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School Software Licenses Under Review 157

Tony writes "ZDNet asks the question: 'Does Microsoft Campus give good value for money?' Its good to see a review of the dominant software, but the review is likely to lead to no or little changes, so the real question would be 'Is the review worth the money being spent on it?'."
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School Software Licenses Under Review

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  • by TehHustler ( 709893 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @03:25AM (#15658961) Homepage

    ...I can answer that question.

    No.

    Most of the Local Educational Authorities are in bed with Microsoft. Schools are free to do their own thing if they require, but doing so means you lose out on perks from the LEA such as other free software and support.

    It is much easier for them if all the schools are running the same kit and software because it means they can all support things much easier (think IT helpdesks who are knowledgable in JUST the disciplines they need) and it helps them secure bulk deals. And even then, the savings aren't that great.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Trying to deprive the children! They needClippy to show 'em what's good and right and true in this heathanistic world. I spit on you and your goat.
    • by TubHarsh ( 986478 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @03:39AM (#15658992)
      It is much easier for them if all the schools are running the same kit
      I would agree that it is much easier to support if all schools are running the same, but if they have to neglect other software concerns such as security, they should consider switching.

      In some colleges and universities in the US (which are also mostly in bed with Microsoft), IT managaers are switching pre installed web browsers on college ownewd computers to Firefox.

      In a few instances like Pennsylvania State Univ. telling Students to chuck IE [informationweek.com], the school can even influence which software the students use.

      If the IT owners at these schools see a tangible benefit to switching from a Microsoft Product to a non-Microsoft Product they will do so.
    • by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @06:23AM (#15659310)
      As a retired US school IT guy let me say that there are several issues here: One is operating system. Another is other products -- mostly office suite. A third is standardized reports.

      The OS is fairly clear cut. A school in the US simply has to be able to run MSDOS and Windows software. There are 20 years plus of legacy 'stuff' out there that are important to the school -- attendance, grades, stupid bureacratic reports, standardized test scoring, Mario Teaches Typing, etc. They often run only on MS operating systems (and it is often a struggle to get them to run there). There may come a time in the not too distant future when Macs and Linux will run this stuff routinely via emulation or WINE. Great -- but that's not today. In addition, in many countries a copy of Windows must purchased with the machine notwithstanding that is a clear violation of the most basic antitrust principles.

      Office Suite products are a different issue. Power Point a pretty good product. Schools need it or something like it. Count it as a plus for Microsoft. Word and Excel OTOH are far too damn complicated for most educational uses. (If you ask me, they are far too damn complicated for most non-educational uses also). Can I use them? Sure. Do I use them? Hardly ever. I Don't do chainsaws either for much the same reason. Should a school have a couple of copies of MSOFFICE or a decent clone around? Absolutely. Should every student and staff member have a copy? That's nuts -- but in more school districts than not, they probably do.

      A third issue is the unending reports demanded by the educational bureacracy. Attendance information. Number of reduced price lunches served -- by day. Number of playground swine and wild animal attacks broken down by grade. You name it, there's a report. Most of these come in the form of computer programs that attempt to make life easier for the reporter. Their distinguishing characteristics -- be they Excel Spreadsheets, Access, Web forms or whatever -- are that they all demand the latest technologies, they never (I repeat, never) actually work right without tweaking, and their support people are often quite clueless. For whatever reason, school IT people (who are pretty smart, but are often terrible at strategic decisionmaking) are unwilling to tackle this mess although it could probably be resolved without all that much difficulty. Until it is, schools need at least a few up to date Microsoft systems to accomodate the lunatics who think -- against all evidence to the contrary -- that Access or Excel -- are satisfactory tools for data collection.

