Microsoft has zeroed in on education and is banking on a big pay-off in the long term, reports the Associated Press.
Even as the Bill and Melida Gates Foundation's giving to education is in the news, Microsoft has pulled away from its competitors in funding research centers, donating products and sponsoring technology contests. One might call it enlightened self-interest, as Microsoft intends to have students identify with their brand.
"As a whole, it's an investment for us, but it pays off in a pretty big way," Gates said in an interview Wednesday. "There's even a commercial element of what you get exposed to when you're young. We'll never be able to measure it, but there's some benefit to us that people have this exposure."
Academics have traditionally shunned Microsoft products, preferring open source technologies and other competitors, including Apple Computer. But having a strong presence in the academic community is definitely turning things around for Microsoft.
"Microsoft's maturing a lot as a company, and they're getting lots and lots of good people.I think that's more responsible for getting a better reputation on campus than they had before — and the products are better," said Hal Abelson, a computer science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Microsoft has sponsored a number of technology contests including the company's Imagine Cup, a technology contest in which students must use Microsoft products. More than 70 teams will vie for a $25,000 top prize at finals later this year in India.
"Microsoft cares a lot about education, and I care a lot about education," Gates said.