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Microsoft's new college curriculum

As college students get ready to return to school, Microsoft is unleashing a broad initiative to push its software on campuses nationwide.

4 min read
As college students get ready to return to school, Microsoft is unleashing a broad initiative to push its software on campus computers nationwide.

Under a new licensing program, dubbed the Microsoft Campus Agreement, the company will encourage colleges and universities to offer its products to faculty, staff, and students in discounted packages. The program, which begins October 1, lets schools buy annual licenses for Microsoft Office or Office Professional Edition, a Windows 32-bit operating system upgrade, the FrontPage Web site creation and management tool, BackOffice, and the Visual Studio development system Professional Edition.

The importance of the education market has not been lost on Microsoft, which has already made several overtures toward colleges. In March, Microsoft sealed a $6 million deal with Indiana University to upgrade its infrastructure and to supply students and faculty with Microsoft Office, Windows 98, and the Internet Explorer Web browser for their home computers. At the time, the company said the deal was the first of what it promised would be many others.

Not all its efforts have been as successful, however. A groundbreaking deal that would have made Microsoft and three other tech heavyweights money-making business partners with the California State University system folded in June after Microsoft pulled out amid fierce political opposition.

The CSU proposal--in which the four tech firms would have formed a limited-liability company dubbed the California Education Technology Initiative, or CETI--was fought by competitors and state lawmakers who raised concerns of anticompetitive business practices. Students and staff from the CSU's 23 campuses also opposed the plan, fearing that it would limit choice.

Microsoft and its supporters maintain that deals such as the Indiana University agreement are important because they allow schools to update the applications they are using and standardize campus computers, as well as help schools turn out students who are well-versed in popular technology. Opponents, however, say this is a continuation of the type of anticompetitive behavior that has invited government investigations of the company.

In Indiana's case, the university was slated to spend $20 million over the next four years to equip its campuses with the latest applications and to switch from Novell's NetWare and UnixWare operating systems to Microsoft's Windows NT. Instead, IU combined all its departments' technology budgets and worked out a $6 million deal with Microsoft.

Microsoft sees such deals as win-win situations, making things easier for universities while allowing the company to reach a large number of customers at one time with a wide variety of products. The company counters allegations of anticompetitive practices by describing the licensing agreement as "system-agnostic."

Elizabeth King, general manager of the education customer unit for Microsoft, noted that several of the applications being offered under the licensing agreement have Mac versions. "By deliberately making this a cross-platform arrangement, we are certainly recognizing that there are a lot of Macs on campus," she said.

The company's initiative was born from several months of meeting with educators and administrators at conferences and informal meetings, as well as collaborating with Educause, a consortium of colleges, universities and technology firms that deals with high-tech policy and academic computing issues. The alliance with Educause led to the formation of a Higher Education Licensing Advisory Council made up of university chancellors, information technology executives, and others from 28 institutions including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, the University of Michigan, the University of Oklahoma, and Hartwick College.

The group met in February at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and further shaped the licensing agreement in subsequent meetings and conference calls, Microsoft said.

"Overall we were impressed that Microsoft made a concerted effort to understand higher education's concerns and learn more about its needs," Barbara Horgan, director of information technology at the University of Washington at Tacoma and Educause member, said in a statement.

"We need a licensing program that allows us to offer our faculty and students the technology tools they need for teaching and learning, helps us standardize software products on our campus, is easy to administer, and is priced affordably," she added. "When this process began, there was a lot of skepticism on the part of the educators, but we soon realized that Microsoft is sincere about wanting to tailor a software licensing program for higher education."

The cost per user for the licensing agreement is a flat rate based on the school's overall number of faculty, students, and staff, Microsoft said. Individual schools or departments within a given university also can sign an agreement, the firm said.

The estimated retail price for 1 to 2,999 faculty and staff is $54 per user; for 3,000 or more, the cost decreases to $48 per user. Institutions with licensing agreements for faculty and staff also can offer the software products to students for an estimated $19 per user for 1,000 to 14,999 students to $13 per user for 50,000 users or more, the company said.

The license agreement will be valid for one year from the date they are signed; schools can renew them based on updated user counts. Microsoft's other volume license programs will remain available to universities and colleges, the company said.

News.com's Courtney Macavinta contributed to this report.