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Microsoft Launches Learning Suite for Magellan Initiative

Microsoft has launched its Magellan Learning Suite, a package of software solutions and services designed to support a portable computer called Magellan, a low-cost system based on Intel's Classmate PC targeted toward elementary and middle school students. The suite will initially support Portuguese initiatives aimed at infusing technology into the Portuguese education system and delivering technology and training to disadvantaged youth in the country.

The Magellan Initiative, or "Iniciativa Magalhães," is similar in some ways to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative in that its aim is to deliver low-cost, mobile systems to school children around the world. Intel, the hardware designer behind Magellan, had at one point been a partner in OLPC but is no longer involved. (Its Classmate PC, on which Magellan is based, is a direct competitor to OLPC's XO laptop.)

Unlike Intel, Microsoft is continuing to partner with both OLPC- and Classmate PC-derived initiatives, including Magellan, through its Unlimited Potential program. Microsoft supplies Windows XP system for Classmate PCs, although the systems are also capable of running Linux. XP is also an available option for OLPC's XO laptops, but Linux is the default OS on those machines. Adoption of Windows-based XO laptops is not yet widespread, as Peru last month became the first country to announce a trial of the XO laptop in its education system running XP (along with Office 2003 and Learning Essentials).

As Microsoft itself described it, the Magellan Learning Suite "is designed to encourage targeted, international adoption of the Magellan educational computers by addressing the need for relevant software and content, user support, digital literacy and broad scalability."

"Providing students with access to technology and educational opportunities that will enable them to thrive in the knowledge economy is critical to the future success of every community," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in a prepared statement. "We are pleased and honored to join the Portuguese government and others on the Magellan Initiative as we work together to make technology more relevant, accessible and affordable for students in Portugal and around the world."

In particular, Microsoft's involvement with Magellan will include:

  • Developing a Magellan-specific desktop and providing productivity and educational software for use on the systems, including Office 2007, Microsoft Student Learning Essentials, Microsoft Math(s) and Microsoft Encarta Online;
  • Investing in student, parent and teacher training;
  • Providing education resources through the Microsoft Digital Literacy Curriculum and Security Curriculum; and
  • Providing collaborative services via Microsoft's Live@Edu.

Back in July, the Portuguese government announced plans to bring half a million of these Magellan laptops to students this school year. And, more recently, the government of Venezuela ordered 1 million of the devices from Portugal. (Although based on Intel's designs, the Magellan computer itself is manufactured in Portugal.)

"With the Magellan computer and the massive introduction of [information and communication technologies] in the Portuguese education system, for the first time a whole generation will grow up to have strong English and ICT skills," said José Sócrates, prime minister of Portugal, in a statement released recently through Microsoft. "This new generation will be better prepared and able to contribute more to the modernization and development of Portugal. Furthermore, with the Magellan initiative, a PC will be introduced in many homes for the first time, thus also strongly contributing to overcoming info-exclusion in general."

About the Author

Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters.

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