Using Microsoft Live Apps - fail

Office 365 for education, Microsoft’s next generation cloud productivity service for schools and universities, will launch later this year. The shift to the cloud is enabling anytime, anywhere learning and leveling the playing field for students worldwide.
Office 365 Brings the Cloud to Education,
Press Release, Jan 11 2010

Your data isn't really safe in the cloud anyway, though the threat is more likely to be cock-up than conspiracy.
John Grant, Comment #3,

It was about poverty and access. At least, that's how I saw it. Someone wanted to create a resume on a reasonably sophisticated word processing program, but didn't have - and couldn't afford - a Microsoft Office Suite.

No problem, I thought. Here comes the internet to the rescue.

Specifically, that part of the internet called Windows Live.

My learner was a longtime Hotmail user, and had highspeed internet at home (or, at least, an only slightly throttled Rogers-speed internet). Because she was on Hotmail, she also had access to Windows' Office Web Apps and the cloud-storage tool Skydrive. So, we sat down at my classroom pc (running WinXP) and went online. She poked away creating and editing her resume on a straight-forward word processing system that reminded me ever so much of Word 97.

(Do you remember Office 97, the office suite companion for Windows 95? I do. I especially remember how we had to hit save every few minutes so that when it locked up - and it always locked up - we could reboot without losing too much work.)

Anyway, the web app 'Word Live' or whatever isn't a bad tool. It's about as fancy as the Wordpad version shipped on Windows 7, and, in any case, nicer looking and more flexible than the Google Docs online editor. Also, it's not crazy complicated, which is useful for beginners. Most positively, it can open those .docx documents people are unwittingly sending about.

So, like I said, she works away at this online, with only the occasional hiccup caused by a lag between the display and the online editing. Then, she saves it safely in her skydrive.

Now, knowing a little about such things, I poke about with Abiword, a free open-source word processor. But I remember formatting issues cropping up when I used to try to move back and forth between Abiword and other tools. And, anyway, Live Apps has saved her resume as a .docx file, which Abiword can't read.

I check out Open Office 3, and read that it will open .docx. Encouraged, I use a second class to show her how to locate (safely), download and install this free office suite. She does it a couple of times in class, readying herself to do the same at home, and then we download her resume to the desktop, and try opening it. No luck. We get an Open Office error message. Did we do something wrong? A bad download? Nope. A little web searching shows that lots of people are getting the same message - Open Office 3 does not reliably open .docx files.

By the way, if this post, with its file extensions and program version numbers seems jumbled and confusing, that's because this is how things are with computers. This isn't your dad's TV. Version numbers and file extensions matter - things either do or don't work because of them. But a lot of my learners aren't savvy enough with the world of computers to sort out all this - even if they wanted to, and had the time to spare. Compatibility issues are barrier issues. That's the closed side of the open web. Would that a few more distance-learning, Web 2.0 evangelists spoke honestly about these barriers.

But we haven't even come to the disaster yet - that was day three.

She came into class and told me she couldn't access her account online. That seemed unlikely, so I asked her to show me. Sure enough, her Hotmail/Skydrive account was blocked. Why? Who knows. Microsoft suggested, in the friendliest way, that perhaps someone had used her account to send out a large volume of spam. That seemed equally unlikely. Had she let teenagers into her house? Was there a virus on her machine that hi-jacked her account? I don't know. She was just perplexed. "But how do I get my resume off there?"

You don't. Windows has blocked your account. It's done now.

Mind you, I spent some serious time - both right away and then 48 hours later - trying to re-validate and reset passwords and such. But no luck. Just as in the days of Windows 95 and Office 97, anyone who didn't save to their hard drive had to start all over.

It wasn't a complete catastrophe, because we had saved to the hard drive in class. And then, a couple of days later, a neighbour loaded a pirated copy of MS Office on to her home computer. She set up a new Hotmail account, and I helped her set up a Gmail account as well, and showed her how to link them together. She emailed her retyped resume from one account to the other and then back again, doubling the likelihood of receiving it intact. Then, at lunch, I walked her down to the nearest electronics store and showed her how to pick out a flash-drive.

And I didn't once mention Google docs.

It was about poverty and access. Someone wanted to create a resume on a reasonably sophisticated word processing program, but didn't have - and couldn't afford - a Microsoft Office Suite. So they went the pirate route. Well, who wouldn't. I mean, they did the right thing, and trusted the cloud, and look how that turned out.

For a full 48 hours, I thought Office Web Apps was going to open up a whole new world of skill-building and communication for my learners.

I won't make that mistake again any time soon.

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