Labs Durham Academy Educational Technology Proving Grounds

19Sep/130

Mavericks is coming…

Posted by scraig

surfing-cat-6407

Let us know if you want to test it out!

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2Aug/121

Mountain Lion Update

Posted by scraig

Apple recently released the latest version of OSX, "Mountain Lion". Our plans for Mountain Lion are to push it out as an update sometime mid school-year, after we have had a chance to thoroughly test it.

That being said, I have made Mountain Lion available as an optional package in Managed Software Update for anyone in the testing group. MSU will download the updater package, restart your computer, and do its business.

If you would like to be added to the testing group, feel free to let me know, as we would like to get as many people testing this as possible.

A word of warning however-I fully anticipate "weirdness". So back up everything before you fire this thing off. And please let me know if you're using it.

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2Aug/120

Adobe CS6 Suite is now available!

Posted by scraig

I wanted to let everyone know that we now have Adobe Creative Suite 6 Design and Web Premium available for everyone to dig into. Here is how you go about nabbing it:

A. (Optional) If you want to, uninstall CS4 first. If you go to /Applications/Utilities/Adobe Installers/ and run the app titled "Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium", it will allow you to uninstall the old version, save about 10 gigs of space, and not have two copies of each of the CS apps in your applications folder.

B. Fire up Managed Software Update (/Applications/Utilities/Managed Software Update) and let it search for any updates. You'll have to be on campus for this to work, by the way. Once it has finished checking for and downloading any updates, there's a button labeled "Optional Software" which you can click to enable or disable the optional packages. You should see CS6DesignAndWebPremium as an option: Click the checkbox to enable it, and then confirm all of your choices and let it download and install.

UPDATE:

I have noticed that, in occasional use, the CS6 installer chokes halfway through and gives up. It's usually as simple as running through the process mentioned in point B above to get it to finish. Until Adobe updates this, it's about as good as we're going to get.

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28Jun/121

Changes to DA Faculty Macs for 2012-2013 School Year: Part 2

Posted by scraig

If you haven't already, check out Part 1 here

Most of our Apple laptops have been stuck on OSX 10.6 "Snow Leopard" for the last two years, largely due to some very unfortunate timing on Apple's part. Therefore, this year we will be switching everyone over to 10.8 "Mountain Lion". The changes that came in 10.7 "Lion" are pertinent as well, so we will cover them here as well.

Completists and über-nerds will want to check out the Ars Technica review of Lion and of Mountain Lion (not out yet)

Scrolling

What seems like the biggest change, and the greatest initial source of confusion, is the scrolling direction. To make their notebooks match the iPad and iPhone, Apple made it so that scrolling upwards moves the screen upwards, and vice versa. This is backwards from the old way. You'll get used to it quickly, I promise.

Also, scrollbars are gone! If you are one of those folks who really likes to click and drag the scrollbar around, sorry. Time to join the 21st century and use trackpad scrolling (Place two fingers on the trackpad and move around).

Save As

Hey, where is my "Save As..." button? Apple has added a new feature that at first seems designed to create maximum confusion. In reality, it is quite helpful. In many apps, you will notice a lack of a "Save As..." button. This is because many of us are used to editing a document and then hitting "Save As..." to create a copy of that document, preserving the original document in place. If you really want to make a copy, you can hit the "Duplicate button":

However, the real point here is that each document now contains all of its revisions inside of it. You can access all of the previous versions through a Time Machine-like interface by clicking on the Revert To button:

You can then browse through the various versions and pull out what you need. If you want to revert the document completely, just find the version you want and hit "Restore". If you want to pull out a deleted paragraph from an older version, just highlight and cut & paste.

Launchpad

For those of you used to finding and launching your applications from the "Applications" folder on your dock, Apple has created a new application launcher based on the iOS (iPad/iPhone) application launcher, called Launchpad. Find it on the dock:

Clicking gives you a paged, swipeable (two-finger left-to-right slides on your trackpad), list of all of the apps on your computer:

iCloud

Apple now provides you with a free service called iCloud which allows you to keep a number of your documents and media in sync with each other. In general, once connected to iCloud, you can have the following items synced and available on all of your Mac, iPhone, and iPad devices: Calendars and Mail, Address Book, Photostream*, Music, Movies, Documents*.

This allows you to not have to manually connect your iPhone or iPad to get all of the changes to your calendar, and that photos taken on your iPhone will automatically become available in your iPhoto library.

These changes are initially bewildering, and they're getting expanded with Mountain Lion, so if you need some help, please contact us.

Reminders and Messages

Mountain lion adds the Reminders app from iOS to OSX. It's pretty straightforward. Just remember, if set up with iCloud, your reminders will match across all of your devices.

Also, text messages sent from one Apple device can be received on all others. Technically these are "iMessages", but it means that you can receive your texts on your laptop instead of constantly pulling out your phone.

While messages is open, new texts will appear in the new "Notifications" bar:

There a ton of other things, so if something is confusing you or blowing your mind, just let us know.

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28Jun/121

Changes to DA Faculty Macs for 2012-2013 School Year: Part 1

Posted by scraig

All Apple users at the school will notice a number of changes to their computers after this year's upgrade, in addition to the changes brought about by changing email systems. I'll go over those things that are most important for day-to-day operations, and then move on to the broader changes brought about by the new operating systems of OSX Lion and Mountain Lion.

Backups

The most important change that you need to be aware of is that we are changing how we backup your files. In the past, Mac users opened the program Synchronize X and manually conducted a backup. Moving forward, your Mac will perform a synchronization automatically in the background. This synchronization will only happen at school. This should greatly improve the frequency and ease of use for backing up.

However, there is one major caveat: we are only going to sync the Desktop and Documents folders. This means that any other folders will not be synced (Subfolders of Desktop and Documents will be synced, of course). The big ones that will not be synced are the Movies, Music, and Pictures folders. With the size of personal media collections growing exponentially, we had to make a decision not to back these files up any longer. If you don't store a lot of photos or music on your computer, then you are all set. However, most of us do use our computers for this, and we want to make sure that, should our hard drive die (a disturbingly common experience), that we have a backup.

Our recommendation is that you purchase a backup hard drive to connect to your laptop using Apple's built-in "Time Machine" software. Any of the tech department members can assist you in purchasing one, but in general, you're looking for an external hard drive that uses USB 2.0 for its connection, and has a power adapter (the ones that run off of the USB power do not tend to be as long-lived). Despite common rumors, any drive that will work for PCs will work for Macs as well. In terms of size, a hard drive that is at least twice the size of your computer's hard drive is appropriate. A good example from a vendor that we tend to recommend is Seagate drive from New Egg.

Using Time Machine is usually as simple as plugging in your new hard drive, and when your laptop asks you if you want to use it as a Time Machine Drive, saying Yes. It may also ask to initialize or format your drive too–this is okay, as the Mac has to prepare it for use.

Munki

Periodically, you will see a window pop out of nowhere that looks like this:

This is our new software management system, "Munki". As things like Microsoft Office or Adobe Flash get updated, I package up the changes and push them out to you. All Apple updates will be available through this app as well.

Here is the quick and dirty guide for using Munki:

To run the update application manually, open "Managed Software Update.app" from your Applications/Utilities folder.

Otherwise, Managed Software Update runs about once a day. If it finds something to update, it will list the available updates and wait for you to decide what to do.

We urge everyone to apply these updates as they come out. Once you have hit the "Update Now" button, you will be asked how to proceed:

Many things will work just fine with the "Update without logging out" option, but it's safer, and thus recommended, to use the "Logout and Update" option.

Finally, a number of software packages have been moved to the "Optional Software" category. This allows us to save you hard drive space and clutter by not installing large or subject-specific packages unless you need them. If you're looking for Adobe CS6 suite, it's here, as well as a lot of the math, science, and programming applications. Here is how to install them:

Select the boxes for the applications you want to add and then hit the "Add or Remove" button.

