ZDNet's resident student blogger, Zack Whittaker, suggested yesterday that Google was losing the battle for cloud-based groupware dominance in schools to Microsoft's Live@Edu offering. To that I say two things:
- I'm not thinking so and
- The numbers get in the way of much more important considerations
Google claims 7 million active student users of its Apps for Education. Microsoft, for it's part, according to spokesperson Kelby Johnson, doesn't want to bother with the "numbers game." They simply want to deliver the best products to meet student needs. It's safe to say, however, that a lot of schools are using Live@Edu in some capacity.
By Zack's calculations (that include some pretty bloody sweeping assumptions, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt), as many as 50 million students are using Live@Edu. I think that's probably a bit of a stretch, but adoption of Live@Edu is quite good, particularly at the university level where, as Zack points out, major investments have already been made in Microsoft ecosystems.
To be honest, what students are really using is Facebook, in drastically higher numbers than either Google's or Microsoft's offerings. That being said, Zack's numbers miss a couple of important points, regardless of which product you prefer (and both are quite useful and mature). First, while Live@Edu stands alone and provides some really compelling features (high-fidelity document viewing, high-capacity SkyDrive, etc.), it really shines when integrated with Active Directory and SharePoint environments. Schools looking to leverage open source tools, including OpenOffice and non-Microsoft LDAP services will see less advantage.
This leads me to my second point: K-12 schools can enjoy an easy, free, turnkey, entirely cloud-based groupware solution using Google Apps for Education. While they can also use only the free Live@Edu service, it will lack the functionality out of the box, so to speak, of Google Apps. Where IT staff are few and far between, Edu Apps doesn't get much easier.
The most important point, however, is that the numbers game, posturing, and press releases mean far less than the competition they represent. Why did Microsoft release Live@Edu with so many impressive features and preview Sharepoint 2010 technologies as a result for millions of users? Partly to deliver great solutions to educators, I'm sure, but in large part to beat Google at its own game.
Why is Google focusing on radically improving the fidelity of their Docs products and rolling out new Apps features so quickly? I have no doubt there's a little bit of altruism there, but they need to stay competitive with Microsoft's Live@Edu offering, as well as their desktop productivity software and on-premise solutions.
Apps and Live@Edu are two different approaches to solving the same problem. The real winners here are students and educational institutions who have access to cutting-edge groupware solutions to collaborate, communicate, and produce content more effectively, anytime, anywhere. Competition is our friend; I don't care who has gotten more students and schools to drink their particular brand of Kool-Aid. Kool-Aid's tasty no matter what the flavor.