Sun Ray (part 5) Six months on….

It’s now nearly six months since my first post about the Sun Ray project and the following Faculty Of Health (FOH) deployment and it seemed to me that it would be a good time to have a little look back at what we achieved and see how things are now everything has settled down. I’m pleased to say that from my perspective things have gone very well. We now have around 250 Sun Ray devices deployed around the campus with large numbers being used in the FOH, Academic Registry and IT Services. We also have a number of open access Sun Rays running in the FOH to provide quick access web terminals for the students or visiting staff, I’ll talk more about those in a moment.

FOH

First and foremost I’d like to mention how much our back end services have grown as a result of the project. Our Core Services team have worked exceptionally hard over the last six months to build and maintain all of the infrastructure required for the Sun Ray project. To give you an idea of scale, the Sun Ray system alone current requires: 4 Solaris Sun Ray servers, 2 Windows 2003 2X Load Balancers and 9 Windows 2003 Terminal Servers. This represents the single largest growth in new servers since our Novell Cluster went in several years ago.

From a Technical Services point of view we have physically installed the 250 Sun Ray devices, monitors and peripherals. From that point we have been supporting our users in familiarisation with the new system and dealing with any teething problems that they experienced during the implementation. While each Sun Ray might not take as much maintenance as a computer we still have to deal with occasional faulty units and other issues such a network connectivity and printing problems. We have also been very busy fitting the open access Sun Rays in the FOH. If you have been over there you might have noticed them mounted on the back of the seating areas. These were quite tricky to fit as the Sun Rays are mounted under the seating with cabling fed up to the monitors and keyboard. This leads to the quite fun task of lying on the floor under the seating while a colleague tries to feed down cabling inside of the wood seating frame. We also fitted two accessible Sun Rays with monitors mounted on adjustable arms.

So far the Sun Ray project has been a great success, hopefully this summer will see us making them available to other areas around the campus and further expanding our capacity. For those of you who still aren’t sure that a Sun Ray is for you I can tell you quite happily that I’m writing this blog on one right now and that I have been using it for 80-90% of my work (which considering I fix computers all day is not bad at all!). User feedback has been very good and most people are very impressed with their performance. If you would like to try one then go and grab a coffee from the FOH and have a sit down on one of the stations in the cafe. Just to close I’d like to show you a few before and after pictures of the FOH, the before photos were taken on the first day we were able to access the building. As you can see we weren’t the only ones working frantically to get everything done and I think you will all agree at how amazing the finished building looks.

Reception beforeReception afterLecture theater beforeLecture theater afterCafe beforeCafe after

Office 2007 upgrade part 2: The Ribbon Effect

office 2007 logoIn this post I wanted to talk a bit about the most significant change in Office 2007, the newly “ribbon” user interface. As I mentioned in my previous post the ribbon is designed to make Office products more accessible to new users but can take a little getting used to for MS Office veterans. There is however nothing to worry about, all of your favourite functions are in there somewhere and for most people it’s just a case of finding out where the button or menu you want has been moved to. In most cases the location of a specific function is much, much more logical. So take a step back and forget everything you know about Office for a moment (well maybe not everything..)

Excel Ribbon

Here is our nice new ribbon in all of its glory, isn’t it lovely? Kudos to Microsoft for their nice design, as with Windows Vista the interface is looking pretty slick. For this example I’m going to show you the ribbon interface specifically for Excel. Click the picture above to have a proper look.

The first thing I would like to draw your eye to is the “Office Button” in the top left corner. This button represents the old “File” menu from previous versions of Office and is Microsoft’s attempt to create a Start Menu style interface for Office. This button will probably be the most important change for people to get used to as behind it we have a lot of the most vital functions of any Office application. I am of course referring to the “New Document”, “Open”, “Save” and “Print” buttons which will be used by everyone who has the application. Again click the picture for a better look.

Ok so we have found the File menu.. what about everything else? Well I’m not going to show you where every single function has been moved to. Luckily for me Microsoft have created some rather handy tools to help users find a specific function. You can download these tutorials here: Word | Excel | Powerpoint
Each one runs an interactive window that lets you click a button or menu option in Office 2003 and then shows you where this feature has moved to in 2007. Once we start installing Office 2007 on staff computers I’ll make sure these tutorials are available on our network for quick reference.

The Office 2007 interface shouldn’t be that intimidating. Things really haven’t moved around that much so to finish this post I’ve put together pictures showing the same file open in both Excel 2003 and 2007. The last picture shows the interfaces side by side and I’ve highlighted a few random buttons and menus to show how they have been re-arranged. The only significant change in these examples comes from the insert menu. In Excel 2007 this has been split up into common functions (such as insert pictures or word art) and application specific functions (such as insert row or columns). Stay tuned for some more information shortly.