Then these changes will occur when you hit the "Update Now" button from the main window.

Part 2 talks about the biggest changes to OSX Lion and Mountain Lion which you may want to familiarize yourself with.

Filed under: Tech News 1 Comment
12Sep/110

Analytics comes to Labs… Sort of. (WordPress Update)

Posted by scraig

We have two visits from India!


There are a number of a changes, updates, and issues to our WordPress server that I wanted to let everyone know about.

For those of you who want to know who has been reading your blog and visiting the site, we now have support for Google Analytics, with caveats. This plugin adds some tracking code into every page of your blog. Analytics then compiles all of this data and keeps track of where people visit from, what browser they use, what pages they visit, how long they looked at a page, etc. In fact, there are an awful lot of features, most of which are extremely unnecessary for our purposes-this tool is designed to help website owners analyze and drive the traffic to their websites, frequently for the purposes of maximizing viewership and ad-revenue.

Which brings up a little aside-Labs is set up to test technologies which are Open-Source and Free. When I mention Free here, I mean Free-Free, not "Free". Largely, what I am trying to distinguish between here are sites which are truly free, and those which are free to use as long as you agree to have advertising sent to you in some way. It is our goal to keep Labs about the educational community at Durham Academy. We want to keep advertising out of it.

An example is the recently requested Pulsemaps plugin for WordPress. This plugin and service is "free", in that it would not cost the school any money to implement, but it is free because its developers earn money by embedding ads in the widget which would show up on your blog. Again, our goal here is to enhance learning here at school, not to market products to our students for some company we have no connection with.

Back to Google Analytics. This service is also "free", but with the difference that no marketing will show up on our blogs. The trick is that we cannot give you an Analytics account through our own students.da.org Google Apps for Education domain. If you would like to start collecting visitor data, you will have to sign up for Analytics through a personal Google account. Once you have done so, you will get a Google Analytics ID code which you'll need to enter in to the Tools->Google Analytics page of your blog. And then wait. It can take over 24 hours before you will see any traffic (if there has been any yet!). Like spam is to email, expect to get a lot of traffic from seemingly random places in eastern Europe and Bangalore. There are a lot of web-spiders crawling all over the internet, and as a result, you will see them listed as visits to your site, even thought they are really just computer programs exploring the web, looking for things to index.

Two brief reminders-as this requires the use of a personal Gmail account, the use of Analytics is not officially supported, and is entirely optional. Also, please remember to continue using your da.org email address whenever contacting anyone in the school community.

With increasing interest and usage of Labs, expect to find it moved from its humble, semi-retired Dell server to a virtual server on our Netapp. What does this mean for you? Not a whole lot, thankfully. We'll alert the everyone in the WordPress Network to let you know when the migration is going to happen, but unless you're trying to login during the cutover, you shouldn't notice anything amiss. Unless everything breaks and then we're in trouble. (JK... We'll back everything up thrice to be safe).

As of this time, I still can't get the VoiceThread auto-embed plugin to work, so for the time being, you will have to link rather than embed. Also, for some themes, if you insert an object (like a picture) which is wider than the column your posts go into, the image will overlap other elements of your blog. In the past we handled this with a plugin called ChoiceCuts Image Juggler which no longer works properly. Unfortunately, images will have to either be resized to fit prior to uploading, resized in the image-menu of the Post editor, or the theme changed to one which automatically scales the images (which can look stretched). Sorry!

Finally, we have a widget which allows any blog to show recent posts to the entire network of blogs. I had hacked this a bit in the past to show recent activity. However, it occurred to me that it shows blog posts from blogs which have their privacy controls set to be private. I've added a page about Privacy to the main blog which you may want to review, and I have also removed private blogs from the Recent Posts widget. Should anyone who is using this widget start to notice that their student's posts don't show up, this is probably why.

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12Sep/110

Lion

Posted by scraig


Apple released the newest version of their OSX operating system, 10.7 "Lion", late this summer. Many within the Durham Academy community are probably wondering when Lion might be coming to their computers and labs.

