How to get Windows software at half-price

Scott dunn By Scott Dunn

Despite hacks and cracks you can find on the Web, the only legitimate way to run Windows XP or Vista is to purchase a licensed copy.

But you can get copies at half-price or less using “educational discounts” — and qualifying is a lot easier than you may think.

Even kindergartners qualify for discounted software

The good news about educational software discounts is that you usually don’t have to be a full-time student to qualify (although you must have some link to education).

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For example, Academic Superstore offers its discounts to students and parents of students currently attending classes from kindergarten through college, as well as faculty and even janitorial staff of a K-12 or university. For students beyond the K-12 level, many retailers require that a student be enrolled in a degree-granting program, not merely taking a single class or seeking a certificate.

Academic Superstore is the only seller I found that specifically mentions parents. But almost all such sellers provide discounts for students as young as kindergarten age. (And how many kindergartners have credit cards?) The fact that parents can purchase for students is merely implied, in most cases. For example, Campus Tech lists among its qualifying documents a parent’s ID for students K-12.

Most sites selling academic software will accept home-schooled students as well.

Some retailers offer discounts for other nonprofit organizations that aren’t strictly schools, such as public museums and libraries. These offers apply to most, but not all, discounted software. Some institutions, such as nonaccredited schools, hospitals, and training centers are specifically ruled out, depending on the software publisher. Furthermore, such institutional discounts usually only apply to volume purchases, although “volume” means as few as five copies, in some cases.

Generally, stores that give these discounts are following the policies of the software publisher. Microsoft has made its eligibility requirements available on its Web site, as has Adobe.

Several retailers offer education-discounted products

Many software publishers provide dramatic discounts on their products for educational purposes. These include popular products such as Microsoft Office as well as Adobe Acrobat and others.

Discounts on Windows itself are the hardest to come by. Windows XP Professional (with Service Pack 2) and Vista Business Upgrade are available at steep discounts (U.S. $27 and $62.50, respectively, from CCV Software, compared with $299 and $200 list.) But these prices are only granted to academic institutions, not to individuals, via Microsoft’s Open License volume sales program.

However, individuals with the right credentials can easily get educational discounts for Windows XP Professional Upgrade (with SP2) and Windows Vista Home Premium Upgrade. I’ve found the following academic discounts:

XP Pro SP2 Upgrade: $86 to $117 (compared to $192-239 street)
Vista Home Premium Upgrade: $65 to $90 (compared to $146-167 street)

At least one online reseller asks for no documentation at all. A pop-up message at VioSoftware.com says, “We do not require any proof that you will be using academic software for academic use, nor does the manufacturer.” Examples:

Office 2007 Pro Academic Full: $200 (compared to $500 list)
Office 2007 Standard Academic Full: $180 (compared to $400 list)

At roughly half off list price, VioSoftware is not the cheapest seller of academic software. But it still offers prices well below retail versions.

The software sold at these discounts is the same as any you would buy in a retail store. In most cases, you are limited to buying a single copy. And you must meet the documentation requirements.

How to document your claims

Unlike ordinary retail purchases, buying software using an academic discount usually requires that you document your eligibility. Most sites require that you mail, e-mail, fax, or upload a .gif or .jpg image of the necessary documents. These typically include one or more of the following: student or faculty ID (showing current semester or year), copy of current class schedule, registration receipt, letter of enrollment or employment on letterhead, recent report card, recent pay stub, or recent teaching contract. Many stores keep your documentation on file for a year (or until the dates on the documents expire) for future purchasing.

Qualifying documents for home schools and their students may be harder to come by. Letters from state departments of education, local school boards, or school districts recognizing the home school are likely to be accepted. In addition, it may be useful to have receipts of purchases of a home-school curriculum from a nationally recognized provider of these products.

Where to shop for academic discounts

Using your favorite search engine, you should have no difficulty finding software retailers that offer academic discounts. The ones I’ve found that have the best prices and selection are, in alphabetical order:
Scott Dunn is associate editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He is also a contributing editor of PC World Magazine, where he has written a monthly column since 1992, and co-author of 101 Windows Tips & Tricks (Peachpit) with Jesse Berst and Charles Bermant.
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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2007-04-12: