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In bed with Microsoft


Derek McMillan
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In the new year I hope to distribute Open Office to pupils who cannot afford the 200 or so that Microsoft wants for MS Office. I have had no trouble installing Open Office and as it is open source there is no cost....which is an improvement :D It can also load and save MS formats so the work is interchangeable with documents produced at school on the expensive MS software.

The government's framework for ICT is an uninterrupted paean of praise for Microsoft's products. The argument used is that because Microsoft is so widespread there is no need for students to know about any other system. It is fine for a substantial chunk of the educational budget to be handed over to the fat cats of this global corporation while the government lavishes free advertising on them at our expense.

This is in any case a fake argument. Microsoft may be all-poweful now. IBM once was. Schools could have ignored anything which was not IBM “because pupils would never need it in the real world” and be left looking pretty stupid now. Pupils who can only use Microsoft taught by teachers who can only use Microsoft is Bill Gates' wet dream but it is an educational nightmare.

Open source software also has more educational value than Microsoft because pupils who want to know more about the software at any level can find out more without coming up against a brick wall of “business secrets”used by the corporations to protect themselves against rivals. More advanced students can even download the source code for the programs.

What do you think?

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I agree, but then one would expect me to as I am part of the Marketing volunteer team for OpenOffice.org :(

Still, its rather difficult for Government to have a "best value" policy and ignore the fact that OO.o gives pretty well the same functionality and at least as good support as MS Office at absolutely no cost to the British Taxpayer. IMHO, the Gov should be ensuring that every school has at least a library copy of OO.o for lending out to the community. There is a social inclusion policy and if the Gov really thinks that there are features in MSO that schools need, they should be identifying them and E-mailing the list to discuss@openoffice.org. Better still fund projects to make good any such deficiencies, it would be a lot less expensive to do that than to globally pay even £10 a license for MSO given the economies of scale.

Oh, and the XML file format of OpenOffice.org is a recognised open international standard so on the grounds of the EU interoperability directive, that is another reason for the Gov to actively support the OpenOffice.org project. If we can afford £100m a year on ELCs, a few 100k on a project that is likely to save much more than the investment seems a bit of a no-brainer. :D

Regards,

Ian

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Guest Andrew Moore

There are powerful and profound reasons for supporting alternatives to the Microsoft way.

Those who think that open source products are inferior, because they are free, should consider that both the Internet and the World Wide Web are effectively open source developments.

Since 1997, the UK government has spent vast amounts of public money on ICT in schools - most of this has gone to commercial organizations, yet there is little to show for it. Many schools use up the bulk of their funding just to stand still, by paying annual license fees or managed service costs to the likes of Microsoft and Research Machines.

This is not only bad value financially - it perpetuates the user's dependence on the supplier (usually a monopolist).

If we start to use, say, OpenOffice.org, then we may need to adapt to the different interface. Well, Microsoft makes us do this already, by bringing out so-called upgrades, that usually require us to replace perfectly functional hardware. It does this, because it needs our money to sustain its vast workforce. If that is UK public money, then its disgusting - instead of paying this annual tribute, we can spend less on something that we all own.

Computing is international - in the developing world (India, China) are vast numbers of programmers who are happy to give time, to develop software that we can all own and use. This is enlightened self-interest. Sun may spend many millions on supporting OpenOffice.org and StarOffice - but it already saves far more than this by NOT buying stuff from Mr. Gates.

There is a real interest in this stuff, but it is heavily qualified by the inertia of those who wish not to learn to use alternatives. (Though oddly, most school network managers have already done that, in moving from Novell to Microsoft networking software.)

We need to be very forthright in simply confronting the uncritical endorsement of branded products - where teachers talk, not of presentation graphics, word processing and spreadsheets but of Powerpoint, Word and Excel.

Those who claim that Microsoft is the de facto standard forget that it's only that so long as people accept that status quo. The challenge for institutions is to use www.OpenOffice.org, and spread the wealth to students and parents. A bit of high profile marketing might help here - the general public still does not really know about it.

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Incidentally, its rather more obvious if you look at the relative cost of software to developing countries. According to the World Bank World Development Indicators Database, 2001,

MS Office and Windows XP cost the equivalent of $5431 in Malaysia based on

the country's GDP and earnings. Mind, if you go to Sierra Leone its

$135,000. So if you want your kids to understand the differences in wealth

across the World and why it is very difficult for developing countries to

legally join the hi-tec elite, take a look at

http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_12/ghosh/index.html

If the government wanted to not only save itself a lot of money, but also contribute to overseas development, simply backing the OpenOffice.org project with a modest amount of money would do both. Better still, invest the £100m a year spent on E-Learning Credits on FLOSS development projects using UK programmers for the benefit of the World. This would create jobs in this country and reduce costs so its a win-win. And before anyone thinks I'm an old socialist, I run a private sector company and I believe in free enterprise and competition. There are however some things that don't work on traditional free enterprise models and software development is one. Monoploies are bad for free enterprise whether state or private sector controlled but a state monopoly at least has some democratic accountability.