Unfortunately, the network homes that we rely on to allow students to logon to any computer on campus is not working with Lion. We are actively seeking a solution, but even now, with the first service update to 10.7.1, Apple has still not solved the problem. Two further problems now prevent schoolwide usage: first, while the faculty and staff have different needs in terms of networked homes, we can't upgrade one group of computers, but not the others. Version parity is very important for both ensuring support (it's easier for us to only worry about one version at a time) and for teaching (it's difficult, especially in the lower school, to have multiple versions). Lion has a huge list of changes which make having two different versions trying. The second delay has to do with finding a time to actually install the software. Now that school has started, it's incredibly difficult for us to find a time to upgrade everyone in a timely manner. Of the 500+ computers on campus, the majority are Apples; for this reason, summer has always been the best time for us to perform these sorts of upgrades.

For any staff or faculty absolutely itching to have their lives turned upside-down and broken, we can talk about setting Lion up for you to test-just be forewarned that if things get ugly, we're probably just going to roll you back to the previous version.

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1Apr/110

What Could an iPad Do For Us? Part 1

Posted by scraig

The 20" iPad 3!

Attached to the iPad seems to be a lot of excitement and hopes for education. The device itself is elegant, self-contained, and small enough to carry around relatively unobtrusively. Interacting with it is for the most part intuitive; many would cite the naturalness of using gestures and moving things around with the fingers as more biologically comfortable than inputting commands or even using a mouse as a proxy for the fingers. The software available for it now seems overwhelming in its variety and availability, since it is all browsed and purchased through a central App Store. Tempting also is the price, at approximately half the cost of a full Apple laptop.

As numerous independent schools have gone to requiring a computing device of some kind for their students, the iPad has generated a lot of interest as the next evolution of that process. I haven't done my research that closely, but as far as I know, no school entered this school year with a program where all students had an iPad. Granted, the iPad came out a bit late in 2010 for schools to plan it into their fall semester. However, next school year, a number of schools will be expanding their pilot iPad programs into full-blown 1:1 programs, and it will be interesting to see what insights these schools can provide.

Over the course of several posts, I would like to explore some of the possibilities that the iPad and other tablet devices might offer us as a school, regardless of whether we would ever actually become a 1:1 school of any kind (tablet or laptop) Also, I would like to expose some of the infrastructure, technology, and pedagogical problems we would need to solve as a school to adopt a device. These problems affect us through our continued use of any kind of computer, and thus, are important to consider. Finally, I am interested in what the limitations and quirks of this device suggest about contemporary teaching methods.

A note: keep an eye on the twitter feed. As I'm thinking about this and researching, I'll probably tweet away the articles of substance, as I cannot recommend any article with titles like "10 Ipad Apps that will CHANGE your life" or "The 15 Things You Should be Doing". How about a hashtag of #dalabs, and we can all add things of interest?

The first step in discussing the iPad for education is to talk about the range of things an iPad can do; the range of apps is enormous, but what I'm talking about here is, what are the physical means for interacting with this device? What sorts of hardware does the iPad include, and what general tasks does it enable? What are the things that make an iPad, well, iPaddy?

