Oops! Microsoft's Office 365 may not be a freebie for Thailand schools after all

The company quietly zapped the word 'free' from a press release announcing the deal to provide the cloud suite to millions of Thai students

A massive Office 365 deployment in Thailand schools that Microsoft initially described as free on Wednesday may not be so.

Microsoft trumpeted the rollout, which will reach about 8 million students and 400,000 teachers in the Asian country, as the largest to date for Office 365 in the education sector.

In the first sentence of the press release, Microsoft stated that the students and teachers under the jurisdiction of Thailand's Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC) would get "free access" to the cloud email and collaboration suite.

However, at some point after issuing the press release, Microsoft quietly edited out the word "free" from that first sentence. The unedited version of the press release can still be found on other websites.

Microsoft didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The OBEC signed a five-year agreement with Microsoft, but it's not clear which edition of Office 365 will be used.

There are three Office 365 Education editions -- one of them is free.

The free one, A2, includes Exchange Online for email, SharePoint Online for collaboration software and Lync Online for IM, presence and audio/video communications.

Unlike the fee-based editions, A2 doesn't include a full desktop version of Office. It does include access to Office Online. That's the browser-based edition that comes with OneDrive for storage and lightweight versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

The Office 365 brand is also used for the versions of the desktop productivity application suite that are sold via annual subscriptions and delivered to customers' computers via an Internet download. Those Office 365 desktop app suites, like Office 365 ProPlus and Office 365 Home, aren't free. They don't include the cloud server products like Exchange Online and SharePoint Online.

Asked for clarification about which Office 365 product will be used in Thailand schools, a Microsoft spokeswoman on Wednesday said the company couldn't provide more details.

Google Apps, the main rival for Office 365 in the market for cloud email and collaboration suites, has a version for schools and universities that is free.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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Juan Carlos Perez

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