How To: Configure Regional Settings For All Users In Live@edu

When students and teachers first login to their Live@edu accounts they are presented with a screen asking them to select their regional preferences. They’ll only see this screen once; however, many administrators do not want to give their students (and teachers!) the choice to pick the wrong locale! In fact, if they pick the wrong language it might make it practically impossible for them to use without getting some help from IT. Therefore, the question begs: how can I configure regional settings for all my users so that they don’t have to choose?

Happily, the solution is fairly simple. All you need is a few lines of PowerShell…

Continue reading “How To: Configure Regional Settings For All Users In Live@edu”

How To: Automatically Configure Microsoft Outlook For Live@edu

Microsoft Live@edu offers every student and teacher Outlook Web Access as a method of accessing their email in a branded, web-based environment. This is great because it means users can gain access to their information from practically any web-enabled device with a browser. In a school environment it may be beneficial for students and teachers to access their Live@edu account using the Microsoft Outlook client as part of the Office suite of applications.

Luckily there is a way to configure Outlook automatically for your users so when they run it for the first time they will be ready to go!

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How do I manage Live@edu?

Moving to the cloud is a big step for a lot of schools, colleges and universities. “How do I manage Live@edu?” is one of the biggest questions asked by people unfamiliar with the cloud. A common misconception is that cloud services are zero-admin and that once you hand over responsibility of hosting to a cloud provider you ultimately lose control over your own data and services. Some people even view the cloud as a threat to their jobs. This could not be further from the truth…

Management in the happy Cloud, not nuclear Cloud!

While Live@edu doesn’t provide all the same management features as on-premise Exchange, that doesn’t mean it’s like a nuclear bomb to manage.

Live@edu is managed in a number of ways: via Windows PowerShell, the Exchange Control Panel, and the Service Management Portal. Some legacy functionality is still handled through the Windows Live Admin Centre, too.

Windows PowerShell provides a really great set of cmdlets to perform all the usual tasks and is often the only method to perform certain tasks (such as Dynamic Distribution Group management). The Exchange Control Panel provides web-based GUI access to a wide variety of tasks for day-to-day maintenance and the Service Management Portal provides access to managing your domain, accepted domains, co-branding and DNS settings.

Lots to do, but no tin to do it with…

By farming your users out to the cloud you reduce the number of physical (or virtual) servers you need to manage which in turns reduces your power consumption, and data storage requirements, while giving you more time to actually manage the service. With a 99.9% target uptime you can afford to spend more time doing the fun things.

So “how do I manage Live@edu?” – the answer is simple: largely the same way you manage your on-premise Exchange but without the worry of maintaining a box in your server room.

What’s new in Microsoft Office 365 for education?

With Microsoft’s announcement yesterday that its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and Live@edu would eventually converge into the new Office 365 for enterprises and Office 365 for education offerings it also expanded on some of the benefits that will be available for education customers when it becomes available sometime next year.

Ray Fleming (@RayFleming), Microsoft’s education marketing manager, blogged last night about some of the changes over on the UK Schools Blog, but I’ve summarised some of the key benefits for education below.

Benefits:

  • Large 25GB mailboxes and the ability to send attachments up to 25 MB
  • Anywhere access to e-mail, important documents, contacts and calendar on nearly any device, including PC, Mac, Windows Phone, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry
  • Works with the programs students know and use most — Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote
  • Student access to Office Web Apps for viewing, sharing and light editing of documents
  • Team sites to share, manage and search for information and resources
  • Industry-leading, always-up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spam solutions
  • Optional student access to 25 GB of free online storage on Windows Live SkyDrive
  • Latest version of Microsoft Live@edu, which has thousands of schools and millions of student users today

I’m really excited to see the suite in action – Live@edu is already used by tens of millions of users in more than 100 countries. In my opinion Office 365 for education represents are real step forward in offering cloud-based solutions for schools, colleges and universities in the UK.

Creating Dynamic Distribution Groups for Live@edu via Windows PowerShell (Part 2)

<img style="background-image: none; margin: 0px 0px 0px 10px; padding-left: 0px; padding-right: 0px; display: inline; float: right; padding-top: 0px; border-width: 0px;" title="spam" alt="spam" src="http://blog.jamesbmarshall.com/wp-content/uploads/2In part 1 of this guide I covered how to create a DDG that sent mail to users that had “Parent” in their CustomAttribute1 field. I also described how to test the DDG to ensure that the right users had been added.