      • As a currently active college instructor, I think Excel or (insert your favorite spreadsheet) is an excellent tool for education. Any discipline requiring data collection and massaging (such as chemistry or physics) will benefit from a spreadsheet. Initially I used one for recording/calculating grades. Now I use it for a variety of applications.
        • Actually, I agree. ***BUT*** Elementary and Middle School students and staff don't need Excel. Virtually any spreadsheet that doesn't produce incorrect answers will satisfy 99.98% of their needs -- which are minimal because few people will actually use a spreadsheet to do even simple tasks ... even if they have been trained in how to use them. The School District CFO may need a copy of Excel as may the school clerks since there seems to be no way to keep people from trying to use Excel as a data collecti
    • At the university that I attend (which is a really big one), I've noticed the EULA for the M$ software is somewhat strange. (We have the deep discount program where software can be "purchased" much more cheaply than the "academic" versions, with some restrictions.)

      For something like ~$50, students can "license" Microsoft Windows/Office under the EULA until one of the following occur:
      1) They quit the university (they can't use the software anymore)
      2) They graduate (Then they get to keep it)
      3) The school-spec
    • The biggest thing Microsoft has done; lowered expectations of computers and software being considered reliable.

      The result, managers focusing on supporting software, rather than find software that will not break in the first place. That is the biggest hinderance to adaption of Linux and other Open Source programs...

    • As the former IT manager at a small university, I can say that we regarded the payment to Microsoft as blackmail money: we could pay up and use whatever MS software we wanted, or else they'd come in to "audit" our campus and shut us down for weeks while they hunt for what they want to call pirated software, probably forcing the university to close in the process. So we paid the money and it kept microsoft away, and that was all we could do because replacing and removing 100% of all microsoft software at an
  • by TheVoice900 ( 467327 ) <kamil&kamilkisiel,net> on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @03:29AM (#15658968)
    Alright, I've been a Slashdot reader for many years now, and I've yet to ever complain about a story, even the blatant Slashvertisements. Usually I just ignore them. However, this story is probably the most useless thing I've seen posted here. I mean, honestly, the article has about 0 actual substance to it, all it says is that a review will be conducted. What is there to even discuss, as no facts are presented yet? Alright.. back to my hole...
  • by svunt ( 916464 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @03:32AM (#15658974) Homepage Journal
    Can you imagine a graphic design school that didn't own a Mac? As much as it displeases me, schools aren't really in the same position as businesses & individuals when it comes time to evaluate software choices. The reality is that Windows is 'industry standard', as is Office, for the bulk of jobs that students will end up wotrking at. Most students with their own computers also run Windows/Office, and need some interoperability. It's not really as simple as measuring costs, support, productivity. Which sucks.
    • by RJabelman ( 550626 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @04:12AM (#15659049) Homepage
      The reality is that Windows is 'industry standard', as is Office, for the bulk of jobs that students will end up wotrking at

      This has nothing to do with anything. If you used a computer in school, how similar was it to the one you use for your job today? When I was at school we used Acorn Archimedes....
      • Archimedes! We considered ourselves lucky if we got to use the BBC Master. I think UK state schools were the only people to ever use the Archimedes.
        • They were great machines for a school environment. My old school had two labs of them maintained by the head of department (as they were virtually zero-maintainence and almost impossible to break). When I visited him a couple of years after leaving schoolthey'd switched over to PCs and had to hire a full-time technician to keep on top of all the problems.
        • BBC Master - luxury! Our school was so poor that the computers were made by the woodwork teacher, and he could only afford to put 2 keys on 'em - a '1' and a '0'.
      • I agree. The excuse of training individuals on a platform said to be an industry standard is weak. Microsoft has changed their own products so much in the past 5 years alone. Most training on said platform would most likely be obsolete by the time they graduate anyway. Unfortunately, that's the problem with most IT training. Schools should stick to the basics. Teach students how to use a mouse or pointing device. Educate them on what an operating system is. Show them some basic applications. Show t
        • The excuse of training individuals on a platform said to be an industry standard is weak

          Not really, especially when you read the whole comment, that schools don't have the resources to go out and test every possible alternative. The 'industry standard' becomes the default choice.

