Free Xbox 360 Deal: Students Get Help With Downtime

Sending a new college student off to school with a computer is so time-honored, I myself -- some 20 summers ago -- was gifted with a new computer (a Tandy desktop). I think it cost about $1,000 in 1991 dollars and stayed with me through four years of school, a double major and a 72-page honors thesis.

These days, computers cost a lot less in nominal dollars, are way, way cheaper in real dollars, and, if you purchase one that costs at least $699 between May 22 and September 3, 2011, from a participating retailer with a student ID or an .edu email address, you'll get a free Xbox 360 in the bargain. (If you don't want the Xbox 360, you can get 10% off your purchase instead -- a substantially less valuable perk unless your chosen computer is high end, indeed.)As a pair of products, a laptop and an Xbox 360 may be a desirable coupling -- although it may not be the most ideal choice for a student headed off to school. What with the usual distractions college provides -- love interests, parties, fraternities and sororities, sports, and those boring, hours-long sessions during which professors try to stuff your brain with learning -- it's probably not the best idea to bring a personal entertainment console along for the ride, too.

Nonetheless, Microsoft is nothing if not eager to get its loyalists locked up with the company's brands before they cross the threshold of the ivory tower, where they could be corrupted by the influences of their peers, enjoying the active sports competition from the Wii or getting carried along on the surge of excitement as the PlayStation Network comes back online.

So what better way to send them off to their freshmen dorm than with a Windows-loaded laptop or PC and the Xbox 360?

The Microsoft Facebook page for students has all the information and disclaimers you need regarding the offer. In addition to requiring a $699 minimum purchase of a computer with Windows installed, you'll have to buy it from participating retailers. Offline, that seems to be mainly Best Buy; online, you can choose from Best Buy, Dell, HP Direct and Microsoft's own online store. If you buy in person, you have to show your school ID (either something verifying you're a high school senior or a college student ID).

If you're the sort who can't imagine life without Microsoft products and you're going to be gaming anyway, I can't argue with the great bargain you'll be getting. If I had a child old enough to be heading toward college this year, though, I'd suggest a different approach.

Microsoft products may be ubiquitous, but that very ubiquity makes them vulnerable to viruses and hacking. With a young adult entering a brave new world of college -- with temptations and vulnerabilities galore -- the last thing he needs to worry about is his firewall and whether that funny video his friend sent him is going to wipe out his hard drive, which you know he didn't back up, along with all the notes for the exam, plus eight pages of that ten-page paper...well, you get the idea.

Apple and Linux-based systems are far less vulnerable, simply due to their lower saturation. Spammers and virus programmers just don't get as much bang for their buck in writing worms and other nasty programs for those operating systems.

Unless (as I suspect is likely) my boys are bona fide hackers themselves when they head off to college, I'll be sending them with an Apple or Ubuntu system and give them some very pointed suggestions not to bring along a game machine.

An Xbox 360 or Wii with plenty of games may score friends in middle school, but in college, it will just prevent your friendships from developing. Go out, brave children, into your quad, and for the love of God, put your screens away for once!

[Ahem.] At least, that's what I'll tell my boys.

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