Tuesday, January 29, 2013

D211 employees can buy the new Microsoft Office Professional Plus for $9.95 starting today

All Township High School District 211 employees can purchase a license for the new Microsoft Office 2013 which was released today.  The cost is only $9.95!

To take advantage of this offer, go to the official Microsoft Home Use Program website.  You will need to enter this special code C8956B668B along with your D211 email address.

There are some limitations to the program, which can be expected when you are paying less than $10 for something that costs over $400 in the stores.  First, this is a license to use Office for as long as you are an employee of D211.  You are expected to delete the software if you end your employment with the district.  Second, you can only download it to computers that belong to you and are used by you.  Third, you can only purchase Office for $9.95 once through this program between August 1, 2012 and July 31, 2015.

So that was the bad news.  It wasn't that bad, really.  It's not like missing the playoffs after going 10-6!  Let's get to the good news and stop dwelling on the Bears...

The license is for the entire Office Professional Plus 2013 suite of software.  This is a much larger package than the "Student and Teacher Edition".  The Professional Edition includes the following:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • Outlook
  • OneNote
  • Access
  • Publisher
  • InfoPath
  • Lync
Mac users, you are not left out.  You can continue to buy Microsoft Office 2011 for your Mac for the same price of $9.95.

If you are having any trouble purchasing the software, please contact the technology coordinator in your building first.  If the TC cannot solve it, you will need to contact Microsoft directly.  They have always been extremely helpful in resolving issues with the Home Use Program.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Reliable sturdy Kingston flash drive for $9.99

I still love flash drives.  There, I've said it.  Normally we use flash drives to move files from one computer to another, but our need for physical storage has decreased now that we let other companies store our data for us.  Two examples include (a) improved cloud storage often used for our documents (GoogleDocs and Dropbox) and (b) changes in the way we access our music collection (Amazon Cloud Player and Google Drive).  We now let other companies hold our "stuff" especially when we want to access that data using mobile devices like cell phones and tablets.

The flash drive is still very useful, though.  For those of us who still use computers at work or school, it's a great way to move or copy a large file (more than 1GB) from one computer to another.  I collected about 8GB of video from coworkers which I have to edit when I get home tonight, and transferring that amount of data over the Internet isn't convenient.  It goes beyond computers, though - home electronics can access data from flash drives as well.  I can store movies and songs on a flash drive and access them through my television, Blu Ray player, stereo and Xbox through a USB port.  Many new car stereos have that same ability.  Now you can store your entire music collection on one USB (be sure to back it up!) and take it with you from your house to your car to your office and back again.

The life expectancy of a flash drive is important.  If you don't trust the flash drive to last you simply won't use it.  I've dropped them, had the dog chew on them, and sent them through the washing machine.  Some flash drives can handle it, while others have broken simply by inserting them into the computer.  Flash drives with a plastic housing are not as reliable as ones with a metal exterior.  Flash drives with moving parts (i.e. the connector slides in and out of the shell) are not as reliable as ones that are built as one single unit.  Of course, the quality of the memory chip itself is very important.

So what is so amazing that I had to write three paragraphs before I even got to the point? It is the Kingston SE9 16GB flash drive that is currently selling for $9.99 on Amazon.  It's got a solid metal body which should prevent exterior physical damage.  It has single-unit construction with no moving parts which means there is less likelihood of something breaking. It's made by Kingston, which overall makes some of the best flash drives on the market year after year. I personally like Kingston best, but I have heard people say that Patriot or Corsair are very good, too.

The size of this flash drive is perfect.  It's small enough to fit on a key ring and it takes up very little room when plugged into your computer, stereo, or television, but it is large enough that it won't get lost.  The fact that it is perfectly straight (unlike ones that flare out near the end) means that it won't bump into other items plugged into your electronics.

And yes, this review is genuine. I actually own one of these myself, I was not given a sample product, and I did not receive compensation for writing this.  I wrote this because this is actually a really good product and there are very few products that I can stand behind.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Apple had no transition plan when it created the iPad

It is 2013, and the iPad still cannot be used to access some of the best websites in the world. The mobile revolution in computing is here, but we can’t fully take advantage of it. Education as we know it will change when (a) every teacher supplements their teaching with high quality, engaging instructional materials, and when (b) every student has a mobile device to access those materials and lessons.

And this is where Apple has let us down. The iPad cannot access many valuable video resources because it does not run Flash, which is needed to run nearly half the videos available on the Internet. Apple decided to wait for the next generation of video players to arrive. Unfortunately, we are ALL waiting for that moment to arrive.

Flash is used on computers and other devices to run video, animations, simulations and games. Three years ago Flash was the standard in Internet video playback. So why did Apple reject Flash? The main reason is that running Flash can cut the battery life of an iPad in half from ten hours to five hours. Flash uses extra power to run videos, and mobile devices are built to use as little power as possible.

What is the replacement for Flash? It is called HTML5, which will soon be the common standard for creating web pages. HTML5 allows videos and animations to be built right into the system which uses less power. It is a key component of the next generation of the Internet and it will make online content available on cell phones, tablets, computers, and pretty much anything else that can access the Internet. HTML5 is the future... it just has not arrived yet. Similar to how DVDs still outsell Blu-Ray discs ten years after the Blu-Ray arrived, websites built on Flash are still out there and will remain for years to come.

HTML5 is the new standard for building web pages, but it will not become the official standard until 2014. That’s still one year away! Some web designers are ahead of the curve and have already begun to create pages using HTML5, but more than 1/3 of all pages being created today are not using HTML5. You also have to take into account all of the websites that were built before today - many of them will need to be converted to HTML5. Some will never be converted. It takes time and it takes money to re-write those web pages - a LOT of time and money. Companies can handle the cost, but not the physics teacher who built an awesome website used by hundreds of thousands of people. He has content - great content - but he does not have the time to rewrite his entire site.

Apple is not a content provider (unless you include iTunes, which is not affected by a new Internet standard). It did not cost Apple money or disrupt their practices by switching to HTML5. They had no skin in the game by forcing an end to Flash on mobile devices. The problem I have with Apple is that they had no transition plan. Yes, Flash was going to go away. Yes, HTML5 was going to be the new standard. But what was the plan for getting from A to B? There was no plan.

Apple could have done two things to help make the transition from Flash to HTML5 smoother. First, they could have adopted Flash. Yes, they could have but chose not to. The battery life on an iPad would be cut to five hours, but isn’t five hours still better than the life of a laptop battery? Of course it is. Second, Apple could have developed their own app for delivering Flash content on the iPad. They could have built their own work-around. How many times have you heard someone say, “there’s an app for that!” Well, where’s the app that runs Flash?

Some mobile devices handle Flash including the Nexus 7 and the Microsoft Surface. It shows that we do have a choice for buying a device other than the iPad. So if Apple won’t choose to allow a Flash-like experience on their device, then we (as consumers and teachers) need to consider choosing another device that can meet all of our needs.

It’s now been three years since Apple declared Flash to be a product of the past, and it will be at least one more year until the future fully arrives. Four years without a plan for bridging the gap. That’s where my disappointment lies. Apple makes a great product, but it could have been better if they listened to their customers.  While the benefits of the iPad outweigh its detractions, it could have been better. We'll wait and see what the iPad5 brings.