So what is the Windows Mixed Reality platform?

Do you remember the hype over the Windows Mixed Reality platform?  I certainly do !  That’s what made me go an order one on the day of launch, and I have got to say that after it arrived I was left fairly deflated with what I had just spent my money on. However with the arrival of my Surface Book2 I finally got it  and since then I have become a bit of an addict.

Tip one – get the right device to run WMR

Biggest tip for sure is get the right device to run Windows Mixed Reality!  When I first got the headset, I had heard the WMR would work on a Surface Pro 4, but plugging the device failed the WMR hardware test.  So I tried on a Surface Laptop, that too failed.   So I then brought a Lenovo laptop which met the criteria, I spent about £600 on the device, and though it ran it was very buggy.   For example the speed of setting the environment took upto 10 minutues easily.  Moving around was very a painful experience, yet the device met the requirement of WMR.  So the frustrations of a middle aged man came through and I packed it up and stored it underneath my bed.

Lets fast foward into October 2018 when I start my new job working with the amazing team in Surface in the UK supporting education customers on there journey. This meant I could get my hands on a Surface Book 2 !, with an 8th gen Intel processor and chipset I thought it would be an ideal candidate for WMR – and it was !

The Surface Book2 amazingly useful all round device but the powerhouse behind getting the best from WMR

 

Before I could use Surface with WMR of course I needed a new USB C to HDMI connector, so a swift purchase from the Microsoft store fixed that.   Plugged in the headset and boon we were away, in the same room which had taken 10 minutes to setup, we were ready to go within 10 seconds, I could use the WMR controllers to navigate around swiftly and easily from the comfort of my chair.

Tip two – think outside the box !

My job role is mainly based from home, which is good in some respects and bad in others.   The distraction of the being located near the coffee pot and in short range of the TV remote control can be a bit distracting.  However with WMR and my Surface Book 2 I created my virtual office, which would give me access to all the information I require.  I can :

  • Access my files
  • Using desktop applications
  • Use the Windows Store to add apps
  • Use Teams to make calls as require
  • Listen to music

So here is a quick look around my office

 

As you can see my various screens are set up!  Didn’t have to purchase four super large screen and put them in my office at home, I simply look and use the screen I want to.  As you can see my Mail app is open on the left hand side and on the right is my calendar.

How about typing?

Well typing is as easy for me as texting with the controllers. However with more applications like Microsoft Office, having inbuilt dictation I made not need to use them in the future.  Also the Immersive Reader application is now available in WMR also which allows for accessibility in using these headsets as it does across the rest of the Microsoft platform.

There aren’t many views like this – the view from my window !

It may sound bizarre in a world of open plan offices  and commuting to work, but having a view like this is quite therapeutic !  It means I can take some away from the screen as I would do in the physical world, listen to some music for example.

Here is another shot from the back of my office !   Seriously early days but being connected to the Microsoft Cloud services, Windows Mixed Reality allows me to be fully exploit the functionality in the comfort of my own home without the distractions.  Don’t get me wrong the WMR headset is not on my head all day but it does focus me my taking out the distraction of the space around me.

Where might this go?    Much as it did back in the 1960’s where someone invented the “open plan” office for striking collaboration and communication in teams of employees (which didn’t quite have the desired affect), students we are teaching could find this as a common way of working in the future. Certainly in school students with educational needs can find there own space and still take part in lessons.

It may well have been off to a slow start and overshadowed by the HoloLens device, but don’t under estimate the power of Windows Mixed Reality from Microsoft.

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The buzz phrase is AutoPilot

Well, its all finished for another year – BETT 2019 that is, and what a great show it was.  This was my fifth year of speaking at the show and my first as a member of the Surface Education team.   It was very much four full on days with lots of questions about the Surface product range and especially the new Surface Studio 2.

The Surface stand in full swing at BETT 2019 with the new Surface Studio 2 nearest. The Surface Studio 2 has recently been released in the UK  (available 7th Feb) and contains an Intel 7th Gen I7 processor, 1TB full SSD storage as well as improved graphics processing and screen brightness, all bundled with the ever-popular 28-inch screen which can be lowered into ‘canvas’ mode.

The new Surface Go was also very popular amongst visitors – and it’s ever more popular in the 1-2-1 device rollouts, which really led to the most popular question – “can you tell me more about the Windows AutoPilot deployment”

Well, the short answer is Yes we can! – AutoPilot deployment is a new modern deployment solution available for Surface in the UK.

How does it work?

When you the customer orders a number of devices from a reseller, they are supplied with a Hardware Index File.  This file contains information about the machines you have ordered. When the devices have been delivered all you need to do is open the box and finish the Windows setup, type in your Office 365 account details and the machine will be ready to go (normally within 6-7 mins).   I am sure you will agree this is better than imaging machines and of course quicker for the IT Team!

What do you need to use AutoPilot?

Well you need the following checklist

  • Microsoft Azure Active Directory (Azure AD Premium)
  • Microsoft Intune
  • Office 365 tenant
  •  or everything above included in the Microsoft 365 A3 license (And more)

You will also need

  • A reseller that us using the AutoPilot service.

First steps

The first steps are to make sure you are working with a partner that supports AutoPilot.   When done so the partner (through the Microsoft Partner Centre) can request permission to have the role of adding devices to your Azure Directory. Simply put this means that when you order machines they can add them to your Azure Active Directory.

Next using the Intune blade in Azure you can create a deployment profile for new AutoPilot devices, here you can specify the Out of Box Experience for your users, for example skipping the EULA, deciding if the user should be a local admin etc.   Remember to brand your Azure Active Directory at this stage to personalise the experience even more for the end users.

Then the last step is to deploy setting and apps from Intune into the deployment group so that when a user unboxes the device and turns it on all they have to do is :

  • Set the default language
  • Sign in with Office 365

The machine will then configure itself according to the deployment policy.

We have created a simple process document as your starter with AutoPilot for your deployment of devices in schools.

The modern IT Pro toolkit

Windows AutoPilot is a key tool for the modern IT Pro, along with Microsoft Intune, and the Education Store. AutoPilot transforms teacher time as it rapidly allows for the deployment of Surface devices in the classroom.   Windows AutoPilot uses the functionality of Windows 10 to allow IT Pro’s to leverage the power of the cloud in the modern environment,   Legacy technologies such as disk imaging, have become a thing of the past.

Windows AutoPilot and Azure Active Directory allow you to take full control of your cloud connected device, delivering a Modern Desktop Experience to your users.

 

Reaching for the skies with Windows Azure in school

Cloud based computing available to schools
Cloud based computing available to schools

Last week we quietly slip streamed Windows Azure into our school portfolio, for students studying the Microsoft Technology Associate certification in the schools IT Academy.

This means we now provision our students with there own Windows Server 2012 Virtual Machine, for them to get hands on experience with the technology, on a one to one basis.   For course members we provision a new virtual machine in the Azure control panel, and then distribute the resulting .rdp file to the students to launch their session from either in school or home.

516wLLMbixLThe flexibility of ‘adding a server on demand’ means that students can get the experience, instead of ‘just passing and exam’.  With Azure’s scalable infrastructure, we can not only give students hands on experience, but can offer a range of other services through the platform.

The technical team is currently looking at a ‘cloud based’ AD to provision in school services to students 24/7 from what ever internet connected device they are on. We are also looking at provisioning SharePoint 2013 plus SharePoint Learning Kit to support our SCORM based revision titles.

With using Windows Azure and Office 365 this ensures students gain access to the latest technology to help their ability to learn both in and out of school.