Microsoft is to begin effectively giving away Windows 8 software to education suppliers as it looks to muscle Google and Apple out of the strategically important schools market.
CRN understands the software giant will begin charging PC OEMs and local system builders just $1 for its operating system from 1 February as part of a sweeping overhaul of its Shape The Future programme, whose success to date has been questionable.
Launched in late 2012 in the UK with the backing of Intel and OEMs including Dell, HP and Lenovo, Shape The Future is designed to provide 14-19 year olds in England and Wales with subsidised computers.
Under dramatic changes that kick in on Saturday, CRN understands that Microsoft is slashing the price of its OS to OEM and system builder partners to a nominal fee of $1, where before they received an, albeit generous, percentage discount on the usual cost of a licence. It is also loosening the criteria that govern which suppliers and projects are eligible to take part, multiple sources informed us.
Apple iPads are now ubiquitous in many schools, while Google is also trying to muscle in on the education market by plying schools with cheap Chromebooks and free apps in an attempt to get pupils hooked before they hit the workforce.
One channel source told CRN: "Microsoft has never done anything like this before as they've been reluctant to reduce the price of their operating system.
"Google is trying to do here what it has done in the US very successfully, which is to infiltrate education by giving away their apps. This is Microsoft's counter to that."
The details are unclear but CRN understands that the annual unit threshold for system builders to participate in Shape The Future has also been dramatically slashed to 3,000.
"They are opening it up to a lot more people," said one source.
The range of projects that qualify for the scheme is also being widened. Previously, projects had to be of a "one device per pupil" nature, meaning the devices had to be allocated to individual pupils, rather than the school as a whole. This restriction is believed to have been dropped. Projects previously had to be at least 50 per cent publicly funded and sources say this criterion may also have been loosened, alongside several other restrictions.
Microsoft has since sent us the following statement:
"Our vision for the ‘Microsoft Shape the Future' programme is anytime, anywhere learning for all students and those involved in teaching. As of the 1st February 2014, we are lowering the threshold for entry into the scheme from 10,000 devices to 3,000 devices and are expanding the categories of those eligible to benefit to include administrative staff and institutions as well as personal, or 1:1 devices for teachers and students. Combined with lower cost devices, this is a game changer for putting the best of today's technology into people's hands."
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