Microsoft squares up to Google in the schoolyard with free Office 365 for students deal

Microsoft launches a beefed up Office 365 product for students that offers free locally installed desktop software.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Microsoft has officially launched Student Advantage package, which gives students the multi-device Office 365 ProPlus suite for free — if a school's teachers and faculty are paying customers.

Announced in October, the Office 365 Student Advantage package was made available to 35,000 educational institutions around the world earlier this week.

It sees Microsoft arming itself with a free full-featured Office product to help combat Google's free Google Apps for Education plus Chromebook assault on the education sector, and follows a Microsoft advertising campaign talking up the offline capabilities of its own platform on devices priced similarly to Google's own-brand laptops.

It's not in Microsoft's blood to give stuff away, so to qualify for the new Student Advantage deal, the school or university needs to have purchased for staff an "institution-wide" subscription to Office 365 ProPlus or Office Professional Plus, available through Microsoft's traditional volume licensing arrangements.

Office 365 ProPlus normally costs $12 a month per user and offers Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, Access, and Lync on five devices per user.

This isn't the first time Microsoft has made Office available for free: students could also get the suite under its Office 365 Education 'A2' plan, which excluded desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and other software. To get Office with the desktop versions included, however, students had to sign up to the A3 plan, costing $3.20 per student per month, or the A4 package, which offers more features such as Lync calling from the desktop, costs $3.80 per student per month. Teacher and faculty rates were $5.80 and $7.70 per user per month respectively.

Microsoft is recommending schools put students on the Office 365 Education A2 package in addition to ProPlus to get all available capabilities. The A2 deal includes Office Web Apps, 50GB email storage, web conferencing, 25GB SkyDrive Pro storage, SharePoint Intranet, Active Directory integration, anti-spam and anti-malware.

Microsoft recently boosted the cloud email storage capacity for its A2, A3 and A4 plans, outsizing Google's free Education Apps limit of 30GB across Gmail and Drive. Google's core suite of apps include an ad-free Gmail, calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Sites.

As Google pushes the argument that its Windows- and Office-free Chromebooks offer a lower total cost of ownership to schools, Microsoft has for its part talked up the value of Office to students as they enter the workforce, quoting an IDC study that claimed Office skills were the most sought-after productivity tools capabilities for employers.

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