In this part I’ll cover how to restrict access to the DDG. Sending mass emails to parents is not an uncommon event, but what if you want to moderate emails before they’re allowed to be sent? What if you want the DDG to be hidden from all your users to prevent misuse?

1. Hide DDG from the GAL

We can modify our existing “All Parents” group by using the following code that will remove it from the GAL:

Set-DynamicDistributionGroup "All Parents" –HiddenFromAddressListsEnabled $true

You can re-enable visibility in the GAL by changing $true to $false.

2. Enable moderation

The following code will turn moderation on, set the DDG moderator to a user whose alias is james, and send notifications only to internal senders whose mail is rejected by the moderator.

Set-DynamicDistributionGroup "All Parents" –ModerationEnabled $true –ModeratedBy james -SendModerationNotifications Internal

Any mail that is sent to the “All Parents” DDG now has to be manually moderated before it is passed on to the recipients.

More information on the additional parameters you can use with Dynamic Distribution Groups can be found on the Outlook Live help website.

Creating Dynamic Distribution Groups for Live@edu via Windows PowerShell (Part 1)

Following on from my previous post detailing the options for sending mass mails, I thought it would be useful to post the PowerShell code I’ve used in the past to create, and test, DDGs.

powershellDDGs, rather than store a set list of recipients, will mail users who satisfy the criteria upon which the group is based. There are a variety of attributes you can use, such as CustomAttributeX (where X is a number 1 to 15). I’ve included some sample steps:

 

1. Create new dynamic distribution group:

New-DynamicDistributionGroup "All Parents" -IncludedRecipients MailboxUsers, MailContacts –ConditionalCustomAttribute1 Parent

This code creates a new DDG called “All Parents” (AllParents@your-domain.ac.uk) and includes your mailbox users and external contacts in the search on CustomAttribute1, which in this case looks for “Parent”.

2. Test DDG criteria:

$DDG = Get-DynamicDistributionGroup "All Parents";
Get-Recipient -RecipientPreviewFilter $DDG.RecipientFilter

This code will display all the users the DDG would mail if you were to send a message to it. You should see all users who have “Parent” in CustomAttribute1 listed.

It is important to consider setting restrictions on who can mail the DDG – by default it cannot be mailed from outside of your Outlook Live domain; however unless you specifically set it your DDG will be visible in the GAL and “mailable” by all your users.

For information on hiding and moderating your DDGs, read part 2!

Dynamic Distribution Groups in Live@edu

Sending an email to lots of users is not just the preserve of spam bots and marketers it’s also something people need to do with perfect legitimacy. Take, for example, the warden for a university halls of residence who may want to email all his resident students to welcome them to their new home for the year, or the head teacher who needs to email all the students in a school to tell them about the school sports day this summer…

In a medium to large institution this could easily run into the tens-of-thousands of recipients, but with limitations on the number of emails that can be sent from a Live@edu account in one day (500, in case you were wondering!) – what’s the best way to do it?

In this blog post I will cover two ways to achieve a successful ‘mass mail’:

1. On-Premises Exchange

IMAG0003The first, and simplest, answer is to maintain an on-premises mail server to handle these big mail-shots. As the server is locally hosted and administered it doesn’t fall under the limitations of the Live@edu mail service and therefore can send as many emails as the institution defines as its limit.

There are some considerations for adopting this method:

  • Whitelisting the server is a must. Failing to do so with Live@edu may result in your local mail server being blocked for spam; resulting in several days of interrupted service as it can take up to three business days to unblock an IP address.
  • This method is not particularly dynamic.
  • This method is not free as it requires the continued maintenance of a local mail server. Depending on your deployment, and requirements, this may be an issue.

2. Dynamic Distribution Groups

Cloud_in_the_sunlightDynamic Distribution Groups (DDGs) are my current class favourite. Dynamic in name and nature this wonderful distribution group type allows a practically limitless number of recipients to receive email.