          Schools should stick to the basics. Teach students how to use a mouse or pointing device. Educate them on what an operating system is. Show them some basic applications. Show them which applications are used for which jobs

          All of t

        • >The excuse of training individuals on a platform said to be an industry standard is weak. Tell that to the employer that says in their job ad's that candidates must be familiar with MS Office (for admin jobs). Tell that to the high-school leaver who is applying for those jobs. *MOST* people do not graduate from uni with CS degrees.
      • If you used a computer in school, how similar was it to the one you use for your job today? When I was at school we used Acorn Archimedes....

        When I was at school we had Commodore PETs. I can't really say that I've utilized my skills at Artillery and Time Trek in my current job. If only the PET had a solitare game, that would have prepared me for working with Windows PCs.

    • Yes indeed, they can evaluate it, but then? Will they change? Will Microsoft change their products just because of this review? Probably the only effect of an overall bad review would be that Microsoft will change their pricing, which they might do as they have nothing to loose. Since schools probably will welcome price lowerings more than, for example, the investment needed to change to open source products just for the idea of it, there is no real alternative.
      • If Becta stop recommending it the schools stop using it.

        Schools universally use the software/hardware that is recommended - and *only* the software/hardware that is recommended.

        This is why Research Machines still exist, and schools pay 2/3 times the price for them rather than get a dell.

        • There's a good reason for that. I used to work in a school, and I found that most staff were somewhat - how can I put this? - naive in terms of "how you go about buying stuff", scared of making mistakes and only too happy to have someone offer to hold their hands, regardless of whether the person offering to hold their hands had a vested interest in selling a particular product.

          I developed a theory - that there are two ways to run a lucrative business. The first is to produce a product which is in some wa
          • The second is to order a print run of 10,000 leaflets saying "We are specialists in the education market" and carpet-bomb every school in the area with them. The depressing thing is, I think this would actually work.

            Hey, don't steal ideas from the marketing department of Apple in the 80's, they might still have a patent on it :)

            Nostalgia/Disclaimer: My parents were teachers, as a 10 year old I had access to the cool Apples with 20 MB external harddisks etc. etc. I still remember the fun I had with hyper

            • Hey, don't steal ideas from the marketing department of Apple in the 80's, they might still have a patent on it :)

              Hate to tell you this, but if they do have a patent on it there are literally dozens of companies in breach. Ironically, it's harder to get state schools to part with the cash - not because they've got less cash (though that is a factor), but because a lot of their decisions are made at the education authority level.
        • Never heard of them but, they seem not overly expensive, especially knowing there are people out there willing to ask more than twice the market price for something just having the stamp 'education quality' on it. And, apparently, they have buttons that can stand 11 kg of pressure, that's pretty cool, knowing how most people/kids deal with PCs. Similarly, they offer hard screen monitors [rm.com] that don't break that easily if you press the screen with your finger, which many people actually do (not only kids). So I
    • Can you imagine a graphic design school that didn't own a Mac?
      *Imagines* Huh?
    • As much as it displeases me, schools aren't really in the same position as businesses & individuals when it comes time to evaluate software choices.

      If so, they are grossly misrepresenting and overcharging for what they do.

      Colleges and Universities represent themselves as more than trade schools. Trade schools have a narrower focus on imparting specific technical skills. Colleges granting baccalaureate degree are supposedly giving a broader education in higher intellectual skills. If I get a certific
    • The first spreadsheet I used was on a ROM that plugged into the side of my Radio Shack Color Computer and it did 90% of the things that are actually used on most real world spreadsheets. Any College trained graduate that can't jump from one vendor's software to another in the same class with little difficult, should ask his college for his tutuion back. College training implies understanding in underlying principals; not just memorizing click sequences.
  • CS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FullMetalAlchemist ( 811118 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @03:39AM (#15658994)
    I don't know, but the university I went to was excellent when it came to pure computer science; it was a UltraSPARC/Solaris only when I started there in the 90's. Those of us who actually passed all the courses where Amiga or BSD users, who loved the Solaris environment and its technical benefits.

