Microsoft External Research release five new tools to students

 I was told about these last week and was held off until now; annoyingly after Channel 8 decided to post their own video, probably to get all the credit. Sometimes I think, why do I bother do this job?



I was told about these last week and was held off until now; annoyingly after Channel 8 decided to post their own video, probably to get all the credit. Sometimes I think, why do I bother do this job? (Good income, great hours, travel and trips abroad with expenses paid, brilliant colleagues... yeah, that's why).

5 new tools have been created by Microsoft External Research, revealed at the Faculty Summit. Although some of these won't be released as yet, they will be available soon - at the very latest autumn/fall later this year.

These tools aimed at those in higher education and are designed to assist in research, authoring, or publishing; aimed at students and staff to create better work using existing Microsoft products, like Windows and Office 2007. Considering those teaching in higher education only teach around 30 weeks a year, the rest of their time is spent researching or working in the field.

From my research, from speaking to different people inside and outside Microsoft, from students to lecturers on these software's, I've come to the conclusion that the power of these products are enough to blow your arse off. Sounds like a night out in central London on a Friday night, to be honest.

Lee Dirks, Director of Education at Microsoft Research, spoke to Laura Foy on Channel 8 about these new applications. Just to get this out of the way and off my chest:

  • [Microsoftie mega-geek] Dirks: sad, lonely, probably plays Dungeons & Dragons or World of Warcraft, or whatever you "crazy kids" play nowadays; evidentially nervous about being around a woman, let alone an attractive woman. Skip past half way through the video when you can see him making a desperate attempt to flirt - it's hilarious.
  • [Microsoftie journalist] Foy: the sort of "wacky, fun-loving journalist" who tries to engage with the audience as if she's your best friend, yet in reality, couldn't give two hoots who you were; also probably loves Jesus a little too much.

Onto the serious business...

Dirks explained that these applications will be released more or less at the same time to assist the entire lifecycle of a research project, as shown below.


These applications were designed to help each part of the "ideas thought process" individually. So, do you want to see the applications in question?

The Research Information Center was created by a partnership with the British Library (in the video, said with an inflection implying that this little island in western Europe, is in fact mythical, with countless fairies, goblins and men dressed in green tights wielding bows and arrows - you're thinking of Ireland, not England).

The software is based on SharePoint but designed to accelerate the workflow of the project, all the way through the research. It manages information, research, ideas and other snippets. Not only that, it allows multi-user access so other researchers can author, co-author and contribute.

From the Technical Computing website:

Developed in close collaboration with the British Library, the Research Information Centre is a virtual research environment (VRE). It was designed to allow research partners to store, share, discuss, manage, find, and track all the components of a research project—including data, references, papers, bookmarks, proposals, internal messages, information, and findings—within a simple interface.

Through support of the research workflow, this tool can simplify the process of information search, facilitate discovery, effectively manage research objects, and enable versioning and archiving. The collaboration environment resides within a hosted Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 platform, which is accessible from a Web browser. This service is currently in beta testing. Microsoft intends to share the code widely by the end of the year.

Yesterday (Tuesday), Microsoft released the Article Authoring Add-in for Word 2007, designed for both authors and publishers of research and dissertation documents. The tool essentially sucks out all of the important metadata and important, relevant keywords - the words actually relating to the document context itself. It's great for publishers obviously, but I personally can't see any use for me, or the average student to use it. but tied in with the Research Output Repository Platform mentioned later on, this enables fast searching and archiving of data.

Alongside that release comes another add-in, rolling out to the entire Office suite. Available for download, the Creative Commons Add-in for Office 2007 does exactly what you'd expect and more. It allows academics, students and scholars - in fact anybody - to apply a third-party Creative Commons license to your/their work. It embeds the licence you choose into the document so when it's shared with others, the licence and terms of use are clear for anyone using it. Without personally testing it, I presume it'll only work on Office 2007 formats (.docx, .pptx, .xlsx etc.) because of the structure of the documents.

An alpha version of the Microsoft eJournal Publishing Service has been announced, and has been released as a sandbox experiment for the time being. Again, a glorified, edited and stripped down version of SharePoint, allows those who don't have the infrastructure or backend technology to publish or share journals. A hosted service provided by Microsoft, as of yet details are still sketchy (and with no Internet access, that makes my life difficult also), but rumour has it there'll be an add-in to Office to enable the seamless transfer from offline-to-online.

And finally, something which Microsoft seems to be rather proud of, is the "Research Output Repository Platform", confirmed that this "most likely will not be" the final name of the product, more a holding name until the open beta kicks in later in 2008. Good job really, as I find the name sounds like an application which studies people's excrement.

It's still in the alpha stage, but lies on top of SQL Server 2008 and incorporates many other technologies; the Entity Framework and the .NET Framework 3.5. It'll be an online, always available repository for information - books, notes, lectures, videos, podcasts, recordings, research data, and links them all semantically. Not only is it great for university departments, hospitals and museums have been interested in trying the software, as the repository platform is a great place to store huge amounts of data... providing the hardware can handle it, of course.

All of these details are available on the Microsoft Technical Computing website, which in comparison to Dreamspark, seems like the one place students should go to download software they actually need. I wonder why it's hidden away behind a front of corporate web pages then?