Office XP is hooked on schools

Hoping to further entrench its business software suite, the company says it will offer discounted versions of Office XP for students and teachers to use at home.

Hoping to further entrench its Office business software suite in the marketplace, Microsoft on Wednesday said it will offer discounted versions through mainstream retailers of Office XP to students and teachers to use at home.

The educational package of Office XP will include the full version of Word 2002, Outlook 2002, Excel 2002 and PowerPoint 2002 for $149 and will go on sale Oct. 25. Microsoft said that puts the software at almost 70 percent off the regular Office XP Standard price. It will come in different packaging to help set it apart from commercial Office products.

Enticing students to adopt products that they are likely to keep using as adults out of habit and comfort is nothing new, but especially interesting in the case of Microsoft's Office suite, as it is already the dominant set of applications with little competition. Sun Microsystems' attempts to gain ground against Microsoft's Office have mostly fallen flat with its free StarOffice suite, and Corel's word-processing software, WordPerfect, has little hold on the market. On Tuesday, Sun released the beta of StarOffice 6.0, hoping to streamline a product that has been criticized as sluggish and hefty.

Microsoft commands more than 90 percent of the PC desktop operating system market, more than 90 percent of the PC business applications market, and more than 85 percent of the Web browser market, according to analyst estimates.

Other companies battling it out in the education market include Dell Computer, which has been pecking away at the monumental lead Apple Computer has enjoyed in that segment with its Mac systems. Even Mac users are anxiously awaiting the release of Office XP for Apple's newest operating system. Microsoft is hoping to capitalize on Apple's strong position in the education market with software tailored for Macs.

Palm Computing and Handspring are also targeting students with colorful handheld devices or with gadgets backed by celebrities including Michael Jordan and Claudia Schiffer.

In the past, Microsoft has offered discounts to academic institutions through volume licensing and to students and teachers through university and school bookstores. With Wednesday's offer, Microsoft will make the educational version available at selected national computer retailers.

Earlier this year, the software giant announced it was introducing a range of licensing terms for schools and other educational establishments to make the process of renewing and selecting software packages easier.