  • Display: The iPad has a quite attractive screen, more or less similar to the iPhone (obviously larger), or Apple's laptop and displays. It is easily viewable from a wide range of angles around it, making sharing possible (unlike the limited viewing angles we used to tolerate with older screens). One thing that might not get brought up is the outdoor picture quality-frequently described as merely tolerable to downright useless. In full sunlight you will almost certainly have a very difficult time.
  • Display part 2-fingerprints: The primary method of interacting with the iPad is through the touch screen-also excellent, like a giant Apple trackpad, including fancy things like an ability to know the number of fingers used to create different gestures, and to use the velocity of your motions  as well. Of course, this means that the screen often has a veneer of finger grease, but again, this only is really noticeable in full sunlight.
  • Buttons, Other Inputs: The iPad also has a number of buttons and connectors, but really, aside from the touch screen, there's only one button used for interacting with the device. (The power, orientation lock, and volume buttons really don't effect what's happening directly, they just handle hardware). Buried deep inside are sensors for the orientation of the tablet, so the iPad can be used by moving it through space and inclining it different directions. Arguably, you could also say that the ability to use wireless for GPS also means that the iPad has a kind of functional way of knowing exactly where it is too.
  • Cameras, Music Makers: New to the iPad 2 are builtin cameras of adequate quality, speakers, and a headphone jack. This allows you to listen to personally, or share with others, music, photos, and video, that you either create on the device, or get from elsewhere. As an all-inclusive device for creating low-quality media, it's pretty powerful. When I say "low-quality", you have to remember that for educational purposes, "low-quality" is still very useful. Compared to a Leaf Aptus  IIR digital back with an 80 megapixel sensor you obviously have a very different experience. But then again, the Aptus probably costs $40,000+, doesn't shoot video, and can't play the Humpty Dance loud enough to hold an impromptu micro-dance-party in an elevator.
  • Size: Light. Airy. Like a cotton-ball on a dragonfly's wing. Or one of those Snuggle the bear fabric softener commercials. Joking aside, the thing is about 241mm x 185mm, and weighs only 600g. Yes, I use metric. So does the rest of the world. Now, to be fair, the Macbook Air is only slightly larger in size, and about 400 grams heavier. Will you notice the difference between .6 and 1 kilos in your bag which is invariably stuffed with old plane tickets, ancient breath mints, and dried out bics? Probably not. But in comparison, my Macbook Pro weighs about 2.5 kilos. So the iPad is just about 1/5th of the weight of an already light laptop.(I've always been a fan of Snuggle Bear-some may find his/her tiny voice cloying, but I'm nearly brought to tears thinking about how selflessly Snuggle Bear devotes him/herself to freshness and comfort. Also, note how MC Snuggle Bear grips the mic like he/she is about to deliver the goods)
  • Networking: Depending on how much money you want to spend, you can either "make-do" with just wireless, meaning you can get on the internet from anywhere civilized, or you can pay up for the 3g version and access the internet from anyplace that has 3g coverage, including the lobby of the AT&T or Verizon where you'll be going to pay your data plan bills.
  • What it doesn't have: A keyboard, USB or Firewire ports, a retinal scanner, geiger counter, or dowsing stick.

Thus, to sum up the various activities you can do, you can tilt, shake, squeeze, tickle, type,  jam, photograph, shoot video, and access the internet and just about everything on it (yeah, no flash-I'm not very broken up about that, nor should you be, but that's another post), and all while not breaking a sweat or getting a pumped out Dolph Lundgren bicep from carrying the thing around.

I'm going to leave much further exploration of the iPad for the next post, but I want to set a few things up first. First, many people, myself included, were concerned that the iPad was primarily a device for media-consumption. The number one factor for this is the typing; the on-screen keyboard is definitely difficult to use in comparison to the marvel that is the Apple laptop keyboard. Also, there's still no handwriting recognition, so, while you can certainly handwrite with a stylus or your finger, it stays in image form, rather than as text. So this seemed to really limit both the use for serious academic writing, and even for more casual, shorter writing, like editing spreadsheets or blog writing. With no camera or microphone, and a somewhat crippled keyboard, producing media seemed like it would be difficult enough to discourage any but the most minor of uses.

The iPad 2 coming with a camera for still and video photography, and a microphone, turns the iPad into a perhaps awkward but unified device for producing all the media needed for humanities classes to do short video performances, create photo albums, or for language students to record themselves speaking their homework. Also, with the relative ease with which one can include a bluetooth keyboard in their bag, more intensive QWERTY-hammering is always an option without a lot of extra weight, especially if you anticipate it.

Teaching to take advantage of this would require some new flexibility and approaches though. The iPad, over a laptop or computer lab, or over a notebook in the classroom, provides electronic media consumption and production in a very mobile way. There are better ways to do each of the potential tasks it can be used for, but in an educational environment where classes are less than an hour long, the ability to learn and use a single device to perform each of these tasks creates the potential for greater efficiency. Of course, this efficiency can then be wasted with a single trip to Youtube, but arguably that is an issue for classroom management, a responsibility the teacher has handled prior to this point, iPads or not.

