Microsoft will repeat last year's back-to-school promotion, kicking off the deal Sunday with an offer of a free Xbox 360 game console to eligible U.S. students who buy a new Windows 7 PC.
Canadian students also qualify for this year's program, which launches there today.
U.S. high school or college students with proof of status -- a student ID card or an email address that ends in .edu -- will receive a 4GB Xbox 360 when they purchase a Windows PC for $699 or more. In Canada, the benchmark PC price is $599.
Microsoft will be giving students the $199 Xbox 360, its lowest-priced console, and one that does not come with the Kinect controller.
Unlike last year, when Microsoft's only retail partner was Best Buy, this year the company has expanded the list of participating retailers to Best Buy and Fry's Electronics in the U.S., and Best Buy, Future Shop, Staples and The Source in Canada. Online sellers include Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Newegg in the U.S., and Dell in Canada.
Microsoft will also honor the deal at its own retail stores -- there are 21, all in the U.S., either open or expected to open this summer -- and at its U.S. Microsoft Store website.
The company has apparently left more in the hands of its partners than last year, when Microsoft specified the end date -- Sept. 3, 2011 -- and the deal's terms and conditions.
Those details are now up to the participating retailers and e-tailers, Microsoft said in a blog post today. For example, Dell Canada said that its offer expires June 29.
This was the second year running that Microsoft beat Apple to the back-to-school punch. Apple, which has a longer history of offering deals to students, launched its promotion June 16, 2011, nearly a month after Microsoft's.
Apple's 2011 program was also the first in years that did not feature a free iPod Touch with the purchase of a new Mac. Instead, the Cupertino, Calif. company handed out $100 iTunes gift cards to students, parents, teachers and staff members.
The cards could be used for purchases at Apple's digital content markets, including the Mac App Store, the iOS App Store, iBookstore and the iTunes music store.
Depending on when students purchase a Windows PC to get an Xbox, they may be eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 8 Pro when the new operating system launches later this year.
Microsoft has not unveiled a Windows 8 upgrade program, but recent rumors have pegged an announcement to the first week of June, when the company also will debut Windows 8 Release Preview, the OS's final public milestone.
Earlier this week, Windows blogger Paul Thurrott, citing unnamed sources, claimed that Microsoft would charge users $14.99 for the upgrade to Windows 8 Pro if they purchased a Windows 7 PC between the launch of the program and January 2013.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.