Microsoft’s Office 365, one of its most visible cloud-computing platforms, is about to reach a whole new audience, with the June 27 launch of an education edition for schools.
Office 365 offers a variety of cloud-based tools, including Lync Online, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Office Professional Plus. For consumers, it is perhaps the most visible example of Microsoft’s “all in” cloud strategy, which also centers on platforms such as Azure.
“As schools face ever-tightening budgets and the pressure to innovate,” Anthony Salcito, vice president of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, wrote in a June 27 corporate blog posting, “Microsoft is offering enterprise quality technology for free that will modernize teaching practices and help prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow.”
In other words, get ‘em young.
Salcito envisions classrooms tightly integrated with the cloud via Office 365, where teachers post materials to online class sites, and students collaborate on projects in real time, when not using Office Web Apps to finish their homework.
Office 365 for education comes in three flavors. There’s the free version (A2), with cloud-based email and collaboration tools, desktop sharing, and the ability to view and edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents. The next grade up, A3, costs $2.50 per student per month, and $4.50 per faculty member per month; for that price, the institution receives the cloud version of Office Professional Plus 2010 or Mac Office 2011, unlimited email storage, archiving, eDiscovery tools that support compliance needs, and hosted voicemail support.
The third grade (A4), costs $3 per student per month (faculty members pay $6 per month) and includes everything in A3 plus “enterprise voice capabilities,” which apparently includes an on-premises Lync Server.
This isn’t Microsoft’s first time expanding Office 365’s reach. In May, the company introduced Office 365 for Government, which features the same productivity tools as “regular” Office 365, albeit with the ability to store data in a segregated community cloud. Office 365 supports a massive array of global and regional standards related to security, including ISO 27001, SAS70 Type II, HIPAA, FERPA, and FISMA; at the time of Office 365 for Government’s unveiling, Microsoft also announced plans to support Criminal Justice Information Security (CJIS).
Microsoft’s competition in the cloud-productivity realm, of course, is Google, which recently acquired QuickOffice, a cloud-based productivity suite already present on many mobile devices. Cloud productivity software represents a relatively tiny portion of the overall market, still dominated in large part by the traditional version of Office; but both Microsoft and Google realize that market will almost certainly shift more to the cloud in coming years.