Microsoft v. Google
Microsoft wants Google's market share in higher education applications. They want it badly enough that they are prepared to deal with us. They come to the table with an understanding of our needs. They answer the phone when you call. They get FERPA, and what it takes to meet requirements for HIPAA, including a Business Associates Agreement. They use a real contract, not one by URL. They are even willing to provide financial assistance (as was reported to be the case for the University of Nebraska) for implementation.
When I put all of these factors together, the whole seems to be greater than the sum of the parts. I get the feeling that Microsoft cares about higher education, and not just for purpose of getting eyes onto their site but because implicit in their efforts is a recognition of the fundamental value of higher education's missions. Perhaps the work of the Foundation has helped to inform the Corporation of the deeper meaning of public service.
Before I wax too enthusiastic, I also get that competition makes the world go round. Persistent growth is the name of the Internet market's game (if not all of capitalism), hence we see both Google and Microsoft moving into devices. Bing, of course, got Microsoft into the search game not because it is making the company money (it is not), but because presence is needed across the Internet spectrum: networking, devices, software, search, advertising, applications. No company, not Google, nor Facebook, not Box, can rest on laurels. And so it makes sense that competition, for once, has provided higher education with the modicum of an advantage in the marketplace for mail and systems and operations applications.
But there is a larger distinction yet to be made. Microsoft regards higher education as complementary, not competitive, with its company. Google almost seems to be in competition with us. Organize the world's information and make it accessible … isn't that our mission? Create a digital repository … shouldn't academic libraries be doing that not for the electronic sale of content, as Google has done with Google Books, but in support of teaching and research? To be sure, Google has helped to make Stanford a very wealthy institution, and has even helped Cornell's new Tech Campus by providing some space in the expensive NYC pricey real estate market (thank you!). Perhaps it is a maturity thing. Microsoft is older than Google. It made its billions. Its founder has moved into foundation work while still a relatively young man (think, by contrast, Carnegie or Rockefeller). Maybe we just need a few more years before Google really gets higher education, really gets that not being evil is not enough, especially when you are wealthy and powerful. The goal is to be good.