Microsoft LogoUpdated: AICTE has agreed to remove the word mandatory from the memo served to 11,500 colleges with respect to installing Microsoft Office 365 due to opposition by representatives of the free software movement and several Parliamentarians, reports the Hindu.

Earlier: The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has made Microsoft Office 365 mandatory in all its associated educational institutions, free of charge. As part of the partnership with Microsoft, Malhaar iMarketing Advantage(IMA) will co-ordinate this adoption process, which has to be completed by June 30, 2013. (Hat Tip: @shwetank)

According to the notification (pdf), Educational institutions will get Microsoft Exchange Online along with 10 GB inbox per student with 18MB attachment, Outlook calendar, 25 GB online storage space through Windows SkyDrive, Office web apps and 24/7 online support for students and administrators. Previously, in April 2012, AICTE had entered into a similar partnership with Microsoft to deploy Microsoft’s Live@edu, a hosted communication and collaboration service that offers email, Microsoft Office Web Apps, instant messaging and storage in 10,000 colleges. The status of this project’s implementation is not clear.

Along with college partnerships, Microsoft has also been consistently pushing its products through partnerships targeting businesses. In August 2012, Microsoft partnered with Airtel to offer Microsoft Office 365 to small businesses. The service is targeted at freelancers, small businesses and even home office owners. It is also worth noting that Microsoft along with Google and Verisign is sponsoring the NASSCOM 10,000 start-up program. Microsoft’s Azure accelerator program also provides start-ups with free cloud services and software development tools.

Our take

By making Microsoft Office 365 mandatory, AICTE gives no choice to the colleges. We think that the colleges should be given the choice to decide on the technology they wish to use. However, colleges have already been curbed with the implementation of Live@edu, now followed by Microsoft Office 365. It is interesting to note that Microsoft is making these deployments for free, clearly pitching itself against open source alternatives.

At the same time, with the prominent use of Microsoft Office even in the work environment, it becomes only logical for colleges to familiarise their students with the software. For Microsoft, this is, in a way, a capacity building exercise. Students used to their products are more likely to use them in a work environment.

The question that needs to be answered is – why does the AICTE have to mandate one vendor versus another?

Update: Atul Chitnis points towards a post he did in 2002, in which he says:

I believe people should be taught technologies and how to apply them generically, instead of making the *product* the technology or the be-all/end-all of education.

These kinds of tactics (teaching products) are shameless hardsell, aimed at conditioning students early on to perceive computing as being the use of that vendor’s products.

Can you imagine what it would be like if suddenly the definition of Geography or History was changed to mean the study of the Encyclopedia Britannica?