22-Apr-02
Microsoft Screws Schools

The Redmond Giant applies "extortion marketing" to the 24 largest school districts in Washington and Oregon.

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Microsoft has given the school districts 60 days to inventory their huge number of computers and match them all to paperwork proving they have valid licenses for all Microsoft software. This would be impossible at the best of times, but Microsoft has pulled this stunt at the busiest time of year.

Should a school district fail to complete the audit in time, Microsoft will "help" by sending in their own audit team, but if just one computer is found non-compliant, the schools have to pay for the audit - and it ain't gonna be cheap. Given the way schools acquire computers (many are donated), it is absolutely certain some will be declared noncompliant.

But Microsoft has a solution! The district can just sign the Microsoft School Agreement. Just count all the computers and pay Microsoft $42 per computer every year. The Microsoft agreement says you count ALL computers that could conceivably ever run any Microsoft software. That includes Apple Macintoshes and apparently any computers running Linux, Unix and other non-Microsoft operating systems.

Meanwhile, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation makes a big PR stink over donating software (which costs them about nothing, but gets written off for millions against taxes) to schools. Hypocrisy rules the day.

[ Update: 04-30-02 - Microsoft has a Guide to Accepting Donated Comptuers which states that you cannot accept donations that do not include the original disks and certificates for Windows and all other software on them.

The guidlines imply that you cannot accept computers without a Windows license even if you intend to reformat them and put Linux on them. The implication is absurd, but if you've been swindled into accepting the Microsoft School Agreement, you can't put Windows on them (because you don't have the original license), but you still have to include them in the total count and pay for Microsoft licensing on them anyway. ]

Analysis

This is not only extortion to force schools to sign an unfavorable license, it's "per processor" licensing. That's what got Microsoft hit with antitrust charges the first time (but you can bet your bottom dollar the Bush administration's Department of Justice won't be filing charges).

Nobody is holding that Microsoft isn't due a license fee for each copy of every program, but that could be done in an orderly manner, not like a Gestapo raid. The raid is to panic schools into acceptance of the Microsoft School Agreement.

Note the objective of forcing the schools into a subscription license. This is fully consistent with their efforts to lure business into a subscription license for Office .NET.

Essentially, now that Microsoft no longer has anyone left they can steal new ideas from, they have to break their dependence on new ideas. These new licenses allow them to collect money year after year without improving the product at all.

Another major points of this revised Microsoft School Agreement is to discourage schools from moving to Linux. Since they already have to pay for a Microsoft license for every computer, whether it has Microsoft products on it or not, Linux can yield no savings unless nearly all the computers are converted and the school reverts to a normal license for the remaining few.

Recommendations

What kind of school do you run? If your focus is vocational ed, then perhaps Microsoft software is appropriate. If you're not a vocational school, then rip Microsoft out entirely and be done with it. With Linux and BSD, you can get all the software you could possibly need at no cost and with no license restrictions.

Besides the cost and license, Linux and BSD are far superior for education because the source code of the operating systems and programs is available for study and modification.

Unfortunately, I serious doubt our educators have any balls. They'll cut out a few more teaching positions, increase class size, hire more administrators to count licenses, pay through the nose, invent a dozen new rationalizations and genuflect in the direction of Redmond three times a day like good little wimps - and don't bitch 'till you've proven me wrong.

- Andrew Grygus

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