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Microsoft Reveals Office 365 University

Microsoft has debuted a forthcoming release of Office 365 for students, faculty, and staff of higher education institutions. Office 365 University will become available early next year as a four-year subscription, which will cost $79.99 ($1.67 monthly or $20 annually) and can be extended once for a total of eight years.

Office 365 University is the higher ed-oriented version of its new cloud-based office productivity suite, which includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access, as well as 27 GB of "Premium SkyDrive Storage" and 60 Skype world minutes per month. Mac users get a somewhat scaled down suite since OneNote, Publisher, and Access are available for Windows-based PCs only.

Although Office 365 University is cloud-based, it does require users to install Office locally on their PC or Mac. Office automatically saves all documents to SkyDrive in the cloud, so they are accessible from other computers, tablets, and smart phones. The Office on Demand feature enables users to stream a full-featured version of Office to any Internet-connected Windows-based PC.

Key features of Office 365 University include:

  • Ability to take notes digitally in OneNote using touch, a pen, or a keyboard and store them in the cloud for access across multiple devices;
  • 20 GB of cloud storage more than free SkyDrive accounts, for a total of 27 GB;
  • Free software upgrades and enhancements during the subscription period;
  • Licenses to install Office 365 University on two computers (PC or Mac) per user; and
  • Office on Demand to stream Office on any Windows computer.

As of October 19, students, faculty, and staff who are eligible for Office 365 University can buy Office University 2010 or Office University for Mac 2011, and they will get a free subscription to Office 365 University when it becomes available.

In related news, Duke University, Emory University, Thomas Jefferson University, University of Iowa, and University of Washington have adopted Office 365 for education.

Before adopting Office 365, Duke University led a consortium to develop a comprehensive Business Associates Agreement (BAA) for Office 365 to ensure it was in compliance with the United States Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Members of the consortium included the University of Chicago and University of Iowa; technology, legal, and compliance experts from the public and private sector, and Microsoft itself.

According to Microsoft, it now offers "the most comprehensive agreement available to HIPAA-covered entities that manage electronic-protected health information." As part of HIPAA compliance, data servers housing the universities' healthcare information must be located within the United States.

"A key deciding factor for TJU was that Office 365 helps enable us to be HIPAA-compliant. With Google, we would have never have known where our intellectual property and records were stored," said Doug Herrick, chief information officer for Thomas Jefferson University, in a prepared statement. "Microsoft had the willingness to understand our business and be transparent about how it handles security and privacy, which meets the demands of a real enterprise."

HIPAA is intended to protect patient data, so it applies primarily to health organizations. However, many educational institutions must also follow HIPAA regulations if their records include protected health information, as is often the case for medical schools, university hospitals, research departments, school counseling centers, and athletic departments, for example. University human resources and benefits departments that store information about employee healthcare claims are also subject to HIPAA requirements.

Further information about Office 365 is available on the Microsoft site.

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