Updated July 2012. A PDF version is provided at the bottom of this blog post for printing.
Microsoft offers a number of services free of charge to help people live and work a little smarter. Here’s a quick overview of technology to make life a little simpler and more fun.
More than a million Kiwis use at least one of these services. There are probably at least a million more who might like to. We hope you’ll find something that will surprise and delight you.
To make it easier to find what you’re interested in, we’ve used the following themes:
- Reach for the cloud with online storage, web apps, and more
- Get creative
- Make your Office more social
- Get technical
- Spark new ventures and support charity
Reach for the cloud
As broadband speeds increase and datacentres become more efficient, cloud computing is revolutionising services to consumers and businesses. Microsoft offers popular services for email, online storage, document editing and search at no charge. All you need to use them is a modern web browser, such as the latest Internet Explorer.
Free Online Storage – SkyDrive
With SkyDrive, Microsoft gives you 7 gigabytes of personal storage in the cloud. You can keep a private backup, share documents and photo albums with friends, or access your files on the go. It’s fast and easy, and there’s no charge.
Free Office Web Apps
If you’re on a computer that doesn’t have Microsoft Office installed, just whip a Word, Excel, PowerPoint or OneNote file onto SkyDrive. Then you can open it in your web browser. Document fidelity is great, so your hard work won’t be lost in translation to the cloud.
The Microsoft Office Web Apps are great for collaboration, allowing you to edit a document at the same time as your friends. You can do light editing with just a web browser, or connect SkyDrive to a current version of Microsoft Office to get the best of both worlds.
Free Cloud Services for Schools
To help schools enhance collaboration and for students to own their own portfolio of work, many of Microsoft’s enterprise grade cloud services – which place emphasis on student rights including data ownership and privacy – are available to schools at no cost.
The free Office 365 for Education A2 plan includes browser based access to Microsoft’s cloud services for email, online conferencing and messaging, document storage and collaboration, and Office web apps.
Skype has free voice and video calling between Skype users that makes it easy to be together, even when you’re far apart. We keep working to improve Skype, and the latest version offers better video and audio quality plus syncing with Facebook built right in.
Microsoft has announced a brand new free email service, Outlook.com.
Outlook.com has a fresh, modern design. It makes your email richer by connecting to Facebook and Twitter and helps you be productive with Office and SkyDrive. Because email is personal, Outlook also helps keep you in control of your private data.
It works beautifully with just a web browser, and of course you can hook it up to your PC and your favourite smartphone.
Bing is Microsoft’s web search engine. We think people should have more than one search engine to find what’s on the Internet. Today, Bing is perhaps the only viable competitor to Google’s dominant 95% Internet search share in New Zealand.
As well as the usual results you would expect, Bing features a stunning new photograph every day. Bing won’t nag you to use Google Chrome. And you’ll probably find that Bing has fewer paid advertisements among the natural search results you get for New Zealand.
It’s called a beta in New Zealand because we haven’t launched the full decision engine here just yet, but you’re welcome to switch your location to the US if you want to see enhancements like the pages your Facebook friends like in your search results (once you give Bing permission to connect to Facebook).
Snap lots of photos of a scene, throw them at PhotoSynth, and it will figure out how they fit in 3D space. Then you can use your web browser to scoot around the scene, and zoom into the details at the original resolution of your photos. It also does 360 degree panoramas beautifully.
This is a unique way to share cultural treasures, natural beauty, an event, or an art exhibition. Don’t take our word for it. Go and have a look now and see what we mean.
Worldwide Telescope is a planetarium in the cloud. You can explore the night sky from your living room as if you are sitting at some of the most powerful telescopes in the world. If you pick a speck that looks like a star and zoom in far enough, you might just discover it’s an entire galaxy.
There are guided tours narrated by experts, by school children, and by expert school children. You are encouraged to make your own tours, and it’s a fun way to learn about the night sky.
Creative Commons plugin (for Microsoft Office)
If you’re publishing your creative work, you might want to apply a simple licence to make it clear how you want to share your work. The Creative Commons project provides a series easy to understand licence templates that you can apply to documents. With Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, you can easily embed Creative Commons licences in your documents with a free plug-in.
Trustworthy computing is a core part of Microsoft’s vision. We work continually to keep a step ahead of the bad guys, but as scams directed at people rather than technology multiply, it’s critically important that everyone educates themselves and their communities about keeping safe online.
Security updates may not seem very fun, but you need them. Keep automatic updates on. They’re there to protect you, and they make a real difference to your computer’s security. If you get infected with malware, it’s going to be a much bigger hassle than a monthly automatic update.
Every month Microsoft releases an updated malware scanner to clean the most prevalent malicious software as part of the Windows Update service, as a supplement to anti-virus software. This will be run automatically as part of your automatic updates and it helps keep you a little safer.
Security Essentials (for Microsoft Windows)
It’s important to us that everyone can protect themselves from malicious software. Our Security Essentials anti-virus software is free for home users and small businesses to use. It doesn’t hog computer resources, or nag people to pay for an upgrade to a fancier version. And it’s simple to use. If you don’t have current anti-virus installed, give it a go.
