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Microsoft has announced it will soon give students subscriptions to its cloud-based Office productivity software free of charge – provided, that is, their schools are already paid up.

The software giant on Tuesday announced a new program called Student Advantage, whereby students worldwide can sign up for subscriptions to Office 365 ProPlus through their institutions at no cost to themselves.

The only stipulation is that the schools must have already licensed either Office 365 ProPlus or Office Professional Plus for their entire workforces, including faculty and staff.

The Student Advantage program is not to be confused with Office 365 Education, which is an offering that gives students and educators access to a variety of Microsoft online services, including the Office Web Apps but not the desktop Office software.

Office 365 ProPlus, on the other hand, is Redmond's name for the subscription version of the desktop Office suite. It includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, Lync, and Access, all licensed on a time-limited basis and delivered via Microsoft's application streaming technology.

Ordinarily, an Office 365 ProPlus subscription will set you back $12 per month in the US, assuming you pay on an annual basis. But students will be able to get the same package for nothing for as long as they remain enrolled at their institutions, provided the school has committed to being a dedicated Office shop.

A Microsoft spokesman confirmed to El Reg via email that a qualifying institution must have licensed Office for all of its employees to qualify for the Student Advantage program. If just one or two departments wants to participate, it's no go.

The institution must also have licensed either Office 365 ProPlus or Office Professional Plus via Microsoft's Volume Licensing Enrollment for Education Solutions (EES), Open Value Subscription Agreement for Education Solutions (OVS-ES), or Schools programs.

Failing all of that, however, students still have some options if they'd like to get Office on the cheap. For starters, there's Office 365 University, which provides most of the same software as Office 365 ProPlus (sans Lync) for $80 for a four-year subscription. There's also Office Home & Student 2013, which only comes with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote but costs $140 for a perpetual license.

And then, of course, there are several other options – including OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice, and Google Apps for Education – that can be had by students for free. But according to a recent IDC study, Microsoft Office know-how ranks third in the list of skills most desired of new graduates by prospective employers, so maybe your kids will want to stick with the genuine article – nudge nudge. (We'll leave it up to you, gentle reader, to guess which company commissioned that particular survey.)

The Office Student Advantage program kicks off on December 1, 2013 and will be available to educational institutions globally. ®

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