    But the fact is, when I entered the consulting biz I had very little use for CS. Everything is done half-assed, if at all, and real science was nowhere to be found.

    Now, I just switched job and have gone the Microsoft route, and stangely, the quality of work is much better. Simply because you can still to things "quick and dirty" and manage to produce some quite acceptable results.

    Thus, if your goal is science (a PhD or similar) a Solaris/UNIX shop is the way to go, especially today with OpenSolaris. But if you're going to work in tha' biz, Microsoft is where it's at.

    I still miss the good old days, but clients wont pay for quality unless its billions in cash at stake or a great possibility that people can die if something goes wrong (which is essentially the same thing to an enterprise).

    I still run BSD at home, but I'm glad I can work with MS software as it stands.
    • Don't you think that, if only Amiga and BSD users passed all the course, it was actually a pretty bad university?
    • I still run BSD at home, but I'm glad I can work with MS software as it stands.

      You should count yourself lucky. Some of us still have nightmares of the Win9x days, despite them being long gone.
      • by kabz ( 770151 )
        Yeah, supporting an Oracle database on Windows 98 was particulary *fun*.

        If anything in the world was like an elephant riding a bicycle, that was it.

        Nowadays I'm lucky enough never to have to look at the boxes my software runs on. Woot! ;-)

  • Mein Gott (Score:5, Funny)

    by The Bungi ( 221687 ) <thebungi@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @03:45AM (#15659006) Homepage
    What a stunning, in-depth analysis of this ever-delicate issue. I'm back from reading the first two chapters, which seemed to go on and on, yet nonetheless were completely absorbing. Tomorrow I shall read the other nine, with a good cup of joe and some trail mix to keep me in top form. This is certainly one where we'll be calling "RTFA" for days to come!

    Certainly my heartfelt gratitude go out to the Slashdot crew - especially ScuttleMonkey, bless his heart - for linking to such an enthralling tome of uncompromising educational policy.

    • That was hillarious, thanks. A good way to start off my morning.

      Apparently they've been planning on this for some time now. Check out the prequel [zdnet.co.uk] to this story from last January. It's about as equally informative as the "update."
  • by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @03:47AM (#15659007)
    One thing that annoys me about this subject is the deliberately misleading Microsoft advertisements aimed at parents. The ones that imply, for instance, that Microsoft software helps children become creative musicians, when Microsoft doesn't have any music creation applications.

    I find it really outrageous that (in the UK at least) a big chunk of many schools IT budget goes towards Windows and Office, which are completely rubbish peices of software for educating young children. But the administrators don't understand much about computers, and the nice man from Microsoft is always taking them out to lunch, being helpful and giving them "special deals" which just happen to take up most of the IT budget...
     
    • by pimpimpim ( 811140 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @04:08AM (#15659041)
      The ones that imply, for instance, that Microsoft software helps children become creative musicians, when Microsoft doesn't have any music creation applications.

      I beg to differ [albinoblacksheep.com].

      P.S. Some explanation on how that was made can be found here [newgrounds.com].

      • by A Dafa Disciple ( 876967 ) * on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @05:15AM (#15659172) Homepage
        Man, that flash video tickles me pink. It reminds me of the time when my family's computer (a Packard Bell 386) had a "talking calculator" application. I found the .WAV files for the numbers it spoke and then I used Sound Recorder to cut off the consonant and vowel sounds and saved them to their own separate .WAV files. I then used those to make my own words. Being the juvenile I was, probably around age 10 or 12 at the time, you bet that the first words I made were, of course, curse words.

        You can imagine how overjoyed my father was to turn on the computer and also hear that, rather than the computer greeting him with the usual Windows chime, it was cursing at him.
    • by lukas84 ( 912874 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @04:19AM (#15659064) Homepage
      See, the problem is much more complicated than that.

      (Disclaimer: This is the situation in switzerland)

      Schools can't afford to hire qualified personal. A qualified System Administrator costs something from 6-10k per Month (x13). This is A LOT of money for a school.

