Microsoft agrees to low-cost Office access

Microsoft Corp. has signed a $1.5 million enterprise agreement with the Maryland Education Enterprise Consortium (MEEC) to provide low-cost access to the company's Office suite of products.

The MEEC represents 65 educational establishments, including the 13 University System of Maryland (USM) institutions, a number of private colleges and universities, K-12 schools and other organizations. The agreement provides students, teachers and administrators in participating institutions with access to desktop productivity tools, infrastructure server and messaging products, and operating upgrades for three years, at a cost of $14 per license.

The software suite of word processing, spreadsheet and presentation programs normally retail to educators for $150 each. To date, the agreement covers nearly 120,000 desktops, some 22,000 students who have signed up and institutional computers of more than 96,000.

The Indiana University system became the first in the nation to sign an enterprise agreement with Microsoft two years ago, and that peaked the interest of USM chancellor Donald Langenberg, the originator of the MEEC agreement. "I realized that USM was bigger than the Indiana system and could imagine us having such an agreement.

"It's a K-16 partnership in Maryland, including elementary, secondary and higher education institutions," Langenberg said. "We want to focus spending on school technology reform at the elementary and secondary levels and on teacher education at the higher-level institutions. And we're already beginning to see psychological and attitudinal effects of the MEEC program with people really focused on doing things together." Educational institutions in the state that are not part of the initial MEEC agreement are allowed to join any time during the first two years of the contract. The agreement pays Microsoft $1.5 million annually for three years and the MEEC also has a two-year extension option.

Bell Education, Rockville, Md., is working with MicroAge Inc., a Microsoft-approved large-account reseller, to provide the software. Distribution will be handled by the institutions.

Langenberg said officials from all over the state are working to get as much of the program in place as possible for the fall semester, and rural areas are especially pleased with the new agreement. "Many of smaller, rural communities are thrilled to pieces to have this opportunity handed to them," he said. "On their own, they wouldn't have the funds or the human resources to organize something like this."

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