An extraordinary picture of major internet and software corporations competing to provide schools with free email and software services is beginning to emerge. It hold the promise of massive savings for schools and colleges with potential upsets for existing school suppliers.

Hot on the heels of Cottenham Village College near Cambridge adopting Google Apps Education for all its email, office applications and collaboration needs (see below), the London Grid for Learning has announced that free Microsoft technology - Live@edu - will be powering its new email service for all London pupils.

The filtered Live@edu service (London students' incoming emails are also filtered by LGFL), is also being adopted by universities, the University of Buckingham for example. The service allows them to use their own domain names, gives students 5 gigabytes of space for email and online collaboration, and it can be integrated for use with Microsoft Office software, the dominant office suite.

Schools and colleges taking up free services have reported satisfaction with both the quality and the savings. Only one downside has surfaced so far. That is in Canada's Lakeland University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where staff have objected to the fact that their data on Google can be accessed by the US government. That's because US software suppliers are subject the the Patriot Act which gives the US government the right to look at their data, raising the spectre of the campus Citizen Smiths being disappeared off to Guantanamo Bay for intemperate postings on Iraq (link to Globe and Mail article below).

Hosting a recent visit to the Microsoft's's Reading base, education marketing manager Ray Fleming (above, in the demo "lounge") outlined new strategies being developed through Office Live Workspace to enable Office users to extend their activities online. They can save, access, and share their documents and files online to develop collaborations.

While companies like Google have been attracting attention by providing "lite" applications which allow online collaborative work, Microsoft is pushing a persuasive alternative: a rich desktop experience through fully featured software that can be extended into online collaborations.

Ray FleminRay FlemingMicrosoft, elsewhere a highly competitive company, has adopted a more collaborative, "thought leadership" approach in UK education, perhaps because it will be doing business in most big education projects to a greater or lesser extent anyway, almost by default, so "hard sell" is no longer necessarily helpful. Microsoft's SharePoint technology appears to be emerging as a standard in the emerging schools "learning platform" market, and Ray Fleming revealed that 85 companies are now using it to integrate their software for school systems.

Schools are taking ICT more seriously, he said, and recognised that it was fundamental to education. However, there was still a long way to go and the challenge was how to scale up good practice. Ray Fleming also tipped PerformancePoint as an important new Microsoft technology for schools, particularly in relation to reporting pupil performance data back to parents. A key question for schools, he said, was "How do you pull that data down in a way that's useful in the classroom and for administrators and for parents?"

Another technology of interest to schools, those particularly interested in Web 2.0, was Popfly, which allows for media "mash-ups". “It’s another tool that teachers can play with,” he said. Originally designed to show off Silverlight, Microsoft's alternative to Adobe's Flash, it is a web-based resource (

Ray Fleming has developed an education blog for Microsoft (links below) and has already generated thousands of downloads for his UK localised version of US educator Karl Fisch's ubiquitous "Shift Happens" presentation. Ray, who has had extensive education experience with Capita and RM, is no stranger to blogging. He wrote a column for The TES and built up a fascinating blog of his family's year-long global odyssey which is full of insight into using ICT for home schooling.

The visit also gave him the chance to play with Microsoft's home and gaming technologies in its glass-walled "lounge". Using Xbox and Windows Home Server technologies through a large flat-screen television has to be seen to be believed and is right up there with Sony and Apple. It's just as well the walls are glass or they'd never get any work done.



Patriot Act (Google) article

Building Schools for the Future




Ray Fleming's Microsoft Education blog

Shift Happens (Ray's UK version of Karl Fisch's ubiquitous presentation)

The original Shift Happens

Other interesting Ray Fleming posts

The Byron review

DreamSpark (Student download)

The Fleming Family Travel Tales