I predict that over the next few months I'm going to spending quite a bit of time thinking about, and writing about, web-based services, and the integration between traditional desktop applications and web-based applications and services. The phrase that's being used to describe this is "Software AND Services" - where the two integrate rather than separate. Internally at Microsoft, people are talking about "the cloud" - the ubiqitous Internet, where the data is stored "out there, somewhere" and allows users to access more information in more places - and intelligently link it to their working and social lives.
One of the example is Windows Live @ Edu - allowing universities to effectively outsource their email services for students and/or alumni, and continue to run their existing mail services for staff. The service is a free-service - basically it piggybacks on the back of Hotmail (which is used by a majority of students already!) and links into your existing university IT infrastructure for user account provision. Find out more about Windows Live @ Edu
- It helps to respond to the issue that students have expectations of BIG mailboxes, and your email servers are already full to the brim! By shifting to a hosted email service, you can provide a 2GB mailbox without having to provide the storage, and at near-zero cost!
Another way to see how things could change is to take a look at the Windows Live Quick Applications. These are examples of the way that Internet-based services can be brought together to meet the needs of a specific group of consumers - in this example, university students. It is more difficult to describe than to look at, so take a look and think about how it may help you to deliver enhanced services to your students...
Dive into the demo web site for Contoso University. You'll see a student portal for an imaginary university, bringing together a News section, Campus calendar, TV channel, Marketplace and a Room-mate Finder. In the middle is an intriguing area for students to have access to their own contacts from Messenger & Hotmail. This allows them to integrate their own data into the portal, but it remains their data - it doesn't mean they start sharing their contacts with you (who would worry about that more - you or your students?). It's a good illustration about how users can take control of how they use their online data in other places.
And then look at an overview of Windows Live Quick Applications to see other examples. The reason that we have developed these is to illustrate to our partners (IT providers, software developers) what an integrated world can look like - where all of the applications don't just sit on the workstation. And to get this moving, we're using CodePlex to share the source code - giving partners a chance to develop these ideas in their own direction. This means that you too could use this as a basis for developing your own services too.
What could you do with this?
Well, you could use the shared code and toolkit to build your own student portal (and with the constant pressure from students around service delivery, this could be a tool to enhance those services and create a stronger community feel for your students). And you could start to link it to your learning environment/VLE.
Or you could use it to raise the delivery of your existing portal providers, or start a conversation about why you need to upgrade your services. The demo site is a vibrant place which has a clear social angle, whereas many current student portals don't feature graphics that connect with students, and are very task-based. Which means that students use it when they are forced to (eg to complete an assignment), but it doesn't really make it somewhere that becomes important to their lives.