In an effort to compete with the two biggest names in the education technology business – Apple and Google – Microsoft is offering schools access to an ad-free version of its search engine Bing and free use of its Surface tablets. Schools who sign up for the company's Bing for Schools program will not only see their internet search results stripped from advertisements and adult content, but will also get free tablets and other tools that will aid them in teaching their students how to use the internet effectively.
It makes a lot of sense for the technology giant – which has struggled in the mobile technology space – to attempt to regain its dominance by going after young users. Microsoft's problem is not just of actual hardware, but desirability, as it is simply not considered "cool" relative to competitors like Apple. However, by getting younger users to try and maybe even embrace the company's products, they could be creating loyal, or at least more open-minded, consumers a decade down the road.
Microsoft's move is the latest sign that technology companies are targeting the education market as a way to reach children who will become the next generation of consumers.
The new Bing campaign, framed in the context of privacy concerns, is part of a broad, anti-Google marketing campaign directed by a team of political consultants including Mark Penn, long-time adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
In recent months Microsoft has ramped up allegations posted to its "Scroogled" website, including claims that Google violates its users' trust by scanning emails to target ads. Microsoft has also backed promotion of a "Do Not Track" protocol that would discourage online ad targeting.
Reuters reports this new effort by Microsoft is aimed squarely at Google's bottom line. While MS makes most of its revenues from software, Google's main profit-generator is internet advertisement. A software suite that would come bundled with the Surface tablets would also compete the with Google's Office-like product Google Apps.
Late last year Google announced that it hopes to get more of its Chromebook computers into the classroom by pricing them at $99 for educational institutions.
As part of the Bing campaign, school districts whose students use the Microsoft search engine win points, which they can redeem for Surface tablets.
Aleigha Henderson-Rosser, the director of instructional technology at Atlanta Public Schools, said she had no qualms about receiving aid from tech companies. Atlanta schools will not be paid money to participate in the Bing program, she said.
Henderson-Rosser said she will try to rally parents to use Bing to help win Surface tablets for schools that cannot afford the technology.
"I'm seeing it as a community effort to fill in the gaps," she said. "What school is going to turn down tablets for our students?"
The new Bing for Schools initiative is designed to improve digital literacy for students by putting technology in classrooms, helping students learn how to use the power of search, and making sure they can do it in a safer, ad-free environment, according to the Bing website.
For schools in the search pilot, all of the Bing searches will have three key enhancements: removal of all advertisements from search results; automatic strict filtering to help block adult content; and augmented privacy protections. Microsoft plans to bring the enhanced Bing experience to over 800,000 students as they start school.