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Insights, foresights and hindsights from the world of Microsoft (and other) technology in education.

Did you know about Office Web Apps (for Free) and how they can be used in the classroom?

Did you know about Office Web Apps (for Free) and how they can be used in the classroom?

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I’ve been attending the annual ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in Philadelphia this week, spending a majority of my time in the Microsoft booth.  Far and away the most frequent question I get – either directly or as a follow on to my introduction to the topic is, “What is/are the Office Web Apps?” After a brief explanation and demonstration, the follow on question is “Why are they Free?”

To me, both these questions are potentially transformational to our education customers – let me explain why.

First, to be sure we’re all on the same page, Office Web Apps are explained in detail on this Microsoft site.  To summarize, access to the web apps, and the associated 25 GB of free SkyDrive storage associated with the tools can be easily accessed by signing in to with your LiveID – either the one that you’ve acquired individually by signing up for any number of Microsoft’s useful Live services (Live Messenger, Hotmail, etc.) or by being a student, teacher or faculty member associated with an organization that has signed up for Live@edu.  In either case, you have an identity moniker we call LiveID and can take advantage of Office Web Apps.

To be perfectly clear, Office Web Apps do not have the full functionality of the Office 2010 version that you install on your PC.  But the browser versions of Excel, Word, PowerPoint and OneNote that come in the Web Apps suite look, feel and act much like their 32 or 64-bit counter parts and can be used for all viewing and many editing functions in any of your favorite browser platforms (IE, Firefox, Safari).  Most importantly, the ability to maintain document formatting and rich fidelity is maintained as you transfer documents between the Skydrive cloud storage and your PC.

So now what?  Microsoft publishes a number of teacher guides that provide smart, educator-centric insights on Microsoft tools, including this one for Office Web Apps.  It explains how the combination of Office Web Applications and Skydrive can be skillfully utilized to not only increase collaboration in the classroom and beyond.  Think about the potential of providing students access to their projects, homework and your notes, syllabi, and homework assignments from any PC and any browser just by signing in with a LiveID.  And because Office Web Apps are free and always run the latest version, installing, maintaining and upgrading the full Office version on a PC that they may use or have access to (home, Library, friend or parent) is no longer a roadblock to getting work and collaboration done.

Which brings us to – why free? 

When I speak at conferences and Microsoft events, I frequently refer to a concept I call “monetization motivation” – I question that *every* web user needs to ask themselves when they come across a free offering – not only for PC security purposes, but also to understand what the “catch” might be.  I encourage everyone to do this for ALL vendors, including Microsoft, especially for students and teachers who might be more drawn to free solutions because of budget constraints.  For all software, free or otherwise, you could argue that there is always a hard or soft payment in one or more of the following forms:

  • currency (traditional pay for package or service)
  • your identity, email or profile data (shopping, consumer or customer-service oriented angles)
  • your eyeballs or loyalty as a consumer (ads, clicks, page views, brand)
  • the unknowing, unwilling sacrifice of your computer as a bot or malware host for any number of nefarious purposes, from spreading malware to sending spam to capturing PII

Luckily most free software falls into the second and third categories, including Office Web Apps, but to be sure, it is always a good idea to read the privacy statement associated with what you are signing up for.  (Microsoft’s Online Privacy information can be found here.)  As a company that makes 95%+ of its revenue and profits on software, our ultimate goal is to sell individuals, institutes and companies more software.  If we can entice and provide value to students and teachers with a free version of our software, we’re hopeful that you will think of us when you are ready to buy the full version. 

So get your LiveID today and check out Skydrive and Office Web Apps.  At ISTE this week a number of teachers and IT admins have departed the Microsoft booth with words that are music to my ears, “you’ve just made my entire trip worthwhile.”

  • Rod, his is really good stuff, and very well written, glad I stumbled upon this today!

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