Microsoft said Monday that it will make a version of its Office 365 productivity software free for students. The deal also includes a free terabyte of storage on the company’s OneDrive cloud service.
Microsoft officials said the move was partly motivated by a desire to ensure that the nation’s school system is producing students able to work with computers and digital technologies.
“Today’s education system is not adequately preparing students for jobs of the future,” said Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s VP for Worldwide Education, in a statement. “Microsoft found that this skills gap could be closed by focusing on communications, knowledge integration and presentation skills.”
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has gone public a number of times with his view that the U.S. is not producing enough tech-savvy students to meet the needs its high-tech industry.
The free subscription to Office 365 ProPlus includes access to the full versions of Word, PowerPoint and OneNote. Students can sign up for the software through a self-serve process that is integrated with their schools’ IT departments.
Salcito said the process lets IT managers “maintain all the control, flexibility and security that Office is known for while reducing the amount of administrative work needed to provide these free services to students.”
Microsoft is also no doubt hoping that by exposing students to its technologies at a young age, they will become Office users when they enter the working world. While still the dominant productivity suite, Office faces new competition from the likes of Google, with its Docs software, and Apple and its iCloud services.
Still, Office remains an important cash cow for Microsoft. The company added more than 1 million Office 365 subscribers in its most recent fourth quarter, bringing the total to more than 5.6 million. Overall revenue from sales of Office to consumers jumped 21 percent year over year. Commercial sales of Office grew 4 percent.
Microsoft said it ultimately plans to make Office 365 ProPlus available for faculty and school staff in addition to students.