Stay tuned for the next installment, where we'll look at some of the app issues, including file storage and sharing, and some of the awkward infrastructural issues like mass-deployment. There will probably be more strange pop-culture references and marginally humorous asides as well.


2Mar/110

Wiki Wiki (Not the sound you get by scratching your vinyl records)

Posted by scraig

I just set up a MediaWiki installation on Labs.da.org for everyone to play with.

The 10-second description: This is the software used to run Wikipedia.

Check it out: here

(You can log in using your normal username and password)

Learn about wikis: here

Mediawiki doesn't use HTML the same way many web publishing systems do. You can use HTML code in your edits, but there is also a (usually more convenient) way of doing it in 'wiki markup'.

Start: here

and the full list of formatting markup: here

Now, granted, this is one wiki for the entire school. For testing! If we were to use this as a classroom tool we would probably want to set up a wiki for each class, or find a way of partitioning things off. In the next few days I'm going to research how other schools have structured and used their MediaWiki servers.

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25Feb/114

Reflection – Outlook with Microsoft Exchange Unified Messaging

Posted by mgutierrez

The technology leaders at our school are constantly discussing options for improving the technology tools available. These conversations often take quite a long time because there is much to consider and we frequently investigate several options for each service we aim to provide. As a result, we are usually considering/evaluating several types of hardware and/or applications at any given time. To learn more about this process, read the post titled Innovation in Moderation. One thing we are currently evaluating is online access to the Microsoft products. There are several features that make this a desirable product, but at the moment, I am focused on the Unified Messaging feature of the Exchange Server.

To begin, I was given access to an email account on the new system and set up with Outlook 2011 with my calendar and contacts already imported. In addition, my phone extension was connected into the Unified Messaging service. At first, I sent a few emails and poked around in Outlook and with the UM system. This might seem a little basic, but I have used FirstClass for the past nine years, and I needed to get comfortable with Outlook again. After a few days, I decided it was time to "dive in."

I needed to proceed as if Outlook were my only communication/organization tool. Currently, all of my incoming emails are auto-forwarded to my new address, and I am managing my tasks and calendar in Outlook. While most of the Outlook using world is accomplishing these same tasks, I am still in the evaluation stage of use, and breaking away from using other tools is part of the process. My role is to evaluate this tool for use by the school community while keeping in mind that a switch to Outlook may not seem simple for all individuals.

A few things I am keeping in mind:

  • Does this serve the required function(s)?

Important features of our current communication system include: email, shared calendars, access to the school-wide directory, conferences for group communication. There are many other features available, but they are not necessarily vital.

  • Does this allow us to streamline our tools?

As I discussed in the post titled Think Big, streamlining the number of tools/systems faculty members need to access is an important goal.

  • Will this be easy to learn and continue to use?

Changing tools causes stress for many individuals. While everyone is capable of learning to use any tool we adopt, time needed for training and the overall ease of use must be considered when looking at any tool.

Things I like...

