With no ads, no costs to schools and no hardware to maintain or software to install, launching Google's cloud network in Oregon public schools, officials say, was a no-brainer.

Oregon became the first state in the nation to offer Google Apps for Education in K-12 classrooms, according to the company on Wednesday, April 28. School officials believe the move will save money, enhance communication and collaboration, and prepare students for the digital work force that awaits them. The state's 197 school districts can choose to use the cloud-based suite that comes with filtered e-mail, calendaring, document sharing and a host of multimedia streaming options.

"All they need is a Web browser," said Susanne Smith, public affairs manager for the Oregon Department of Education. "Everything happens in the cloud. Our agency went after this because we have an online learning environment."

As cloud computing continues to evolve and expand in the public and private sectors, it's no surprise that education officials would want to tap into the benefits of the free online tools. Launched in November 2006, Google Apps for Education equips users with not only critical 21st-century skills, but also collaboration experience, according to Jaime Casap, Google Apps education manager.

Arizona State University was the first institution to adopt the solution, said Aviva Gilbert, Google's spokeswoman. Now, she added, more than 3,000 schools and universities worldwide, and some 7 million active students use Google Apps for Education. But it's never been rolled out statewide until now.

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Russell Nichols  |  Staff Writer