Free Email and Collaboration Services from Google and Microsoft

by Joe Lee
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Enterprise 2.0 is defined as “a system of web-based technologies that provide rapid and agile collaboration, information sharing, emergence and integration capabilities in the extended enterprise.” (Please visit http://www.aiim.org/What-is-Web-2.0.aspx for details.) As technologies advance rapidly and become mature, the University has deployed Microsoft SharePoint to support many internal and public applications in various ways to support Enterprise 2.0 such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, ePortfolios and forums. (Please refer to “Microsoft Windows SharePoint: A Web 2.0 Environment in CityU” in Network Computing, Issue 55, March 2008.) The University has also made its presence in public social networking places such as Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, etc.

Google and Microsoft are two of the major providers of free Email and collaboration services in the world. Google’s Google Apps and Microsoft’s MS Live public social networking services are known to have greatly enhanced users’ communication, social networking and collaboration experiences. Both Google and Microsoft have made special packaging based on these two public services for the educational institutions which are offered for free to education users under the service names of “Google Apps Education Edition” (GApps) [2] and “Live @ edu” (MSLive) [1] respectively. Apart from the email services, most of the other collaboration features available within GApps and MSLive (e.g., calendar, personal blogs, messenger (or chat), web video conference, photo album, personal disk storage space, office applications, personal website, smart phone support, video hosting, etc ) are either not currently offered by or more sophisticated than those offered by the University. As such, the Committee on Information Services and Technology (CIST) approved the implementation of MSLive for staff and students in the 14th meeting on 24 September 2008 and subsequently approved both MSLive and GApps for all CityU members in the 17th meeting on 6 January 2010, filling up the gap of services offered in this area.

Actually, MSLive and GApps are not entirely new to our staff and students as some of them could have already obtained free accounts of the corresponding public services for their personal use. However, they are encouraged to register for these services through the University to gain distinct benefits, including the followings:

  • University domain name for email address (@mslive.cityu.edu.hk or @GApps.cityu.edu.hk)
  • No third-party ads for MSLive mail and GApps
  • Integrated with the University’s user account and the e-Learning system [4]

Yet, another benefit of MSLive is that students can use the MSLive account to download some useful software tools for projects from the Microsoft Dreamspark website [3], including Microsoft Server, SQL Server, Visual Studio and others.

Both MSLive and GApps are popular Internet services and very intuitive, and hence most staff and students who have been using Blackboard and other IT services in their teaching and learning should find them easy to use. Nevertheless, the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) has planned to put together some recommendations and sharing sessions for instructors to help facilitate their exploitation. In addition, the Computing Services Centre (CSC) will provide courses on using MSLive and GApps for staff and students throughout the year.

Since the Email services bear the domain name of “cityu”, users must follow the University’s regulations on IT services when using it. The University’s “Regulations on IT Services and Facilities (1): CityU Electronic Mail” have been revised to reflect the changes.

All the Google and Microsoft services are provided as optional services to supplement the University’s own Email service, which shall remain the primary Email address. All official business correspondence from the University will be sent to the Email accounts provided by the University’s own Email service. However, users may choose to forward mail to the MSLive and GApps Email accounts at their own discretion while taking care of the protection for sensitive information.

References

  1. About Microsoft Live @ edu and MS Live Solution Center
  2. About Google Apps Education Edition and Google Apps Help
  3. Microsoft Dreamspark Home
  4. Building Blocks: Connecting Google Apps for Education with Blackboard
  5. The University of Washington is partnering with both Microsoft and Google to offer additional options for email and collaboration tools to the UW community