Google Challenges Microsoft's SUNY Spin

Not so fast! Despite 'university-wide' claim on [email protected], rival says 13 State University of New York schools are already using Google Apps.
The State University of New York (SUNY) may have reached a "university-wide" agreement to offer [email protected] services across its 64 campuses, as Microsoft reported on Tuesday, but that deal is by no means exclusive, according to Google.

In fact, Google says it has had an enterprise agreement in place with SUNY for more than a year and a half, with 13 colleges already using Google Apps for Education and another 10 schools considering the service, according to a spokesperson. Google's educational offering includes e-mail, calendaring, word processing and other apps delivered as free services.

In its press release issued Tuesday, Microsoft stated that its new agreement would make [email protected], Microsoft's free e-mail, calendaring, communication and collaboration suite, "available to its 64 campuses across the state." Further, the statement said "SUNY sought to decrease costs while providing its 465,000 students with up-to-date technology."

Google's spokesperson called those statements misleading given that so many SUNY schools had recently switched to Google's services.

Asked for comment, SUNY's Director of Communications, Morgan Hook, issued a statement that, "as with Google, SUNY's recent agreement with Microsoft provides SUNY campuses yet another option in providing students, faculty and staff with cloud computing services." The statement noted that working with multiple vendors "gives campuses the option to choose which service meets their local requirements effectively."

Much like Google's offerings, [email protected] includes free e-mail, calendaring, collaboration services and Web-based apps, though Microsoft touts seamless integration with its conventional thick-client Office apps.

Why do Microsoft and Google compete so vigorously to give away communication and collaboration services for students. Beyond the crowing rights (now in question now in NY), there are opportunities for actual revenue-generating sales to educational institutions -- particularly for Microsoft, which can roll on-premise software and systems into larger educational sales.

Even more important, campus-wide deals present an opportunity to get large numbers of young people used to working with particular applications before they head into the job market. Google in particular has incentives to counter the vaunted familiarity of Microsoft Office by getting a new generation of workers used to working with (and loyal to) its Web-centric apps.

As for SUNY, one of the largest university systems in the country, it seems many of the institution's 64 campuses remain up for grabs. Google spokesperson said 10 more campuses are considering a move to Google Apps while Microsoft said 20 SUNY schools "are in various stages of [[email protected]] deployment, including proof of concept, piloting and testing."

If this flap confirms anything, it's that SUNY campuses will no longer have to provision e-mail, calendaring, instant messaging and other collaboration infrastructure internally. In that sense, competition is good for education, good for tax payers and good for those who foot the tuition bills.

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