Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Beta testing Microsoft

I don’t mind using Microsoft software. Really, I don’t. I prefer Linux nowadays and I am looking forward to adding Ubuntu Linux to my toolkit at work (using the free VMware server and the good working relationship with the sysadmin to provide the necessary administrator password 😉 ). But you can’t blame Microsoft for being a succesful software company that actually creates/makes/copies software that people can and will use. Like their Accounting software. I have a friend with a small company who is looking for software toolkit with which he can write quotes, workorders, send bills etc, all in the same workflow. We tried several packages on the market, but most are too cumbersome for someone with his level of IT skills and specific needs. In the end we only found Microsoft Accounting and Accounting Express to be up to that task. It is still not an easy program but each main function has it’s own workflow diagram you can click on and it helps you to create all the necessary documents. You can tailor all those documents to your needs. One problem: it is not available for the Netherlands.

Yes, the people in Redmond know how to create a good user experience. Okay, now I will be blasted by the Mac OS X crowd, but I have nothing against Mac OS X. Microsoft is doing fine, even if they have to copy it from other sources. Or buy it. Or steal it. Whatever. Anyway, for this reason I keep a close eye on the new developments by participating in beta programs and pick up all the goodies I can get my hands on. For one, this resulted in a two month free trial of Technet Plus with complete and unlimited download access. I have Vista, Office 2007, Small Business Suite R2, Sharepoint and Longhorn. Test driving this whole set and writing about it will take up most of the year. A few days ago I found another good. The Microsoft Connect site. Technet was already nice, but with Connect you have the chance to get access to beta’s in various stages. I applied and was approved for the new Home Server.

There is one program that piqued my interest immediately: Grava.

What is “Grava”?

“Grava” is the code name for a new set of tools from Microsoft’s Education Products Group that is designed to allow the education community to create and assemble materials that will increase discovery and allow learners to go at their own pace and learning style. “Grava” tools are scheduled for release in fall 2007.

“Grava” Player—The “Grava” player enables users to view the rich interactive content created in “Grava” Authoring.

Developer Tools—The “Grava” SDK is built on Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and provides a programming model and tools for building rich educational experiences.

Authoring—“Grava” Authoring allows users to create interactive and stimulating non-linear projects to view in the “Grava” player.

Services—“Grava” provides an array of services which complement the authoring, SDK and player components. These services include the ability to do assessments, log results, and create intelligent learning solutions.

Having worked in education for a long time and still wishing to fire up the OpenSource eLearning project I am definitely curious about how Microsoft will help to create rich content elearning materials. I know there are already some fine tools on the market and I can only hope that the open source community can develop the same quality tools, but those tools require a certain level of IT experience that most teachers and educators don’t have. The more open beta of Grava is planned for Spring 2007 and needless to say I applied for it.

And, since it can not all be work without play, I also enlisted as a beta tester for Microsoft Games ;-).

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