Microsoft SaaS vs. Google Apps on College Campuses

If you want to see how Microsoft and Google are competing in the software as a service (SaaS) market, head back to college. As I've written here a few times, Hofstra University, the University of Phoenix and several other large colleges have embraced Google Apps to manage student email, alumni email and collaboration. Now, Microsoft is taking steps to more actively promote its rival offering: [email protected] hosted applications.

Indeed, Microsoft says it is adding "no-cost Microsoft Exchange Labs e-mail for students and alumni to ites [email protected] platform."

Microsoft claims [email protected] offers four key benefits to students and alumni:

  1. Reliable, hosted email featuring up to 10GB inboxes and 20MB attachments. The software giant is quick to note that students can access hosted Exchange from non-PC devices, such as smart phones.
  2. Shared calendars for improved collaboration.
  3. Message tracking and content filtering to block questionable content.
  4. School branding for all inboxes, and those inboxes can follow a person from student life to post-graduate and alumni status.
Frankly, Microsoft's approach sounds similar to Google Apps deployments at Hofstra University and other locales. I don't know whether Google or Microsoft has the better hosted collaboration solution, but that's not the point of this blog entry.

Back to School

Rather, here's the key takeaway: Managed service providers should be engaging with university CIOs to learn how Microsoft, Google, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems and other big IT providers are serving the higher education market.

Often, next-generation IT solutions -- including hosted services -- land on college campuses long before they reach other vertical markets. Also, students are among the most demanding customer base in the world. As students adopt new types of smart phones and Internet-enabled devices, they often invent new uses for hardware, software and SaaS that vendors never considered.

With college-centric SaaS, Google and Microsoft are battling for the hearts and minds of tomorrow's workforce.
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