage--Office 365 addresses several IT concerns in the areas of storage, communications, and sharing of documents, he said. "Storage is tremendous. Any higher education institution has to have an entire strategy just for how they store things and help users find it. While storage space is increasing exponentially, so is the need to be able to search and find things that you actually placed in that storage."

Second is conferencing and instant messaging. "We hear conversations around, is e-mail dead? Are students e-mailing each other anymore?" explained Evans. "They may not e-mail each other for normal communications, but they're certainly e-mailing each other and faculty for school work. But what they want to know is, 'What's the presence of the person I'm talking with or teams I'm working with? Can we talk via IM, start a chat, go to a Web conference?' With Lync Online, they have presence added to what they already have with Exchange and SharePoint. That [application will allow schools to offer] Web conferencing without having to spend additional money with a third-party to set up those capabilities."

The addition of SharePoint, Evans added, will enable users to work on assignments simultaneously, update content, and broadcast notification about revisions to SharePoint site subscribers.

The move to Office 365 will be transparent for user, Evans noted. However, since the suite of applications requires federated identity, the IT organization will want to "move down that path," he said. Microsoft is working with InCommon, a group of education and research members developing a trust framework for sharing online resources using Shibboleth. Shibboleth is a standards-based program for Web single sign-on across or within organizations.

"Campuses will be able to create identities like they've traditionally done, and instead of managing identities in two places, they'll be able to manage identity locally on campus and federate that out to the Microsoft service," Evans said. "If a faculty member or student is no longer affiliated with the institution, once they delete that account in their normal enterprise directory on campus, it'll automatically de-provision that account in the cloud. Likewise, if they create an account in the cloud, whatever students use to log into the campus network will be the same identity they use for Office 365."

The new cloud platform comes with a new pricing structure. According to the latest information, students and alumni will continue to receive access to the basic Live@edu services for free; however, the addition of some services will come with a price tag. And as is currently true, faculty and staff deployment comes with a charge at all levels of functionality.

The tiers of Office 365 with estimated retail prices are as follows:

  • Plan A1: $6 per month for faculty and staff; free to students. Includes Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync (conferencing, collaboration with sites, IM, and presence).
  • Plan A2: $10 per month for faculty and staff; free to students. Includes the above, plus Office Web Apps.
  • Plan A3: $14 per month for faculty and staff; $2 per month for students. Includes all of the above plus Office Professional Plus (Access, Excel, Forms, Visio Services, V-mail and advanced archive capabilities).
  • Plan A4: $17 per month for faculty and staff; $5 per month for students. Includes all of the above plus Lync Plus (voice).

When Office 365 launches, existing Live@edu customers will have a smooth path to the new platform, Kinney said. "They will have the ability to transition at their own pace as they introduce new capabilities that have never been available on this scale before," she said.

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