Internet Explorer 9 (for Microsoft Windows)
Internet Explorer 9 was designed to make the web more beautiful, with a browser that makes websites shine. It has a simpler, cleaner user interface that gets out of the way. This complimentary upgrade from Internet Explorer 8 is a leap forwards in web standards, speed, and security.
We’re continuing this work in Internet Explorer 10, which is currently available as a preview with the Windows 8 Release Preview. Look out for the new version when it’s released.
Make Office social
We continually experiment to make our products better for specialised purposes like education and social networking. When we come up with cool ideas in these areas, we often make the technology available as a complimentary add-in. Here are some examples you might like to try.
Social Connector (for Microsoft Outlook)
If you use social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Windows Live, you can use the Social Connector for Microsoft Outlook to bring their profile photo and latest updates right into Microsoft Outlook. The next time you email someone, you can quickly and easily glance at their latest updates. It gives you an extra chance to congratulate them on their latest venture or hold off pressing “send” if they’re travelling.
Free Māori language packs (for Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office)
Māori language packs to translate commonly-used features of Microsoft Office 2010 and Windows 7 can be downloaded at no charge. Complimentary Māori language packs are also available through for previous versions of Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows.
Ribbon Hero (for Microsoft Office)
Ribbon Hero makes a game of becoming a Microsoft Office power user. It’s a complimentary download that works with Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010. Once installed, you can open it any time to see your progress and get lessons that are tailored to you. Another easy way to learn a bit more about Office 2010 is by installing the complimentary Microsoft Office 2010 ticks and trips screen saver.
Get scientific (for Microsoft Office)
Open the “new” file formats in Microsoft Office
Have you ever had trouble opening one of the file formats that was introduced with Microsoft Office 2007? They have file names that end in an “x”, like .docx, .xlsx, or .pptx. These file formats are standards-based for interoperability, and they make for smaller files that are less likely to get corrupted.
But you probably don’t care about all that if you can’t open one! Help is at hand. If you have an earlier version of Microsoft Office, you can upgrade it with the complimentary Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack to open these files. If you don’t have Microsoft Office at all, you can use SkyDrive to view and edit these documents in a web browser, or you can use the free Word Viewer, PowerPoint Viewer or Excel Viewer.
We think the capabilities of software are magical, and we want as many people as possible to develop programming skills that will lead to the innovations of the future. We also want it to be fun and engaging for everyone. To help enthusiasts realise their potential, we provide expertise and programming tools at no charge.
Kudo Game Lab (for Microsoft Windows)
Kudo Game Lab provides a visual programming framework to create simple games. It’s an easy way to create worlds, characters, and game logic – and in the process, you can’t help learning basic programming principles. It’s a complimentary download, and runs on Windows.
Small Basic (for Microsoft Windows)
Designed to bring the fun back to learning programming, Small Basic is a simplified programming environment that makes it easy to learn, write, and share code. It’s a complimentary download, and runs on Windows.
Visual Studio Express Edition (for Microsoft Windows)
They are called “Express Editions” of Visual Studio, but don’t underestimate them. These powerful tools can create just about any application you can imagine.
People who want to build a web application, a robot that obeys your gestures, a Windows or Windows Phone application, or even a game, can use these tools and specialised add-in kits which all have extensive learning resources built in to help get people started.
Microsoft hosts one of the largest open source software repositories in the world, known as CodePlex.com. If you want to learn software programming from reading other people’s code, contribute to an existing project, or publish your own, we hope you find CodePlex.com useful.
SysInternals (for Microsoft Windows)
For those who want to explore the inner workings of their computer, or troubleshoot like a pro, the free SysInternals tools can be used to examine and solve an amazing range of computer mysteries. If you’re just getting started, the creator of many of the tools has a series of very popular web casts that walk through real world examples of how to use the tools.
Spark new ventures
Supporting new software and Internet innovation is an important part of our mission to help people realise their full potential. Start-ups can rarely afford the best, but that’s exactly what we want to give them. Each of the “Spark” programmes provides free technology to entrepreneurs of the future.
DreamSpark gives students and educators access to professional Microsoft technology at no charge. The tools are provided to help advance learning and skills through technical design, technology, math, science, and engineering activities.
BizSpark gives software start-ups access to Microsoft technology through a no-charge MSDN subscription for three years, including special access to Windows Azure. The programme also helps start-ups connect with investors, mentors and partners, and network with their peers.
WebSpark gives web design and development companies a jump-start by providing tools and resources to build great websites free of charge for three years. The package includes software, support and networking opportunities.
Technology donations to charities
Charitable organisations deliver essential social services throughout New Zealand, and Microsoft donates expertise, cash grants and technology to support a sector which we believe is critical to helping New Zealanders realise their full potential.
Tech Soup New Zealand administers distribution of technology donated by Microsoft and other companies. If you qualify or know others who do, please get in touch with Tech Soup to find out more.
Thank you for reading!
We hope you’ve found something that will be fun or useful for you and your community.
A printable version of this page is attached for your convenience (PDF).