With President Clinton's announcement of a $2 billion federal fund to bring computers into classrooms as a backdrop, Microsoft yesterday announced a series of programs and educational grants intended to identify Microsoft as a new benefactor in a market where Apple now commands roughly 65 percent market share.
"I see that as a challenge to Apple," said Pieter Hartsook, editor and publisher of The Hartsook Letter. "It could put a little chink in Apple's grasp on the educational market, especially K-12. Apple is somewhat vulnerable right now."
Starting with the Florida Educational Technology Conference held this week, Microsoft plans to launch a giveaway of a new CD-ROM called the Internet Jump Start CD for Educators. The disc features two selections from the company's crown jewel collection: the Windows NT Server operating system and the Internet Information Server. Microsoft is also throwing in several other Microsoft and third-party Internet tools and activity guides for its multimedia educational titles like Encarta. Any school can get one copy of the CD for free "while quantities last," according to the Microsoft release.
Microsoft also teamed up with MCI Communications to expand a Microsoft-sponsored Web site called the Global Schoolhouse. MCI is pledging to provide 10 free megabytes of space on the site to every school that wants to post information about its programs but doesn't have a server or Internet access. Microsoft is volunteering to help these schools create their sites using the Jump Start CD. Schools who set up Global Schoolhouse sites can then enter a contest, the winners of which will get technology grants from $5,000 to $20,000. The contest kicks off February 26.
And Microsoft didn't forget the parents. The company is donating $1 million in cash, software and hardware, and training classes to the National PTA so that the organization can link all of its national and overseas offices via the Web.
As for higher education, Microsoft is donating what it says is $12 million of software licenses to the 1,000 schools participating next week in the ACM Programming Contest.
Even if much of the commitment comes in the form of free software that is valuable but costs Microsoft little to produce, the new programs represent a substantial outlay in marketing, training, and organizational costs.
Microsoft officials have been talking for some time about focusing more closely on the educational market. But the company timed its announcements to come only a week after Apple traded one CEO for another and decided against seeking shelter in a merger with Sun Microsystems.
While commending Microsoft for contributing to schools, Hartsook doesn't think it'll be that easy to dethrone Apple in the educational realm.
"Apple has been intimately involved with these folks for more than ten years. Schools will go for freebies, but they won't abandon their long-standing commitment to Apple," said Hartsook.