NYC students get Office 365 for free, Microsoft welcomes Sunrise, soldiers schooled in civilian skills – Weekend Reading: Feb. 13th Edition

It was a week of honors, awards and an acquisition. It was a week in which one more group of soldiers completed training that will help them transition from military life to the world of civilian IT. And it was a week where students in the nation’s largest city learned they’re getting free access to productivity software that will help them prepare for college and the workplace.

New York City public schools announced Office 365 is being made available, for free, to its 1.1 million students, as well as to teachers. New York City’s Department of Education, in collaboration with the City Council, is providing the Office 365 ProPlus benefit, which gives students and teachers up to five downloads of the latest versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access and Publisher, along with anywhere, anytime access. “With free at-home access to the same tools students use at school, classroom assignments will no longer be confined to the classroom,” says Anthony Salcito, Microsoft vice president, Worldwide Public Sector Education.

Microsoft acquired Sunrise, provider of popular next-generation calendar app for iOS and Android. The acquisition, in addition to Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Acompli and the new touch-optimized universal Office apps for Windows 10, “all exemplify Microsoft’s ambition to rethink the productivity category,” says Rajesh Jha, Outlook and Office 365 corporate vice president. “Our goal is to create more meaningful, beautiful experiences in mobile email and calendaring across all platforms.”

A fourth group of soldiers graduated from the Fort Hood Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA). The academy is a 16-week course that prepares service members to transition to civilian life. In addition to being offered at the Texas base, MSSA is available at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state and at Camp Pendleton in California. For Sgt. Cole McBride, one of this week’s grads, it was the death of a close friend in the military that drew him to serve his country in the first place. And during his service, he developed a deep interest in the field of computer science.

MSSA, military, education

Sgt. Cole McBride credits his wife as his biggest supporter as he readied himself and his family for his civilian transition. He is one of the new graduates of the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy at Fort Hood in Texas.

On another continent, we learned about a young man whose life was heading in a bad direction before he turned it around. Wanderson Skrock grew up in a slum outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As a young teen, he sold drugs, and he was imprisoned twice. During his second sentence, he took a course offered through a Microsoft partner, Center for Digital Inclusion. It changed his life, and the lives of others, for the good. After he got out of prison, he became a computer instructor for the center, and now teaches children and teens from backgrounds similar to his. Microsoft recently named Skrock one of its global YouthSpark Youth Advisors, who will help the company create programs, partnerships and resources that meet the needs of youth around the world.

When Vinny Pasceri’s friend and fellow Microsoft employee went missing last fall, Pasceri was driven to try to do more than post search information online. He wanted to come up with a way help others in the same situation, especially those with special needs children, and with the assistance of his fellow coworkers, created a new kind of tracking system. The result is Lighthouse, which tracks proximity to a caregiver through Bluetooth Low Energy. With Lighthouse, a student wears a beacon in a wristband or other small device. The beacon is linked to an app on the phone of every teacher and specialist on the student’s schedule. The app registers when the student is within range of each caregiver. It sends a missing alert if the student is out of range. Lighthouse won a first-place award in the 2014 Global Startup Battle, considered the largest startup tournament in the world, with 25,000 international participants last year.

app, children, safety

The Lighthouse team includes, from left, Jeff Davis, Tanya Dastyar, Vinny Pasceri and John Griffin. Not pictured: Liang Frank Chen and Louisa Fan. Photo by Scott Eklund, Red Box Pictures.

Microsoft is among the companies that will be honored by the American Foundation for the Blind with a 2015 Access Award in April. Microsoft is receiving props for its “huge efforts to advance accessibility in computing by increasing access to the popular Window-Eyes screen reader and by supporting the needs of customers with disabilities through a dedicated technical support service,” the foundation says. Meanwhile, Microsoft researcher and Distinguished Scientist Richard Szeliski has received one of the highest honors accorded to an engineer — election to the National Academy of Engineering — “for contributions to computer visioncomputer graphics and interactive image and video rendering.”

Early happy Valentine’s Day! No matter whether the source of your affection is Fido, feline, friends or family (or all of them), there are plenty of apps to help you celebrate. The Happy Valentine’s Day collection in the Windows Phone Store has gathered 30 apps for one-stop installing, such as the free Tom’s Love Letters (also available in the Windows Store), which provides Talking Tom and Talking Angela – the cutest-virtual-kitties-ever – as your personal Cupids. It’s got 19 romantic digital cards and four catchy love songs from which to choose. Valentine turns your phone into fantasy of hearts and roses, with more than 40 wallpapers, and lots of ideas for romance and gift suggestions. You can also find good anytime entertainment with “Wheel of Fortune” for Windows Phone, PCs and tablets. Catch up on NPR news with the free NPR One app, available on Windows Phone, PCs and tablets. And be sure to check out the revamped Weather Channel app – with better search, a new user interface and upgraded video player – for Windows PCs and tablets.

apps, Valentine's Day

From left, Tom’s Love Letters, Valentine’s Texter and Love.

This week on our global adventure to find people who #DoMore on the Microsoft Instagram page, we met Julia Streets, who worked in the London PR world for years, but took a break to pursue her passion for comedy. Now she does both.

Instagram, #DoMore

Thanks for checking out this edition of Weekend Reading. We’ll see you next Friday!

Posted by Suzanne Choney
Microsoft News Center Staff