Excel 2003Excel 2007Excel Comparison

Office 2007 upgrade part 1:

office 2007 logo Over the next few weeks IT Services staff will be putting the finishing touches to our Office 2007 installation packages with a view having upgraded the majority of staff and student areas by August. Here is the official IT Services statement:

IT Services Update: Microsoft Office 2007 / Vista Operating System

The Information Strategy Group agreed at the last meeting in March that the University would upgrade to Microsoft Office 2007 during July and August this year.

MS Office 2007 has a significantly different look and feel to MS Office 2003 which is currently in use. Colleagues in Staff Development will be offering awareness sessions in due course for University staff.

There will be a phased roll-out by IT Services, including aninitial MS Office 2007 installation in one of the LINC IT rooms. This will provide an opportunity for colleagues to familiarise themselves with the product early on.

Please note that in line with other Universities, we shall not be deploying Vista this year, but will retain the XP Operating System as the standard University desktop environment. However, a small number of Vista installations will be available for staff engaged software evaluations, research and development, and those involved in supporting use/access from off-campus and non-university devices.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the IT Services Helpdesk on 01695 584424.

I wanted to post something to explain a bit more about the why and the how of this upgrade. As far back as I can remember Microsoft have consistently released new versions of Office every 2-3 years. I’ve used every version released in the last decade since Office 4.0 on Windows 3.1 and I have to admit it has changed quite a lot. So why is it constantly changing? How different does the application has to be to justify a new release and really do we need all these new improvements just so that we can type out a memo?

Office features have come and gone over the different versions (remember the annoying paperclip?) but the core components haven’t changed that significantly. Whatever version of Office you run you’ll be sure to see the familiar shortcuts for Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Access. The applications might be called the same thing from one version to the next but there can be some quite drastic differences. Office 2007 introduces the first major rethink of the user interface in a long time, the new “ribbon” system shows a quite drastic redesign of all the menu systems everyone is familiar with, so why did Microsoft change it?

The Word 2003 user interface:
Word 2003

The Word 2007 user interface:
Word ribbon

Well as with most changes that have been made to software packages over the years, the main goal of this redesign was to rationalise all of the additions made over the last few versions and make the whole interface much more logical for new users. While this might mean that users of previous versions might take a while to get used to the interface, most people should find it easier too use and less time consuming to master. These changes are likely to be a part of Microsoft’s long term software strategy and from recent press releases it seems that the ribbon system is not only here to stay for Office but likely to become a core part of all new Microsoft software. With that in mind it makes good sense for everyone to become familiar with the new interface style sooner rather than later.

I’ll be posting some more information shortly and outlining some of the differences between Office 2003 and 2007, along with some of the benefits we can look forward to from the new release.

WSUS – Making Windows updates nice and simple

Back in June last year we started to look at the feasibility of implementing WSUS (Windows Server Update Services) on our network. We had originally hoped to implement the system during the last summer period but unfortunately other work and the approaching FOH moves over took us and the project was put on the side. Luckily summer is nearly here once again and WSUS is back on the agenda.

One of the big advantages of our virtualisation programme is that we are starting to free up spare physical servers that we can then use for new services such as WSUS. Core Services have kindly given me the loan of the old server “Lee” so that I can run up a WSUS test server. The WSUS plans became even more important when Microsoft released Pack 3 for Windows XP earlier this week. The prospect of having several thousand workstations all downloading a 300mb file and having to face nearly an hour long installation didn’t seem particularly appealing. WSUS can make this whole process a lot easier for both IT Services and Edge Hill staff/students. Once setup we will be able to control the update process and (in the first instance) stop Service Pack 3 from automatically installing. Every summer the IT staff spend a lot of time re-ghosting and updating the staff and student computers so that they have the latest software installed and ready for September. This year we will be rolling out Office 2007 so it seemed logical to update to Service Pack 3 at the same time. Once our manual re-ghosting has been completed we can then mop up any other computers by having the WSUS server force down the Service Pack 3 update. So how do we do that??

I wanted to give a little breakdown of how WSUS works. The package is installed on a Windows server (in our case 2003) and downloads the Windows Update catalogue to the server’s hard drive. We then attach computers to the server using registry or group policy settings and from there we get a report of their status. How is that useful you ask.. well from the console we can see which updates our computers have installed and which they are missing. We can then authorize new updates and then distribute them to all of the computers attached to the WSUS server. If you look at this picture you can see some my test clients connected to the server reporting their various update statuses.

wsus clients small

Once we have a number of clients reporting their status we can get more detailed reports so that we can identify which computers have no updated and keep an eye out for any that have had problems installing a certain update. On the image below you can see a simple report which tells us the number of updates successfully install, the number pending and other useful information such as the service pack status and pc name.

wsus report