      Also, professional IT doesn't come cheap, and you usually have several software requirements. It's next to impossible for a "normal" School to get professionally supported (NBD Replacement for 3-5 years, Beige Boxes are NOT ACCEPTABLE) Machines without Windows licenses, so it would be a waste not to use them.

      OTOH, microsoft offers significant discount for its software to schools. So it might be a lot cheaper to use a microsoft environment, because microsoft environments don't have compatibility problems which might necessitate the use of vmware, or sometimes even a windows terminal server.

      Don't forget that a school usually consists of TWO different infrastructures. A smaller one for all the internal administration stuff, which most of the times REQUIRES windows, because of the ERP or Archival Software used, and a learning network. The latter COULD be setup using linux, but it would require additional infrastructure, which would in turn cost more money.

      This is also the reason why most schools don't have a professional it at all. Setting up a windows environment is usually less complicated, but still, qualified windows personal is still rare and expensive.
      • OTOH, microsoft offers significant discount for its software to schools.

        What is the point if the software is no good for education?!!

    • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @04:39AM (#15659098)
      It's especially outrageous for Office, as that is an application that can be completely replaced by OpenOffice.

      The usual arguments against OpenOffice don't work in a school. It isn't a business and doesn't have to work 100% with MS Office, because schools are usually self-contained. Documents are internal and they don't have a ton of "clients" and what not where they would have to import documents in or out all day.

      And if you start using OO, you might as well use Linux/BSD/Other free OS.

      There may be a few objections:

      1. Educational software isn't written for linux. Too true, but most educational software I have seen is crap anyway, seemingly bought just to have it rather than providing any tangible benefit to the students. Usually the areas are covered by good web applications anyway in the meantime so there are alternatives.

      2. Teacher tools. True, I have seen some teacher tools in Windows but they have web application equivalents as well. The thing that can go wrong here is if the web apps use Windows, but as in many things, there are choices.
      • The usual arguments against OpenOffice don't work in a school. It isn't a business and doesn't have to work 100% with MS Office, because schools are usually self-contained. Documents are internal and they don't have a ton of "clients" and what not where they would have to import documents in or out all day.

        And is the interface the same, so that when kids graduate and go to office jobs, they will know how to use the office suite which is most likely to be installed on their work machines? If not, then it's

        • That's a silly argument.

          For a start schools don't teach children how to use office packages (not in the UK at least). You go to night school as an adult for that.

          Secondly those schools are on a budget and do *not* upgrade unless they absolutely have too.. I've never seen a school with anything newer than office 97.

          Thirdly when these children start work the interface will have changed so much it won't be relevant anyway (have you taken a look at the clusterfuck that is the new office application? Try using
        • When I was at school, we were taught using MS Works, and MS Word 2.0. By the time I left school, Office 97 was starting to be replaced by Office 2000. By the time I finished university, Office 2003 was current.

          If you look at the difference between the Word 2.0 and Works interfaces, and the Office 2003 interface, you will see that there is about as much similarity between them as there is between OpenOffice.org and Office 2003.

        • I don't see many non-techies who actually knows how to use MS Office, though. Most people I see stumble through with a knowledge of a few commands and lots of hunting around. Ideas like styles or even page breaks seem to be beyond them. That's people whose job description requires a knowledge of Office.

          Are people like that really going to be any less productive if they're used to OpenOffice/Wordperfect?
          • Are people like that really going to be any less productive if they're used to OpenOffice/Wordperfect?
            if they were trained with another app from the start probabblly not, nor if you spend money to retrain them. However throw them at a new app without retraining and they may not be able to find anything.

            and thats before you consider compatibility issues (yes theese happen between office versions too and its a pita there too), the last thing someone who doesn't really understand document structure is going to
        • I agree that schools need to teach how to use MS Office, but here in Aussie, there are 12 years of school, with most either leaving after 10 or going all the way to 12. Since schools often use out of date software anyway, why not use openoffice.org to the end of year 8. 2-4 years of MS should be more than enough time to learn, and the resulting savings could be used to ensure always up to date copies of MS software where it is needed.
        • The idea of teaching kids, is to teach them to learn.
          Telling them point blank that the only thing that should be used is Microsoft because anything else won't let them have a job is a MS marketing dream! Also known as brainwashing, indoctrination, whatever else you want to call it.
          Anyone familiar with an office suite will take approximately a day or two to familiarise themself with a new one. At most a week (unless they're a programmer, using the finer details of macro languages).

