This summer, Microsoft will start to offer its cloud-based Office 365 suite to British schools, according to Steve Beswick, Director of Education at Microsoft. "Office 365 for Education will be the same as enterprises get," said Beswick. "The only difference is price." However, price is yet to be announced.
Microsoft is already testing its ideas with some schools, the best known being Toby Young's West London Free School (PDF) in Hammersmith. This is intended to be like a traditional grammar school, and was the first free school to sign a funding agreement with the government.
European Electronique is deploying Office 365 as part of the West London Free School's IT system.
Microsoft is hoping to sell Office 365 to large universities before moving down the chain, but it has competition in cloud computing. It recently lost out on a US deal when the University of California at Berkeley selected Google Apps for Education as its new calendar and email platform. However, Berkeley will continue to use Microsoft Office Professional Plus, Windows and other Microsoft software.
At BETT 2012, Microsoft officially launched Learning Suite, which Beswick says "provides 25 free titles that add value to Office and Windows." The list includes free Windows Live Essentials 2011 programs such as Live Messenger, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, and Windows Live Writer, but with the benefit of an msi installer. Less well known programs include Photo Story 3 and Mouse Mischief. Beswick says six other publishers are adding free software to the UK site.
Microsoft said Learning Suite was "part of Microsoft’s three year campaign to help build a 'Brighter Britain'."
One of Microsoft's less well known offerings, Kodu Game Lab, has also made it into Learning Suite. Kodu is a simple visual programming language that enables children to create games that run on the PC and Xbox. It's supported by a Kodu Classroom Kit for Educators (download).
Beswick says that teaching programming can't be left for A-level students and undergraduates: "we firmly believe we've got to fill the hopper earlier on."
For older students, Microsoft offers Dreamspark. This is a truly massive suite of free (as in beer) software, including Visual Studio 2010 Pro, Expression Studio 4 Ultimate, Robotics Developer Studio 4, XNA Game Studio 4, Windows Server 2003 and 2008, and the free Express versions of Visual Web Developer, Visual Basic, Visual C#, Visual C++, and SQL Server.
The Microsoft UK Education Team's UK Schools Blog provides further information.