You may recall that back in February, Google got some favorable publicity for providing hosted Gmail for students at San Jose City College. At the time, some Microsoft PR people were upset that Microsoft wasn’t getting equal ink for their own similar program which no one else seemed to know about. The obvious answer was for Microsoft to publicize their own offering and if you were waiting with bated breath for that to happen, you can relax, because on Friday they released a Press Q&A about the Windows Live @ edu program featuring Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland as the reference customer:
In January, the university began rolling out e-mail accounts with its domain name to all 15,000 students and plans to offer the service to its alumni as well. Students aren’t likely to bump up against mailbox limits; the e-mail accounts, now based on MSN Hotmail, each come with a 250MB mailbox and will grow to 2GB when students are switched to Microsoft’s new Windows Live Mail later this year. The e-mail service also brings the features Watson’s discerning students demand – advanced junk e-mail filtering, antivirus protection tools, calendar and an address book.
Along with the e-mail service came a big bonus. Using the same ID, the university is also deploying Windows Live Messenger so students and staff can keep in touch with free audio and video conversation features as well as text messaging; MSN Spaces for participants to share blogs and build communities; and MSN Alerts so the university can notify students of special events. Students can access their e-mail wirelessly from smart phones and Pocket PCs – a major benefit given the ubiquity of mobile devices among students and the freedom those devices give them to send and retrieve e-mail without returning to a desktop computer. And Glasgow Caledonian University didn’t have to purchase an expensive e-mail system – because Microsoft is providing and hosting this service.
Glasgow Caledonian University may be special in many ways, but its deal with Microsoft isn’t one of them. Some 57 schools worldwide have either rolled out or have contracted to roll out their own branded and customized versions of this service from Microsoft and as many as 100 institutions are expected to do so by year end. All are participating in the Windows Live @ edu program, which provides institutions of higher education with flexible, robust and reliable hosted-communications services for students, alumni, and applicants. A minimal financial and infrastructure investment is made by the university to participate in the program, with Microsoft hosting the e-mail service while helping ensure the institutions maintain full control and management, including the ability to create, delete, and store e-mail addresses for their constituents.
As we mentioned at the time, the minimal investment is an installation of “Microsoft Identity Integration Server (MIIS) on a Windows Server to handle the user management.” That rather keeps it from being a hands-off offering like Google’s, but either one is undoubtedly a good deal for the schools since they are free. As for Google and Microsoft, besides the public relations value, what they are offering is only a little different from what is already free to all comers on the Internet with the exception of using the school’s domain name.