If you want to come and learn more about the Worldwide revolution taking place in Free Libre Open Source Software in Education come to the FLOSSIE conference in February at the London Institute of Education. More details at http://www.schoolforge.org.uk/flossie/conference200402.html

Essential INSET for anyone who wants to be up to date about future trends in ICT

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I have only just started 'playing' with Open Office but am moving to a Middle school where the budget allows one only to stand still - as mentioned by other correspondents. We still have a quarter of the machines running Windows 95 and Office 95. The rest are on Windows 98. We have even had to downgrade 3 Tesco machines to 98 and they came with XP and so did not fit in with the scheme of things.

I hope to switch over gradually to Open Office by running both systems at the same time but allowing Microsoft Office to wither on the vine - as it were.

Most of the WP work is done by default on Publisher 95 or 97, which may be a problem to wean pupils off it. What is the experience of others?

Richard

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It has just been reported that Becta has just negotiated a new deal with Microsoft. According to the press release schools will be paying between 20% and 37% less for licences, saving them around £47m in total. I know little about software prices but is this really a good deal?

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One of my pupils (oddly without any prompting from me!) described Microsoft as a bloodsucking global corporation.

It has just been reported that Becta has just negotiated a new deal with Microsoft. According to the press release schools will be paying between 20% and 37% less for licences, saving them around £47m in total. I know little about software prices but is this really a good deal?

Why am I suspicious of their generosity? They are interested in making a profit. They can still make a profit with schools paying 20 to 37% less for licences. That is an indication of how much money this global corporation has siphoned out of the education budget already.

The vampire analogy seems an appropriate one. The education system's finances look positively anaemic. A sort of public-private partnership between Dracula and a Blood bank.

In any case we are always being told that "one size fits all" is not government policy. Microsoft just does not suit everybody ;)

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It has just been reported that Becta has just negotiated a new deal with Microsoft. According to the press release schools will be paying between 20% and 37% less for licences, saving them around £47m in total. I know little about software prices but is this really a good deal?

Take a look at

http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/co...1101447,00.html

This article puts the cost savings into perspective. MS are beginning to get really threatened by both Linux and OpenOffice.org. Its no coincidence that they are dropping prices and offering inducements to try and shut out the competition. What this really proves is that their prices, even those with large discounts to education, are and have been very inflated due to the effect of their monopoly. When competing head to head they struggle to make any profit at all eg Xbox, MSN, IE, but when they have tie in they make 80% margins and that is probably without having to be particularly efficient. Any government with any sense is going to give the impression that it will not only use but back Free software because even if they have no great intentions in this line it will certainly force prices down - possibly to less than 20% of their original values. That alone would save UK PLC around a billion a year. And the bottom line is that whatever a license costs, its more than zero and there is the hassle in auditing the stuff etc. So as software matures and people realise that functionally one piece of software is very much like another there won't be much reason not to use things like OpenOffice.org in place of MS Office, even if MS Office sells for £10 a license.

The last thing BECTA should be doing is giving MS the impression that they are doing us a favour. They should be screwing them to the floor for every penny given that we have been paying inflated prices for far too long.

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MS threatened? I am not convinced that Linux has made the inroads that its supporters claim that it has. I just looked at the visitors' stats for an educational website that I maintain. The stats include info about the browsers and OS used by visitors. The most recent stats, based on around 14000 visitors, break down as follows:

OS

Win98 45% - I use Win98 2E. It's stable and I see no reason to upgrade it.

Win2000 22%

WinXP 12%

WinNT 6%

Win95 6%

Mac 2%

Others - no significant data

Linux: just 100 visitors out of 14000

Browser

IE5 47%

IE6 38%

Netscape4 4%

Opera 2%

IE4 1%

Netscape5 1%

Others - no significant data

Don't get me wrong. I'm not in love with MS, but Bill Gates seems to be hanging in there.

People use whatever most other people use. Betamax was a better system than VHS but most people chose VHS - probably due to the wider choice of recorded materials produced for that system. Macs are better computers than PCs, but they hardly show up in the educational market now. I have concrete evidence from the steadily falling sales of Mac software by my business to schools over the last 10 years - down to around 2% right now. Macs hang on in niche markets, e.g. graphic design and printing because every self-respecting designer and printer uses a Mac. My daughter's graphic design business uses exclusively Macs - and she wishes that school art departments would train kids to use them too as it would save a lot of re-training time.

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Macs are better computers, that I agree to. But the availability of software was very low. Therefore I think they missed their chance. Just like Betamax or VCC.

Sad but true. I used one of the alternative vcr's untill apprx 7 years ago and that vcr is still working as backup vcr. No materials that is why I changed systems.

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Macs are better computers, that I agree to. But the availability of software was very low. Therefore I think they missed their chance. Just like Betamax or VCC.

Sad but true. I used one of the alternative vcr's untill apprx 7 years ago and that vcr is still working as backup vcr. No materials that is why I changed systems.

