Google Apps for Education has won over Microsoft Office 365 in the third largest public school district in the United States. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) posted a guest blog by Lachlan Tidmarsh, CIO of Chicago Public Schools, that examined how the public school system in the Windy City is "fundamentally transforming both educational and administrative processes for the better" with Google Apps.

With 472 elementary schools, 106 high schools and 96 charter schools under the Chicago Public Schools umbrella, the organization employs more than 40,000 staff. As Tidmarsh wrote in his blog, technology has the ability to play a vital role in making teaching and learning as effective as possible. One of the ways school systems and post-secondary institutions are doing so is by turning to the cloud computing platforms specifically designed with their needs and budgets in mind.

With Chicago Public Schools, the school system ran for years on two different communications systems. While administrators and principals used Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Outlook, teachers used OpenText FirstClass. Even with federal subsidies available, the school system found it was spending more than $2 million per year for what proved to be a clunky and frustrating IT environment, he wrote.

The decision, Tidmarsh wrote, came down to two possible vendors -- Google and Microsoft.

"The decision was overwhelmingly to go with Google Apps for Education. For one thing, many of our schools were already using Google Apps and were enthusiastic about the collaboration capabilities," Tidmarsh wrote on the Google Enterprise Blog. "From an executive management viewpoint, Google Apps would save the district millions of dollars each year. Who could argue with that?"

Going with what people are already using and know is a good start to improving the technology landscape of a distributed IT environment. Pushing something that won't be used or won't be used well on end users is a recipe for disaster, and many businesses have suffered for making the wrong choice. Not that it's an easy decision, but obviously in this case, Google was the deciding factor for the tens of thousands of end users in the school system.

"The real key to this was strong communication from the get-go and well-planned training," he wrote.

For those of in the over-30 crowd, think back to how collaboration was when we were bringing apples to our teachers, and then consider how things have changed in the cloud computing age. No matter what the service or provider, cloud collaboration software makes things easier for sharing assignments, calendaring and communication.

At the same time, it looks like Chicago Public Schools has saved millions of dollars per year, Tidmarsh wrote.

Microsoft, for its part, has had its own share of wins in education. The technology behemoth announced in December it had won a major Office 365 contract with the University of California, Merced through partner CloudBearing. But in the overall government market, Google has shown significant momentum even as Microsoft has continued to insist it's not afraid of its competitor.