Microsoft has been awarded the task of making the national Glow intranet less cumbersome and more attractive to teachers and pupils who are used to carrying state-of-the-art technology in their pockets.
The IT giant will provide its Microsoft Office 365 for Education "application suite" for free from September 2012 to December 2014; the government has already extended the existing Glow arrangement with ICT company RM Education to run from September 2012 to December 2013 to ensure continuity of existing service.
"This was the first offer of its kind in the world for a national schools project," said education secretary Michael Russell in an online statement.
He stressed that Microsoft would provide a service "over and above" the suite, including support and promotion from a full-time staff member funded by Microsoft.
Meanwhile the government's chief scientific adviser, Muffy Calder, is to convene an "ICT education excellence group", which promises to tap into teachers' expertise. Its immediate priority will be "scoping the long- term, user-centred future of Glow".
Mr Russell said he agreed with criticism that teachers and pupils had not been involved enough in shaping Glow, but stressed that, having been conceived in 2001 as the "Scottish schools digital network", it had predated smartphones, Twitter, Skype, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.
Mr Russell has set the excellence group a challenge "to imagine a future for (Glow) that provides a seamless user experience and connectivity on the one hand and an open pluralist range of tools and applications on the other".
The Microsoft deal appeared a good one, said Laurie O'Donnell, an independent learning consultant who was previously director of learning and technology at Learning and Teaching Scotland.
But searching questions should be asked about Microsoft's motivation in an era when multinational IT companies are desperate to get people's personal information, he said.
He also queried the claim that Microsoft's services came free, speculating that there might be hidden costs, possibly related to support services.
Neil Winton, a Perth and Kinross English teacher and well-known proponent of digital learning, was surprised by the Microsoft announcement, which was an "acknowledgement that Glow needs tools for creating content".
But he feared the impact that "Microsoft's reluctant support for any platform other than their own" would have on the growing trend for people to bring in their own tablets or mobiles - usually manufactured by Microsoft rivals Apple and Google.
Mr Winton was persuaded that Michael Russell "gets" the need for education to embrace new technology and was encouraged by the appointment of Professor Calder, which he hoped would help overcome years of resistance to new technology.
- Michael Russell's statement: http:bit.lyLTJvwI
Google, which last month dropped out of the tendering process to update Glow, held an education conference in Glasgow last weekend.
Organised in just two weeks, the focus was on workshops led by teachers who had used IT for innovative classroom work.
Geography teacher Ollie Bray, who takes up a depute headship at Highland's Grantown Grammar from August, criticised local authorities that banned schools from using YouTube.
Security excuses were "nonsense" as YouTube access could be modified easily to allow education-related content only, said the former national adviser for emerging technologies in learning.
English teacher Neil Winton said that YouTube had become the default search engine for pupils. "They want to see, they don't want to read," he said.
Educational consultant David Cameron found absurdity in the idea that young people were being protected from "inappropriate images".
By that rationale, he said, outdoor education was a non-starter because of the risks involved.