Innovation

Microsoft – the Apple of 2015?

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Has anyone seen what MS Office 365 has been up to?  And I don’t mean discontinuing sales of their phones only to prepare for the release of some new ones… If you haven’t been paying attention to the technology giant, it’s probably time to look again…

Look – full disclosure – I’m not a “power user” of any single platform, much to my own detriment.  I have a Google Drive account, along with about 100 Google Docs, and a few other Google products.  I use Gmail for my personal account.  It’s good stuff.

Oh yeah, I also have an iPad and an iPhone.  While I am an avid believer that these devices lend themselves far more to be consumer devices and NOT production devices (despite how some very clever people have figured out work-arounds or committed to pushing through those gaps in functionality), I AM a believer that iTunes is unparalleled.  I know I’m not the first to blog it, but to me, iTunes was Steve Jobs greatest business achievement – not the iPod.

And then we have my computer – the one I’m writing this blog on.  It’s a Surface from Microsoft.  Finally, someone got it almost right!  A super portable device I can do the “heavy lifting” of business work on (writing, spreadsheet, presentations, etc), while still being ultra portable and with more than decent inking, far superior to Apple tablets.

GoogleAppleMicrosoftI search with Google, I hold files in Dropbox, and I take notes through Evernote.  My pro email is through Outlook…and I’ve even pulled my consulting account into that platform.  I use Facebook on rare occasions (mostly if I have to for some company or group site) and the same goes for LinkedIn – which bugs the heck out of me by forcing me to read inside their platform, email inside their platform, etc.

There’s more, but you get the idea.  And as weird as all of that looks to write down, after dozens of conversations I think I’m likely not alone.

So, how do we deal with all of this?  If you’re anything like me, you try to find “middleware” and “connective device” tools to mix and match.  I love that Evernote will link into my Outlook, but I hate that it’s cloogy.  I love that I can access my stored files on my iPhone, but I hate that my Dropbox won’t allow me to edit as well as read on my iPad.  I try to save stuff to Pocket if it’s for academic research, but as noted previously, I can’t do that with LinkedIn posts.  So while I try my best to connect my devices, apps, and software, it’s never been easy.

At the same time, I was reminded recently of a personal truth.  It’s a truth I shared with audiences as a product provider and was said to me very recently by a representative of one of the mega-companies I discussed above.  He explained, “Look…I can’t say this when my sales person is around.  But essentially every school should pick a single platform and go with it.  Whether you choose our system or not, it’s in the organization’s best interest to pick one and go with it.”

Enter Steve Carroll, our chief technology architect.  Two years ago he made a decision that is, in my estimation, brilliant.  Steve made the decision to make Saint Leo a Microsoft school.

Yes, this means he will frustrate some of the Google and Apple zealots who may actually refuse to take advantage of what that decision actually means.  But boy do I hope not.  There will be a few Evernote, power users who don’t embrace the solution, but I hope they change their tune.  And I suppose in Education circles, there may be the odd anti-Microsoft critic around, but I really hope they take a second look.  Because while I’m a heavy user of some competing solutions while being agnostic to others, I’ve had to take a second look at what they are bringing to the table.

MicrosoftIpadFirst, you get the infrastructure stuff, like Windows 10.  Finally, a system that was tested and cleared of bugs by more than 4 million beta users.  Finally a stable, clean, web solution in the new Edge browser.  Finally a decent ‘Start’ menu with a nod to mobile, cloud, and devices through easy app options, etc.  And of course there is full integration with OneDrive so as to access anything, anywhere.  This OS is meant for business.

And of course you have the Office suite – the most consistent staple of the Microsoft era.  But even those applications have gotten a makeover.  It’s easier than ever to incorporate embedded content, find templates, work on documents together, and share files.

But this is more than just new paint.  For example, those applications you’ve used for years work beautifully on any device.  The apps look and feel at home on my iPhone.  And with the cloud integrations, saving my work doesn’t have to mess with Apples bizarre iPad file system.

And then it gets even better.  See, it seems even Microsoft understands that PowerPoint made it far too easy to screw up presentations.  Yes, it’s akin to blaming cars for bad drivers, but at this point it’s likely not a stretch to say that 90% of PowerPoint users stink.  They just seem to perpetuate bad uses of the tool over and over again.  So Microsoft did something about it.  A few things actually.  And did I mention that those changes are free?  Yes, I said free in a blog about Microsoft!  While the free plug-ins and apps do play much more nicely if you’re using the entire ecosystem, you can use most in stand-alone fashion too.

But those apps are worth a look.  I’ll add a few of my favorite videos from the company so you can see it quickly and easily, but let me at least give a brief nod to some cool stuff.

To start off, there is Office Mix.  The PowerPoint plug-in that turns the tool into a hybrid of PowerPoint, a smart-board, QuizMaker, and Apple’s “ShowMe” app, Mix makes it easy to add web content, narration, formative assessments, and if you’re using a good inking device (like the Surface, obviously), the ability to write and draw on the presentation is solid.  So, take Khan Academy videos and put them on steroids with Mix.

Then, there is Microsoft’s seeming attempt to get users to stop at least one bad PowerPoint habit – namely sending a ‘deck’ in lieu of a meaningful document.  Because just as stupid as a presenter reading a bunch of PowerPoint slides is a content creator who sends a meaningless, non-contextual PowerPoint.  Enter SwaySway is a true bridge from PowerPoint to Word, thereby creating a web-brochure.  It’s a step away from an infographic app, but the ease of creating a Sway is remarkable. 

Next, and as an avid fan of Evernote, I have finally been convinced to switch over to OneNote.  (At least for my academic work.)  Why?  Because of the ClassNote feature, specific to educators.  As a school that is rolling out 365 to all students and faculty, I can create a ClassNote.  It’s like a Trapper Keeper for my class.  I get 3 folders set up automatically – one that is fully shared (readable and editable) by all class participants, one that is read only by students so I can push content to them, and one that is personal, where I can keep notes until I’m ready to deliver them.  Oh yeah, and my students can “submit” stuff to me via the notes OR through OneDrive.

And then, as if they needed more, Microsoft seemed to take a page out of Apple’s book by attacking Adobe.  How?  Office Lens.  This brilliant little app will capture whiteboards, flatten and crop the image, and even translate handwritten text.  Oh, and you can also do the same with a document.  Oh, and did I mention that you can take that document and save it as an editable Word doc.  YES, you read that right.  The “locked” PDF documents are locked no more!  (Yes, I’m just as confused as you are about what this means for documents that should never be edited like medical scripts or legal documents…)

But my personal favorite part of this whole story is that all of it will be available to me through Saint Leo.  My Innovation team has every intention of helping push the roll-out this Spring with contests, trainings, and other events.  But on a very personal level, I’m really primed and ready to push start for myself.

Take a look for yourself.  It’ll be worth your time.

Good luck and good learning.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
Chief Innovation Officer
Saint Leo University

About Jeff Borden

My title at work is ‘Chief Innovation Officer.’ So I'm trying to transform teaching and learning at scale. How do I do that? Through my "life" jobs. Primarily, I'm a dad and husband. But I'm also a professor, writer, professional speaker, comedian, researcher, lifelong learner, musician, dog-owner, and even a ranked disc golfer... I've spoken to, trained, or consulted with hundreds of thousands of educators at all levels, in numerous countries, K-20, about how to teach and learn effectively in the 21st Century.

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