Microsoft Expands Office 365 Educational Push

The company ramps up its efforts to take over the classroom by launching a free Office 365 student offer and nabbing some big school districts.

Microsoft is banking on schools to add millions of new users to its cloud-friendly Office 365 platform.

The software maker has officially launched its Student Advantage program, which provides students with free access to Office 365 ProPlus. Announced first in October, the program is open to schools and universities that license Office 365 ProPlus or Office Professional Plus.

Office 365 ProPlus is one of many plans offered by Microsoft. The cloud-enabled productivity software suite includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher and Access along with access to Office Mobile for iPhone and Android phones. The included Office on Demand feature allows users to stream Office to any PC. The plan typically costs $12 per month.

The free Student Advantage offer could potentially lead to skyrocketing adoption rates.

"Today, Student Advantage is available to more than 35,000 educational institutions worldwide," said the company in a statement. Microsoft has already embarked on some massive deployments, "including the Sao Paolo State Department of Education (SEE), which is providing access to Office 365 for over four million students."

One large Canadian school district deployed Office 365 to more than 150,000 students. Ontario's Peel District School Board, described as Canada's second-largest public school board, selected Microsoft's platform for its capabilities in areas where the company has traditionally lagged.

Indicating that Microsoft is making slow-but-steady progress in the mobile market, the Peel District School Board "considered offerings from other companies but chose Office 365 because it supports multiple operating systems and mobile platforms, thereby supporting the district's bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiative," informed Microsoft in company remarks.

Anthony Salcito, vice president of education for Microsoft, chimed in, stating that his company is proud to have developed "a cross-platform IT solution for Peel that ensures all students and staff can benefit from Office 365, regardless of their chosen device."

The school district also employed Microsoft's management products to "effectively support the more than 15,000 staff and 65,000 devices," said Mark Keating, chief information officer for the Peel District School Board.

Citing an IDC study on 20 of the most sought-after skills for "high-growth, high-wage occupations," Microsoft pointed out that its Office suite ranked third, with PowerPoint and Word proficiency placing 11th and 13th, respectively. In an obvious dig at its rivals, the software giant said, "Microsoft Office skills were sought after five times more than any other productivity tools."

"Even Google's own job postings require competency with Microsoft Office tools," asserted the company. In recent years, Microsoft and Google have been locked in a battle for the cloud collaboration and productivity market. Google has scored some major wins, including the University of California at Berkeley.

Microsoft, however, still dominates. Frank Chiappone, senior marketing manager for Office 365 Education, claimed in an Oct. 15 blog post that "nearly 98 percent of students using productivity software currently use Office."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...