Windows Live @ edu: a step too far?

I must admit to being appalled at the recent news that 72 colleges have agreed to use Microsoft Windows Live (aka Hotmail) as their main student email service. The only differences are the domains associated with email messages (the service is using the school’s domain) and the lack of advertising. From the article:

Although the Live services are traditionally advertiser supported, Live@edu accounts would not show ads to users while they are in school. Microsoft does, however, reserve the right to turn on the ads after they graduate. […] But although there has been a rapid uptake of the service, the company says it still meets resistance and skepticism. In return, Microsoft has been assuring education institutions that its only motivation is to get students using Windows Live, promising there are no ulterior plans.

This is exactly the same marketing method the cigarette companies used to employ with candy – the idea was that when a child reached smoking age, they would automatically reach for the real version of the brand of candy cigarettes they had enjoyed as a kid. Here we’re missing the medical issues associated with smoking, but I think it’s no less morally dubious, particularly as there are free and open source webmail solutions available that would do the job just as well. I would be interested to learn how much Microsoft are making from this – I sincerely hope they aren’t charging the schools – and what their projected earnings are from these users are once they graduate and the banner ads get switched on.

This raises a wider question of technology support in education. Services like email are now accepted as standard; you’d be amazed to go to a college and find they didn’t give you an address. But what if the colleges don’t really want to have to support these infrastructure elements? Should they be allowed to outsource to a company like Microsoft, who would have their own marketing agenda? Or is branding core educational services a step too far?






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