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Microsoft, Blackboard Create e-Learning Alliance

Microsoft Corp. and Blackboard Inc., an Internet infrastructure software company for e-education, are creating a global alliance to redefine and simplify the e-learning experience for students and faculty in higher education.

Students and faculty using Blackboard's learning platform, built on Microsoft .NET technologies, will be able to more easily integrate a wider array of academic resources in a learning environment tailored to their individual needs and preferences. This alliance is the first global application of .NET-enabled services in higher education.

As part of the alliance, The Washington, D.C.-based Blackboard will adopt and deploy .NET Enterprise Servers such as Microsoft Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, SQL Server 2000 and Exchange 2000 Server. In addition, Blackboard will adopt future .NET building block services, such as Microsoft Passport, a user-authentication system that secures an individual's identity and information and enables single sign-on.

Integration of .NET technologies will simplify users' activities, including allowing them to log in multiple times to various Web sites and tools, track student progress across multiple resources, and report data from different applications to faculty grade books.

"E-learning has been held back because students and faculty have to access resources from a variety of systems that don't work well together," said Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect at the Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft. "We're transforming the educational experience by fusing the power of .NET technologies with Blackboard's leading e-education platform."

With more than 1,400 college and university licensees worldwide, including Arizona State University, Cornell University, Dallas Community College District, Georgetown University, North Lincolnshire College and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Blackboard is the leading provider of e-education software applications for online course management, portal and community services, auxiliary services, and administrative system integration.

The Microsoft-Blackboard alliance has won the support of many Blackboard clients, including Arizona State University, the third-largest institution of higher education in the United States.

"Microsoft's alliance with Blackboard will help our program by providing tight integration between the technologies of the two companies," said William E. Lewis, Ph.D, vice provost for information technology at Arizona State University. "The integration of Microsoft .NET technologies will help make the Blackboard product a more complete system for the delivery of instruction."

Arizona State currently offers its 50,000 students more than 2,000 Web-supported courses via Blackboard's e-education software platform. In addition, ASU has adopted Blackboard's campus portal and auxiliary services solutions.

"One of the key requirements of e-learning institutions is the need to bring together academic resources and learning tools from anywhere on the Internet without creating a 'tower of Babel' in the student experience," said Matthew Pittinsky, chairman of Blackboard. "With Microsoft .NET, our applications can provide students and faculty with greater choice and simplicity, and ultimately a more dynamic learning experience."

More and more higher-education institutions view e-learning as critical to their core mission. According to market research from Student Monitor LLC, colleges and universities are the most wired community on the Web, with more than 98 percent of four-year college students accessing the Internet, 50 percent of them daily. Eduventures.com Inc., a leading independent e-learning industry analyst firm, projects that the higher education e-learning market will grow from $4 billion today to $11 billion by 2003.

Future versions of the Blackboard e-education platform will enable customers to do the following:

*More seamlessly connect learning materials developed with Microsoft Office XP-based applications into Blackboard-powered course environments;

*Increase the scalability and reliability of e-learning services to match the growth of institutions and their need to integrate with other campus software applications through .NET Enterprise Servers;

*Access diverse Internet resources and provide a richer user experience any time through use of Pocket PC and Microsoft Reader technology;

*Continue to leverage industry standards such as XML for online data transfer and the IMS Global Content Packaging Specification for online course material.