Is Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) about to lose its luster as the electronics supplier of choice for schools? Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) would like to think so. The search king says Chromebooks have become a popular PC and Mac alternative for the nation's school systems.

Google now says that more than 500 districts in the U.S. and Europe actively use Chromebooks to aid in classroom learning. In one particular case, Leyden High School District in Illinois is in the process of providing Chromebooks to its more than 3,500 students.

All of which is to say, if the war between Apple and Google hadn't yet reached a fever pitch, it's about to. Education has long been one of the Mac maker's vertical market strongholds.

Apple's response needs to be swift and decisive, for Google is doing all it can to make Web-based computing more useful for students. At this week's International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference, the search king introduced new grade-specific application packs and enhanced controls for helping administrators curate a selection of apps for their school's specific needs. Think of it as mass customization delivered to every Chromebook at the click of a button.

Apps

Source: Google.

"While the Web was developed well before today's students were born, it's come a long way even since a year ago," product manager Vidya Nagarajan wrote in a blog post. "Today you can access the Web on any device, use the Web offline, and take advantage of amazing graphics. For example, you can get a powerful graphing calculator on the Web today, for free."

"Any device" as in: You don't need a Mac.

Google's right. Our children attend a school that depends on a free edition of its Apps suite. The hitch? Our eldest, like his father, is addicted to Mac gear. He's perfectly happy using Google's Web apps with his collection of iDevices, most of which he's bought with his own money.

The big losers here are Adobe (Nasdaq: ADBE) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), which make their living developing install-and-manage software that users either download or purchase in shrinkwrapped boxes. That's fine for now, but it won't be in 10 years. An entire generation of kids is growing up believing that software is just an app that runs in a browser.

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