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6/27/2012
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Microsoft Rolls Out Office 365 For Education

Cloud-based productivity suite supersedes Microsoft's Live@Edu offering for the education market.

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Microsoft introduced Wednesday a version of its Office 365 cloud productivity suite that's aimed at educational institutions, from K-12 to post-secondary. The company said it ultimately plans to move its current educational customers off its existing Live@Edu service to the new offering.

Office 365 for Education gives students free access to online versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and allows them to connect to each other and to their instructors through cloud-based editions of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync. Live@Edu used Microsoft's more limited Hotmail and SkyDrive services for e-mail, storage, and document sharing. It also did not offer the Lync collaboration environment.

"Office 365 is a much more robust solution," said Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate VP for Microsoft's Office group, in an interview.

Office 365 for Education, as well as the commercial version of the suite, might also ultimately include tools Microsoft gained through its $1.2 billion acquisition of enterprise social networking site Yammer, disclosed this week. "Over time we expect Yammer to interface in and do more with Office 365," said Koenigsbauer, who noted that SharePoint can already capture Yammer feeds.

[ What does the Yammer buy mean for the company that helped round out SharePoint as an enterprise social platform? Read Yammer Deal Casts Shadow On NewsGator Strategy. ]

Microsoft's goal is to have 250 million students using its cloud services by the end of the decade. "We think this market is really ripe to move to the cloud," said Koenigsbauer. "They're on older technology, they're managing it themselves, and it's costly."

Office 365 for Education won't generate much revenue for Microsoft, if any, but it gives students familiarity with the company's offerings at a young age, and Microsoft is hoping that will create a lifelong affinity for its products.

Google, with Google Apps for Education, is chasing the educational market for the same reason. Koenigsbauer claimed Redmond's offering is more full-featured. "We think we have some robust capabilities, like content management through SharePoint and document fidelity from the client to the cloud, that they just don't have."

He also noted that Office 365 for Education conforms to federal regulations, such as the U.S. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), that set privacy and security standards for educational IT.

Among the early adopters of Office 365 for Education are Dartmouth College, Cornell University, and Gonzaga University in Washington State.

Microsoft also said the enterprise edition of Office 365, which debuted a year ago and replaced the software maker's Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) suite, is gaining steam with commercial customers. The company announced that Lowe's, Hallmark Cards, Burger King, and Japan Airlines are among the companies now using the online software.

The customer additions add up to 350,000 new enterprise seats for Office 365, according to Microsoft. Koenigsbauer declined to say how many seats it now has in total. Microsoft also announced Monday that the service is now available in 88 markets worldwide, supporting 32 languages.

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