About 600,000 L.A. Community College students to get Microsoft Live@EDU

The institution considered Google Apps for Education but chose Microsoft's cloud email and collaboration suite for schools and universities

The Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) will provide email and collaboration applications to about 600,000 students via Microsoft's Live@EDU cloud suite, a project for which it also considered Google Apps for Education.

LACCD, the largest community college district in the U.S., plans to start the Live@EDU rollout in the fall, focusing initially on its current students, said LACCD CIO Jorge Mata.

"This will become our official communication link with our students," he said.

LACCD plans to later include staff and professors, most of whom have email addresses on its various on-premise Exchange systems, as well as make Live@EDU available to about 2.5 million alumni.

"We're prioritizing the active students and faculty first," he said.

Until now, it has been up to the LACCD's nine colleges to independently decide whether they offer email to students via on-premise Microsoft Exchange email systems. But the LACCD decided it wanted to offer all of its students an email account, along with other collaboration applications, via a cloud-based suite, and thus piloted Live@EDU and Google Apps.

"It started as a project for students in the classroom, but it quickly evolved," he said, adding that the idea of having all students on a common email platform across all colleges soon gave rise to other potentially useful communications scenarios among other LACCD departments beyond the faculty, such as the financial aid and registrar teams.

In the end, Live@EDU won out over Google Apps for several reasons, including users' familiarity with the Microsoft products and their interfaces -- primarily Outlook -- as well as more back-end and front-end uniformity with the LACCD's on-premise Outlook/Exchange systems, Mata said.

Google declined to comment on the LACCD's decision to adopt Live@EDU, while Microsoft trumpeted the customer win in a press release. Both Live@EDU and Google Apps for Education are free.

However, the LACCD isn't banning Google Apps. Individual teams and departments will be able to use Google Apps if they choose to for email and collaboration, Mata said. However, Live@EDU will be the standard, systemwide platform.

While email communication will be the primary application, Mata thinks other capabilities of Live@EDU will also be incorporated by users, including calendaring, IM and audio/video conferencing; and document creation, editing, storage, sharing and collaboration through SkyDrive and online versions of Microsoft productivity applications including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

"Students and faculty, once they start learning all the capabilities, I expect they'll realize it's way more than email," Mata said.

This is a significant win for Microsoft, which is locked in a brutal battle of cloud-based email and collaboration suites with Google.

In this war, the stakes are much higher for Microsoft, because its email and collaboration products, such as Outlook, Exchange, SharePoint and Lync, are key to its financial performance.

For Google, the revenue it gets from Google Apps is a comparatively small complement to its core business of online advertising.

While Microsoft historically dominated the email and collaboration market with the on-premise versions of its products, it is facing Google and other serious challengers now that businesses are moving to the cloud-based model.

Microsoft critics faulted the company in recent years for what they perceived to be slow development of a viable alternative to Google Apps, which Google launched in 2006.

Last summer, Microsoft finally released Office 365, a significant upgrade to its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) that competes directly with Google Apps.

Microsoft plans to release an education edition of Office 365 this summer, an upgrade to Live@EDU, but Mata said the LACCD will roll out Live@EDU completely before contemplating a move to Office 365. "Office 365 will be the natural next step," he said.

Office 365 for education customers will have three editions: a basic free one and two fee-based editions. Plan A2 is free and will include Office Web Apps, IM and presence, SharePoint Online, conferencing, email, calendar and Personal Archive.

Plan A3, which will cost US$2.50 per month for students and $4.50 per month for faculty and staff, will add components including Office Pro Plus, the right to use the suite at home on up to five PCs, voicemail and advanced archive capability. An even more sophisticated version, Plan A4, will cost $3 per month for students and $6 per month for faculty and staff.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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