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Microsoft's Surface 'Giveaway'

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NEW YORK (TheStreet) - On the surface, Microsoft's new Windows RT tablet school giveaway plan sounds great. The company is offering a pilot program for school systems to obtain free RT computers if students begin using the new "Bing For Schools" search tool. When you take a closer look, you realize the offer is a little less than you might expect.

Bing for Schools is a brand new search service with dual goals. The first is to provide an ad-free service with special privacy rules and strict content filtering expressly designed for educators, parents and kids. The other goal is to counter rival Google's growing success with getting Chromebooks into schools.

Here's the deal: Microsoft is offering school systems Bing Rewards that can be collected and used to get a free Surface RT tablet, using Windows RT. That's one tablet, singular. It takes 30,000 credits to get that free tablet which translates into 60 users regularly taking advantage of Bing for Schools for one month. A clever bribe.

Officially, Microsoft says Bing for Schools is "designed to improve digital literacy for students".

Windows RT has come under much scrutiny as the operating system has significantly less apps, and doesn't run on full Windows 8 computers. While Windows RT devices aren't ultimately as useful as Windows 8 devices to business users, they are terrific for school children. RT contains art, music and reading software as well as a free version of Microsoft Office. With few retail buyers coming forward, Microsoft made a big push to schools.

There is an educational purchasing program already in place offering school systems discount Surface RT prices than for retail customers. Microsoft is telling schools that 800,000 free RT tablets are available in return for switching children to the new Bing for Schools search tool.

The pilot program begins in a number of U.S. schools today and is promised to extend to non-pilot schools in other locations in the future. Microsoft suggests those interested join the Bing rewards program and urge local school systems to participate.

Microsoft is reportedly working on a new Surface RT tablet which should debut in the next few weeks. It will run an updated version (8.1) of the RT operating system. In our testing of an original Surface RT with the new software we have been very impressed with the improvements.

Microsoft shares were higher in Wednesday trading, up 0.77%‎ to $31.86.

--Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

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