Technology giant Microsoft announced today it will offer a new bundled package of education tools and apps to schools and districts, a move the company says will make the software easier to purchase, manage and use.
The cloud-based Microsoft 365 Education will be available starting Oct. 1 and includes the company’s newer products as well as privacy protections for schools. Many of these Microsoft products were already being offered to educators by the company, but had to be purchased separately.
Microsoft 365 Education includes tools that are already integrated and designed for use by educators and students, said Anthony Salcito, a vice president at Microsoft Education, in an interview.
“When a school is acquiring these platforms, they have a clear articulation of what the student benefits are,” he said. “When a school leader acquires Microsoft 365, they know that everything they are acquiring is extended to students at no incremental cost.”
The new bundled package is in part a reaction to customer feedback, in which educators said Microsoft’s purchasing process was too complex and difficult to navigate. In an exclusive survey published earlier this year in EdWeek Market Brief, educators ranked Microsoft last among a group of large technology companies for ease of purchasing, compared to Amazon, Apple and Google.
Seeking a Holistic Ed-Tech Experience
This new sales strategy should help address those concerns, said Salcito.
“It will be much easier for our customers to acquire the set of services they want and we were very thoughtful in terms of how these things work together,” he said.
The new Microsoft 365 Education suite includes:
- Office 365 for education: Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Teams, a tool released earlier this year designed to help teachers manage their workflow, communicate with students and connect to student information systems and other platforms.
- Minecraft: Education Edition: An educational version of the popular 3-D building and exploration game.
- Windows 10 : Microsoft’s latest operating system, with the latest security and privacy features.
“Microsoft 365 Education is an exciting first step in evolving from a disconnected mix of products to an integrated, holistic experience that powers better learning outcomes,” Salcito wrote in a blog post announcing the new package.
The package also allows students to install the software, including Minecraft: Education Education, on up to five devices.
Microsoft Making Moves
The new bundled package from Microsoft appears to be a continuation of deliberate efforts in the last year to update its approach in the education market and challenge rivals such as Google, which has steadily taken market share in the K-12 space for operating systems through its provision of Chromebooks–devices that run on the company’s Chrome operating system. Google’s Chrome operating systems represent 58 percent of the U.S. market today, compared to 38 percent two years ago, according to Futuresource Consulting, a British market research company.
However, Microsoft is still the leading provider of operating systems in the rest of the world, with 65 percent of the market outside of the U.S., according to Futuresource data.
In January, Microsoft unveiled lower-cost Windows 10 devices for schools as well as Intune for Education, a management tool some observers have noted has similar functions to the Google management console.
In May, Microsoft released Windows 10 S, Microsoft Teams and Minecraft: Education Edition.
Pete Just, the chief technology officer for the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indiana, said he’s seeing improvements coming from Microsoft. Just’s district uses the Microsoft volume license agreement, which is an annual subscription to a bundle of products. While the district relies heavily on Google products, they still use a significant amount of Microsoft software, he said.
“Microsoft, because of its size, has had a history of rather complicated and obscure ways to do purchasing,” he said. “They’ve been working hard in the last 18 months to try and make up ground.”
Joseph Williams, the technology director at Southern California’s Perris Union High School District, said his students have Chromebooks, and he’s frustrated that Minecraft: Education Edition, for example, won’t run on them. He said while students use Google’s G Suite of tools, educators can choose what they’d like to use as an operating system. Perris Union also has volume purchasing for Microsoft, through a third party vendor, a process he described as “clunky.”
“There’s so many hoops I have to jump through,” Williams said. “If Microsoft can remove the barriers and streamline the process, that’s a good development.”
However, Just noted that a lot of schools are already heavily invested in Chromebooks, making him unsure of the impact of this new bundled package and effort to streamline purchasing.
“This is an attempt to continue to make up ground,” Just said, “but I’m not sure it will make that much of a difference.”
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