When it comes to fighting for the hearts and minds of K-12 students, Microsoft is ratcheting up its attack against rival Google. On Wednesday, the company rolled out a new school-specific version of its search engine Bing that doesn’t include advertising and boosts privacy protections.
Earlier this summer, Microsoft announced its intentions to release the product, but didn’t share too many details other than its belief that “schools are for learning and not selling.” On Wednesday, the company said public and private schools across the country can register to be a part of the Bing for Schools program and that seven districts, including Los Angeles Unified School District and Atlanta Public Schools, had already signed up for the pilot.
The classroom-ready search engine not only strips out ads, it enables schools to set strict filters to block adult content and includes special features meant to improve digital literacy. Google, by comparison, provides a SafeSearch mode for filtering out adult content and an option for encrypting student searches, but it doesn’t remove ads.
Through a Bing Rewards program, Microsoft also said that schools can earn credits that they can put toward free Microsoft Surface RT tablets. (Given lackluster Surface RT sales, it’s little wonder that the company is willing to give them away for free.) Each month, the company said, about 60 Bing Rewards users should able to earn a Surface RT for their school.
Considering Google’s footprint in education (more than 20 million people use its Apps for Education) and the search giant’s plans for a new Android store for educators, it’s not surprising that Microsoft wants to give young users an early introduction to its products.
As Stefan Weitz, Microsoft’s director of search, told Reuters, the hope is to expose the company’s offerings to the next generation of consumers.
“We hope that we demonstrate the quality of Bing to teachers and students and also their parents, and once they see how good it is, we hope to see increased usage outside of schools too,” Weitz said.
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