The Mac has always been acknowledged as a superior computer but the reason it didn't take off like the PC was nothing to do with VHS/Betamax. It was largely because the Mac was seen as a closed system wholly owned by Apple whereas the PC was open architecture and anyone could build one. People failed to realise that this was not true of the software so we now have a software monopoly instead of a hardware one. This is changing with FLOSS. While there are still few GNU/Linux desktops compared to Windows ones, the rate of growth is much higher than with the Mac and the number of GNU/Linux desktops worldwide is probably similar to the Mac numbers, just not as visible yet. I wouldn't expect to see hundreds of hits from Linux web browsers on an education site because there are probably only a few thousand desktops running Linux in schools at present. But if you go back 3 years it was probably a handful and then only a few technician enthusiast. Given that China has announced it aims to have 200m FLOSS desktops in the longer term with 0.5-1m new installations in the coming year, it seems to me that by the time primary aged pupils (half the school population) leave full time education FLOSS is going to be very much more visible driven by World events irrespective of what UK schools and the DfES do.

When there were only a few FLOSS servers around, suggesting they would take 25% of the market would have been unthinkable. Anything new by definition is going to be small in number, its rate of development that matters and the FLOSS snowball just keeps trundling on.

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The Mac has always been acknowledged as a superior computer but the reason it didn't take off like the PC was largely because the Mac was seen as a closed system wholly owned by Apple.

True! VHS/Betamax was a different situation, but it illustrates the point that the best doesn't always win.

I wouldn't expect to see hundreds of hits from Linux web browsers on an education site because there are probably only a few thousand desktops running Linux in schools at present.

So, it's a question of wait and see... As a cautious businessmen, I take little notice of predictions. My business only changes tack when there is significant concrete data to confirm a prediction. We could have been caught out badly if we had believed the advice of educationists about Acorn computers in the 1980s and early 1990s. Teachers and advisers who supported the use of Acorn computers in schools kept telling us that PCs would soon be eclipsed by the Archimedes, but our sales figures kept telling us that the Arc was in decline - and seriously from around mid-1992. By the mid-90s the PC dominated the scene, and sales figures of PC software to schools have continued to rise ever since. Macs hung on in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but DENI in Northern Ireland has recently negotiated a deal with a local commercial agent whereby all schools in the province are being provided with networked PCs and PC laptops, pre-installed with generic software and a range of subject-specific software.

Regarding the worldwide situation, see:

Kirkman G., Sachs J., Schwab K. & Cornelius P. (eds.) (2002) Global information technology report 2001-2002: readiness for the networked world, Oxford, Oxford University Press. Substantial sections of the report are available in PDF format at: http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cr/gitrr_030202.html

My subject area is MFL. I have recently been involved in the production of two reports including contributions from a number of international experts:

(1) A report conducted during 2002 for the Directorate General Education and Culture at the European Commission: The Impact of Information and Communications Technologies on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and on the Role of Teachers of Foreign Languages (edited by Tony Fitzpatrick and Graham Davies, published 2003). The report is the outcome of a Europe-wide study coordinated by the International Certificate Conference (ICC), Frankfurt. The full report can be downloaded in PDF or Word format from the ICC website:

http://www.icc-europe.com - click on Report on "ICT in FLL".

(2) A report commissioned by UNESCO: Analytical Survey on Information and Communications Technologies in the Teaching and Learning of Foreign Languages: State of the Art, Needs and Perspectives (forthcoming). One thing that we have noticed worldwide that the Internet is moving away from its original model of cooperative communication based on exchange, and tending towards the logic of a mass broadcasting medium, resulting in concentration of producers and the progressive disappearance of interactivity. This is somewhat worrying to the language teaching profession, and we propose various ways of fostering cooperative, collaborative approaches. There is a contribution from China in the report.

Finally, I currently head an international team that is in the process of setting up WorldCALL as an official organisation - a decision that was taken at the second (very successful) WorldCALL conference in Banff, Canada, May 2003: http://www.worldcall.org. There is a major focus on the transfer of expertise in the draft constitution.

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My school Veurs College 3 in the Netherlands (www.veurs.nl) is running partly on a linux server. So far no complaints! With the technical ins and outs I cannot help you ;)

And yes the Betamax vhs story was different but I was only trying to illustrate the point Graham so rightly made namely that the best does not always wins. ;)

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My school Veurs College 3 in the Netherlands (www.veurs.nl) is running partly on a linux server. So far no complaints! With the technical ins and outs I cannot help you ;)

And yes the Betamax vhs story was different but I was only trying to illustrate the point Graham so rightly made namely that the best does not always wins. ;)

I think that the Betamax thing is misleading. What do you mean by best? What do you mean by win?

In the case of FLOSS, its there, its being developed and its expanding globally. Its unlikely to suddenly be discontinued and whether its best or even in a majority is not really an issue, its more is it good enough for some adoption that forms a big enough client group for the size of business you operate. IBM seem to think so. From a purely business point of view, the only risk in not developing a business strategy that incorporates FLOSS is the loss of competitive advantage to those who do in a growing market with relatively little competition. In the mature Windows market there is over supply with only the monopolist making very high margins. I doubt that is sustainable and the significant players like IBM, Sun and several Governments seem to think not either. So as a cautious entrepreneur, I saw the business case to put some effort into new FLOSS systems about 3 years ago and now our Linux business is growing faster than our Windows business and its more sustainably profitable. But don't tell anyone, its nice not too much competition ;-)

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