          Schools are NOT there to
        • They're all close enough that any young individual[1] who has used OpenOffice enough to be familiar with it should be more than able to pick up any other halfway-modern office suite without even trying. It's only people who are old enough to not have the innate UI sense (which anyone growing up in a 1st-world country in the last decade or so picked up} learning the exact application matters to -- and they're not going through school anymore, they're just teaching it. Further, there are night classes at comm
        • And is the interface the same, so that when kids graduate and go to office jobs, they will know how to use the office suite which is most likely to be installed on their work machines? If not, then it's as if they used Wordperfect Office or some other proprietary package with minority share

          Have you ever used one of these "proprietary packages" (by which you seem to mean non-Microsoft, though there is hardly anything more proprietary than MSOffice)? They all look and feel exactly the same, down to the key

        • You know, I used to hear this argument when I was in high school (1992 or so), only then it was about WordPerfect. I should learn WordPerfect, there was a huge market for people with WordPerfect skills, knowing all WordPerfect's arcane keystrokes was the road to a good career. The smart school was the one that focused on teaching WordPerfect, not general computer-literacy.

          Do you know anyone today who knows WordPerfect? Do you know any business today that uses WordPerfect? If I had bought that line of

        • That argument may work in public high schools, it probably works in trade schools, but it does not work in Universities. Universities are trying to give a deep, not a vocational, education. It is debatable what high schools are trying to do. [spinninglobe.net]Tech trade schools might hurt their students by using non-standard tools, assusming the students aren't given enough tools/abilities to learn new software quickly.

          I TA a computer lab at the university I am at. When people come in and want to learn about the tools
        • What happens when the consulting company hired to competency test all of your county's MS Office users, tests them on Macs and Framemaker software? The union started screaming bloody-murder, the the firm held their ground and showed statistically that it was not only valid to test the workers on Macs with Framemaker, but the results more accurately reflected real-world performance than testing them on PC's with MS Office would.
      • My school board did that: http://slashdot.org/articles/04/06/08/0328257.sht m l?tid=102&tid=146&tid=185&tid=187&tid=99 [slashdot.org]

        They licensed it in 2004, and it made it into the 2005 updates to school IT infrastructure.

        You know how many times I've seen it used?

        Once.

        You know why?

        Because as a TA for a Writer's Craft class, the final assignment I created necessitated using the PDF export features that StarOffice had and MS Word did not.

        I spent at least six hours that semester helping students fix formatti
      • Actually, there will be less interop problems with OpenOffice. Being in school currently, I know that everyone either runs an illegal copy of Office or OpenOffice. Nobody our age can afford Microsoft Office even with their student discounts (well... I guess we could but there are more important things that require our money, like the computer itself).

        Having the internal stuff all using OpenOffice will satisfy everyone. Runs on most OSes that anyone uses (and if not they're free to port it), it's free and wi
    • I have to agree with you; I'm at uni at the mo so I've been in education for about the last 15 years, and with the exception of a crazily old BBC computer or whatever it was I've never seen anything but windows. When your younger I guess you don't tend to notice it as much but I really wish they'd at least given us some ability to use other systems. At uni I recently started a flame war(unintentionally) through my blog because I dared to suggest that our uni might use OO and Linux and other free software.
      • And that sums up the Number 1 problem of all time with computers. People don't want to learn. X that. People refuse to learn. It's like as soon as you say "computer" their brain turns off. Some people may say I'm a bit biased, because I'm a big computer geek. But that's not what it is. I've seen many people who aren't big geeks be able to use simple programs like Word, or even Excel. It's a little disappointing to see this kind of attitude of not wanting to learn new things when you're at a universite.
    • I find it really outrageous that (in the UK at least) a big chunk of many schools IT budget goes towards Windows and Office, which are completely rubbish peices of software for educating young children. But the administrators don't understand much about computers, and the nice man from Microsoft is always taking them out to lunch, being helpful and giving them "special deals" which just happen to take up most of the IT budget...

