Sure many of the services on offer are available already to anyone who wants to use them but this initiative is intended to help academic institutions take advantage of these services in a different, more specialised context:
Google Apps for Education represents our belief that any academic institution, from a neighborhood grade school to an international university, can become a more effective learning community through converged communication? one universally available access point for your entire communitys communication and collaboration, including email, instant messaging, calendaring, search and the like (see our list of services).
We designed Google Apps for Education with the needs of schools with limited budgets and busy staff in mind. Google Apps for Education is truly free: there are no servers to buy and no software to install or maintain. Our use of open standards means that you can easily integrate it with existing systems, and we won’t lock you into our services. Googles strict privacy policies protect student and school information. And we support students even after they graduate, ensuring that you can keep in contact with alums, and alums with each other. Get more information on why Google is a great partner for your school.
On offer are Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Talk to help students commuicate with each other and organise their schedules. Again, this combination is not new but when it comes to schools, cost is a big factor and while Google Apps for Education is basically free while it is in beta (which could be years) and may become a paid service thereafter, it represents what may well be a cheaper and more effective option than installed and dedicated options.
On the back end, administrators will be able to use Pages and an administrative console to maintain the backend of this integrated system.
What also strikes me as useful is that these various services could be brought together under the banner of the school itself and this gives schools a little bit more control over what students are doing across their networks.
(Source: Seth Godin)