Schools without a Microsoft volume licensing agreement will lose out under new restrictions Microsoft has introduced to its Technology Access Programme.
In an effort to fend off the competitive threat of Google in the schools market, Microsoft began subsidising the cost of Windows through TAP – or Shape the Future as it was previously known – last February, charging participating system builders a nominal $1 for a licence.
But as of Friday, all desktops and larger notebooks and tablets with Windows Pro are no longer valid for the scheme.
Machines with the standard edition of Windows 8.1 will continue to qualify for the programme, however. This means that schools with a volume licensing agreement can simply purchase a Windows 8.1 machine and use the agreement to upgrade it to Windows 8.1 Pro.
Details of the restrictions were published on the website of UK PC builder Stone Computers on Friday.
System builders we spoke to said the changes would affect only a small minority of schools which do not have a volume licensing agreement.
"The Windows Home SKUs are still $1," one system builder told us. "That would have to be upgraded, but 80 per cent of schools have a volume agreement and so will be able to buy PCs at the same cost as before."
Another said: "I'd guess this will affect just five per cent of customers. This will mainly be primary schools that don't have a volume licensing agreement or IT manager."
Microsoft did not respond to CRN's requests for comment but according to Stone's website, any Windows Pro notebook with a screen size of more than 14.1in no longer qualifies for the programme. Windows Pro tablets and 2-in-1s with a screen size of over 12.5in are also no longer valid.
OEMs participating in TAP include not only global players such as Lenovo, HP and Dell but also national PC builders such as Viglen, Stone and Novatech. Smaller local players Millennium, NS Optimum and RedCat and – more recently – VeryPC have also been added in recent months following criticism the scheme was "distorting" the UK market.
Since we published this story, Stone appears to have removed from its blog the reference to machines with the standard edition of Windows 8.1 still qualifying for TAP. We are receiving uncorroborated reports that the information Stone first published - which was backed up by other system builders we spoke to - was indeed not wholly accurate. One suggestion is that system builders were misled and that Windows 8.1 (standard) SKUs will still be available, but not in the UK. We are seeking urgent clarification from Microsoft.
So far, this is all Microsoft have said:
"Microsoft continues to serve teachers and students all over the world with great products and services. Details of our arrangements with partners are not publicly disclosed. We continue to offer a broad array of discounted products and services for education customers that include Windows, Office365, developer tools and more. We recommend customers connect with their Microsoft representatives for more information."
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