      As opposed to what (seriously)? Is linux/osx/etc somehow better at educating y

    • Deceptive? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by shaneh0 ( 624603 )
      This is another example of the "Micro$oft $ucks" slashdot mentality.

      Worst-case scenario: A parent sees the commercial and decides that instead of the new Macbook that their son asked for to assist with his music production, they could purchase a great Wintel notebook for 2/3 the price. So they head to Best Buy, pick it up, and perhaps after they give it to their son they find out that it doesn't have ANY MUSIC CREATION SOFTWARE! Oh No! So they search Google for /windows "music creation software"/ and what d
  • by Wordplay ( 54438 ) <geo@snarksoft.com> on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @04:09AM (#15659045)
    so the real question would be 'Is the review worth the money being spent on it?'.

    Usually when I wonder this, it's referring to PC Magazine.
  • by AYeomans ( 322504 ) <ajv.yeomans@org@uk> on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @05:18AM (#15659179)
    Becta are favourable to Open Source and open standards too. See their Technical Specifications document [becta.org.uk] which, for example, requires text documents to be held as .txt, .rtf or .odt but NOT .doc.
    See also Open Source Software in Schools: A case study report [becta.org.uk], Open Source Software in Schools: A study of the spectrum of use and related ICT infrastructure costs [becta.org.uk], Open Source Software in Schools: Information sheet [becta.org.uk].
    • This is why some schools switched to Linux networks last year (don't think it was that many - schools don't change unless they have to normally).

      Of course they're probably still running on overpriced Research Machines hardware... sigh...
    • I like MS word as a word processor. It is probably the best word processor out there. Well, Koffice and OpenOffice would fill my needs just fine, when I don't feel like spending $300 for an office suite, but if someone else is buying, then my choice is office. My only problem with office is the .doc format. Not only being proprietary, but a completely mangled binary format that changes with each release means that it can't be read by other word processors. Not even other versions of itself. If Microso
  • by tygerstripes ( 832644 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @05:52AM (#15659250)
    (or LA, as LEAs have been rebranded)

    It's true that maintained (ie non-private) schools do have huge autonomy in how they spend their budget and manage their IT, as long as they support the National Curriculum effectively.
    However, most Primary schools are not large enough to employ anyone with any decent knowledge of IT, and overwhelmingly they surrender part of their budget to the Schools IT Service run by their Local Authority in order to sort these things out. More importantly, they don't have the time or expertise to even look into these things! Even Secondary (High) schools depend on the local IT Support service to some degree - for hardware and network support, if nothing else.

    So, it's down to the LA - the Local Authority, your friendly county/district/borough/city council or Unitary Authority - to drive innovation and intelligent software choice in schools. And what do they do?

    Well, yes, they're predominantly in bed with big corporations who have established enterprise sales, support and service structures in place to get the big council contracts. Now, generally the Schools IT Support teams are somewhat independent from the Corporate IT bods, but seldom are they entirely separate and there is usually a noticeable cross-over. My personal dilemma is that, while I support schools, I myself am supported by the Corporate IT team, and depend on them for my office workstation. The result? Thanks to Council IT Policy, I am forced to use MS for OS, Office and every other flavour of software and as a result, am only able to significantly support schools in the same software .

    Oh, believe me, I would dearly love to get them using OpenOffice.org (which, irritatingly, Capita Education Services - the biggest UK supplier of Schools Management Information Software - do not support), Linux, Firefox, whatever, but because I'm part of this big horrible organisation, my hands are tied and so are the schools'.

