With the recession taking a bite out of university endowments and public school budgets alike, the competition between Google and Microsoft to convert the nation’s colleges, universities, and schools to the companies’ free eMail and other IT services that run on the internet "cloud" — outsourcing that can save a large university hundreds of thousands of dollars a year — has only grown more fierce, reports the San Jose Mercury News. With the two companies fighting to baptize a future generation of computer users with their products, the stakes for both are significant. The battle has already reshaped classroom technology: Just a year ago, Jay Martino’s sixth-graders at Cupertino Middle School would have generated reams of paper as they researched mummies, Cleopatra, and King Tut. This fall, the students’ work exists on the "cloud"–bits of data flowing across Google’s network, accessible from any computer with a web browser and a password. "It really has empowered them," said Martino, a former software engineer who enthuses about the potential of Google Apps Education Edition to enhance students’ collaborative skills. Microsoft also provides its cloud-based educational software, called Live@edu, to schools for free. For both companies, "this is a proxy war for what’s occurring in the commercial environment," said Matt Cain, lead eMail analyst for the research firm Gartner. If Google could use an advantage in educational eMail to boost its commercial business, "it’s a very significant threat to Microsoft," Cain said. "So Microsoft is doing everything it can to stop commercial Gmail from being a success."

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