What's the best way to make a lifelong customer? Microsoft apparently believes in getting them while they are young. In its latest assault on the productivity suite market, it is offering Office 365 to students for free.

Yes, yes. They were getting it free already through the Student Advantageprogram, but that wasn’t quick enough.

Microsoft wants all students signed up lickety-split and that means enabling them to sign-up themselves, for free and without all the rough stuff around licenses and school-based IT departments.

Specials and Deals

There have been all kinds of rumors about free Microsoft offers in recent months, some of which have come to pass and others that remain rumors. But the fact is that Microsoft has been handing out free tech-candy to would-be and existing users to lure them deeper and deeper into the Microsoft ecosystem.

Only two days ago, it offered 30GB of free OneDrive space to iPhone 6 and iOS 8 users in an effort to piggyback on the iPhone frenzy. For gamers earlier this month, if offered a free game with the purchase of any new Xbox One console. At the end of last month, it offered free help to those that want to move to Office 365, and now it is handing out Office 365 to students.

According to an Office 365 blog post just about any student belonging to an educational institution that has signed up to Student Advantage can get free access to Office 365. The minimum age is 13. 

Once in, users can download thelatest versions of Office 365 ProPlus. The suite, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access and Publisher,have the same features and functionality as other versions of Office. For example, Word in Office 365 ProPlus works the same way it does in Office Standard 2013.

Just like the Office 365 Home edition, they will also be able to install Office 365 on up to five PCs or Macs, as well asOffice apps for their Windows tablets and iPad along with1 TB of storage of OneDrive storage.

The new offer is available in the US of as today and will be made available internationally later this year.

Playing The Long Game

In effect, the new self-service model removes all of the unnecessary friction and delay around Office 365 licensing. It allows students to sign up for the service themselves, while maintaining the same level of control, flexibility and security that needed to make it effective in schools.

Microsoft has also said that that faculty and staff will be able to access the same Office 365 ProPlus benefit as their students. This means that any organization purchasing Office for all of its faculty and staff can now include an Office 365 ProPlus subscription at no extra cost.

Learning Opportunities

The student market has always been a target for Microsoft in the belief that if you get them young, you’ll have them forever. It’s a smart policy, too: if you grow up with Microsoft Office, it will be very difficult to change to something else once you reach an age where you have to pay for these things.

But this is more than just offering Office. This is Office 365, with all the additional productivity apps that come with it. While the ProPlus plan doesn’t come with SharePoint or Lync, it still gets students into an Office 365 frame of mind that is difficult to escape.

Google Wants Students Too

Google has been busy in the classroom too. Last month it announced the release of Google Classroom for anyone that is currently using Google Apps for Education.

Classroom is a collaboration tool that enables students keep track of what assignments are due, enable teachers to track what is happening in the physical classroom and provide direct, real-time feedback to students on their progress.

Google has been looking at adding users by adding functionality on an almost weekly basis with some degree of success. But Microsoft is looking at the long game here. This is not about totting up balance sheets at the end of the quarter or year. This is about ensuring the future vitality of their productivity suite business. 

Title image by Vasilev Evgenii / Shutterstock.