  • Conversations view - Outlook allows you to have your emails organized by "conversation." This keeps my inbox from looking cluttered.
  • My Day - Displays your calendar (for 1 day) and tasks. My Day is a stand alone application and can run even when Outlook isn't running.
  • Tasks - I have been using another application to manage my to-do list, but I am finding that the tasks feature in Outlook is quite useful. They are better than the task management options in FirstClass and will allow me to stop using a separate tool for this purpose. In addition, I can add information related to a task in the area for adding a description. This allows me to delete emails that would have been kept for reference in the past. I simply copy and paste the information into the description of the task and delete the email.
  • Notes - Like managing my tasks, I have used a separate tool to manage most of my notes. While I will continue to use another tool (Evernote) for my note taking and writing, I now use the notes feature to take notes on items related to information from emails. In the past, I would save emails and that was not a streamlined way to manage information. For example, when I receive emails with information related to general technical issues and how to resolve those issues, I copy pertinent information and paste it into a note titled, "tech notes."
  • Interaction with my office phone and the ability to dial in - Unified Messaging refers to the fact that you can manage all of your incoming messages in one place. This means my voicemail messages can be managed through my Outlook inbox and/or my emails, calendar, and tasks can be managed through my voicemail (on the phone).
  • Voice to text on messages - If I access my voicemail through Outlook, I will be able to see a transcript of the message. While they are not 100% accurate, the general idea can usually be ascertained. Additionally, if I access my email through a phone, it will read my email to me (that is just plain cool).
  • Easy to integrate with other applications or devices - Connecting my calendar, email, and tasks to other devices is essential. Typically, this is quite simple when using Microsoft products.
  • Web interface is great - The web interface looks almost exactly like using Outlook on my laptop. This is very important to most people because they are comfortable with using email on their personal computer, and they want to have a similar experience when accessing their email from another machine.
  • Layout - I personally like the layout in Outlook. Of course there is a certain level of customization available in any email client, but I find that the layout in Outlook provides sufficient space for reading email, viewing your inbox, and having easy access to the other tools.
  • Full contact info on email with VM info based on caller ID - When I receive a voicemail notification in my inbox, it includes general caller ID information and if the individual is in my contacts, I see the complete listing of contact information.

Things I don't like...

  • Missed call notifications- I receive missed call notifications in my email inbox in addition to the voicemail notifications. I personally do not want to see this information. If a person chooses not to leave a voicemail, they do not intend for me to be made aware of their call.
  • Mind reading - I have never been fond of Microsoft's attempts at mind reading. I find that their text recognition is a bit too aggressive for my taste.
  • Limitations for sorting/labeling tasks - Outlook allows you to create/assign categories to your events and tasks. Assigning a category gives an assigned color to the item that has been categorized. Tasks are then listed in order by priority, due date or alphabetical order. I personally prefer the Getting Things Done approach to project management, and I would like to be able to organize my to do list by "project." Currently, this feature is not available with Outlook.
  • Categories for calendar and tasks are the same - Originally, I did not like this feature, but I realize that scheduling time to accomplish your tasks is important. I also trying to embrace this idea. The jury is still out on this one.
  • Preferences are lacking - While this may be more a result of my lack of knowledge about where to locate certain features, I find that FirstClass offers far more options in Preferences to control functionality.
  • Month view in calendar collapses scheduled events for the day - This is a real problem for me. At first glance, it appears that I do not have more than 4 items on any given day. The web interface does not collapse the events, and I prefer this.
  • Auto-memory of contact information - Most people prefer this because they never have to manage their contacts, but I find it problematic. I do manage my contacts, and have grown accustom to my email only recognizing contact information from my contacts or the school-wide directory. I do not want any random information pulled up when I am trying to type an email in a hurry.
  • I am still learning not to insert names from the directory using FirstClass short cuts - This is a simple case of user error, but I believe that other people will experience this frustration. Currently, I can type a few letters of a first and last name and press return to have the correct contact inserted into the to field. This is not the case with Outlook and I need to adjust.

Concerns, questions, things to explore further...

  • Will this be able to interact with our directory or will we need to build our own contacts for internal email?
  • Can I get My Day on my mobile device?
  • Can I turn off the missed call notifications?

This reflects my experience with Outlook and the MS Exchange Unified Messaging to date. By no means is it a comprehensive review of the product and it should be noted that I have simply tried to orient myself to the use of Outlook "on the fly." Additionally, I am working with a test set-up and there are limitations caused by this. I still do not have answers to all of the questions noted above, but if I had to make a choice today, I would choose to stick with the MS Unified Messaging system and Outlook would become my communication and management tool of choice.

Do you have any experience with these tools? Any thoughts or questions about this tool? Leave a comment and join the discussion. Also, check back to see if I have anything new to add to my reflection.

**This is a copy of a post from http://labs.da.org/wordpress/mgutierrez/

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