Unlike a standard distribution group where a mail sent to a group containing 25 recipients would count as 25 separate emails, a DDG calculates the recipients on the fly determining who should be sent the email based on a set of criteria specified when the DDG is created. So a DDG that would result in 500 people being emailed would still only count as 1 email.

Food for thought:

  • DDGs check the recipients every time you send an email, so if a new person who would be eligible for the email joins the GAL then they will receive it automatically.
  • DDGs can include external mail contacts.
  • DDGs can be hidden from the GAL.
  • Security – who can send to the DDG – can be applied to prevent abuse.

Further reading:

Microsoft Fun, Free Friday!

0530hrs and my alarm goes off with an unwelcome screech – it’s time to get up ready for Microsoft’s Fun, Free Friday event held on it’s campus at Thames Valley Park, Reading.

The event was designed to demonstrate some of the technologies Microsoft brings to the education sector including everything from Live@edu through to XNA Game Studio. It was run as a series of quick-fire demonstrations of free technology offered by Microsoft to help schools at a variety of levels to enhance teaching and learning and ease management.

I was particularly taken with Live@edu, and Windows Live essentials (Messenger, Writer, Photo Gallery, etc).

Live@edu

Live@edu is, in my opinion, one of the crown jewels of Microsoft’s free (it really is!) offering: hosted Exchange email. Available to all schools in the UK the service, hosted at Microsoft’s data centre in Dublin, Ireland, provides users of the service:

  • A 10GB inbox.
  • 25GB Skydrive storage.
  • Office web apps
  • Instant Messenger
  • and much more!

Having worked in schools for a number of years I know that email is one of the most contentious areas when it comes to running a school network so being able to pass the lion’s share of the hassle over to somebody else, while retaining full administrator features, is nothing short of a God-send.

Students can work together collaboratively on documents and share them using Skydrive and Live Spaces and as a network manager or decision maker you can choose to enable or disable functionality as desired.

A feature-request did come out of Fun, Free Friday: the ability to restrict access to features ‘on demand’ – i.e. disabling Live Messenger for a particular lesson.  The guys at Microsoft were impressed with the suggestion, and have promised to pass it on.

When taken into consideration against FOSS software like Open Office, Microsoft Office and Live@edu really do provide the complete solution in a consistent and polished manner.  I think consistency is important, particularly in a learning environment, so to offer pupils and staff the ability to create, edit, share and collaborate on documents wherever they are using Office web apps and Live Messenger is brilliant and means that there is no need to cart documents around on memory sticks, or in email attachments.

Google, no matter how good they appear to be, cannot compete in this particular area yet – Microsoft Office and Exchange Server is just too good, and too widely deployed; and now the cost barrier is removed for academia it would be fool-hardy to go elsewhere.

Windows Live Essentials

This free suite of applications has been a round for a while, but we were treated to a look at a beta build of the next versions of Live Writer, and Photo Gallery.

I have been using Live Writer for a little while now and I immediately saw how it can help students, particular GCSE, A-Level and University, keep track of projects and share their progress through a Blog.

Live Writer makes it easy to manage blog posts, and pages and provides a really nice WYSIWYG interface that can even download your current Blog theme and allow you to live preview the post as you write it.  The software has good support for a large number of blogging services including WordPress, Blogger, TypePad and can also take custom settings.

Live Writer makes it easy to  incorporate multimedia content into your posts with some simple effects for photos, and integration with YouTube for videos.  Adding photos and videos has never been so easy!

Photo Gallery’s ability to take two photos and ‘fuse’ them into one ‘perfect photo’ (for example: two photos where one person is smiling and the other is blinking) was a real crowd-pleaser, resulting in a round of applause from the people there as their jaws all dropped in the demo!  I can see the whole suite really appealing to pupils in key stage 3 and above as they begin to tackle coursework that requires a log of their progress.

I had a thoroughly good day with Microsoft and I sincerely hope they continue to run events like this, not just for the food (Ben Nunney gave away his other half’s famous Bacon Brownies as rewards for answering questions correctly!) and free software, but because it allows people to see first-hand how Microsoft software can benefit them directly.  Sometimes events like BETT just aren’t enough to get the message across.

Tweets from the day were tagged with ‘#MSFFF’.

James