    The latest initiative from the government is to open up competition between various Council IT services so schools can go over the border and get their IT support & training from Bogcaster Council instead of Tadminster, but in effect this has virtually no impact since - as I mentioned before - most schools don't have the time or inclination to go hunting around. If it's not dropped in their laps, most schools won't actively seek change as it makes life busier and harder in the short-term.

    In short: No, this report will not make any difference at all.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The agreement is priced per employee, and covers all the computers owned. The fee has to be paid every year. You can exempt employees that don't use computers such as custodial staff. The fee for us is about $50/employee/year to get Windows, office, and all the client access licenses. For this price you get to run whatever the latest version of Windows/Office is available. When you quit paying the fee, you need to remove the software. For us the computer to employee ratio makes this much cheaper t
  • by GreatDrok ( 684119 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @06:43AM (#15659357) Journal
    It would be interesting to weigh the benefits of teaching students to use computers including multiple platforms versus teaching them just to use certain applications (Office) on a single platform. From my experience in education (far too many years in university as a student and staff) I have found that often the students who have a varied experience are also the most comfortable learning new things. Computing is all about new things and if students are scared to try anything it is hard to get them to function, especially in a scientific environment.

    I personally think that the whole standardisation on Windows is not about education quality but rather about making life easy for the teachers who often appear to only be a few pages ahead of the students when it comes to using software. Teachers are the limiting factor. Students are likely to adapt easily to all sorts of platforms without much trouble, but teachers (apart from a small number of bright individuals) have really only learned which button to mash so it isn't surprising that the pupils all learn what button to mash and when mashing that button doesn't work they don't know what to do.

    Is this the future of computing? I really hope not. So no, standardising on a single software platform is not good as they do not learn how to adapt. Learning is not just about known how to do something, it is about why you did it.
    • There are some woefully underqualified technology teachers out there, but to say that "teachers are the limiting factor" is inaccurate and demonstrates a misunderstanding of the problems involved. In many communities, there are very specific technology education requirements. In other words, students are expected to know X amount of information about application X. Now, given the school system (in the U.S. anyway), there is really only time to cover the most popular software in use in the business world tod
  • The situation is that there are to many evaluations of free software in education, but no one that really looks at the value of proprietary software. In Norway the number of computers has been doubled in education from the year 2000. With 250 Skolelinux installations as an exception, the most of the computers at 3900 schools has Microsoft Windows installed. Research done at the schools shows that the use of computers has stagnated, and in some courses it has decreased. Just in Norway it's done at least 3 ev
  • A study that says "The status quo is perfectly fine, carry on as you are" is fine, as long as it was conducted properly and drew valid conclusions.

    That is, even if it changes nothing, it doesn't mean it wasn't worth the money. Anyone who doesn't review policies and processes regularly has no idea whether they're even relevant any more. "Carry on as you are" can be just as valid an answer as "change it like this".
  • The college that I attend said that they didn't find a reason to renew their subscription with Microsoft - supposedly not enough people took advantage of it. I feel that they didn't mention it to students enough (because how I found out about it at all was another student mentioning it to me).

    They went along to mention to us that the Microsoft products would still be available for "discount prices," although they failed to mention any such prices.

    It was nice, for a while at least, for us college students to
  • Change afoot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ajs318 ( 655362 ) <sd_resp2&earthshod,co,uk> on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @08:01AM (#15659537)
    Human beings have two modes of learning.

    Babies and young children learn by rote {means-oriented}. Older children learn more in terms of abstract concepts {end-oriented}. This is an evolutionary necessity; a three-year-old probably hasn't worked out the likely consequences of tumbling over a cliff edge, so a harsh reprimand from an adult can literally be a lifesaver. Teenagers think they know it all and are continually experimenting with boundaries. Adults have a tendency to revert spontaneously to means-oriented learning if they think they cannot understand something.

    Now, as things currently stand, Microsoft have achieved a monopoly through a combination of illegal and immoral practices. So schools are teaching Microsoft because "it's what they'll encounter in the real world", and meanwhile businesses are buying Microsoft because "it's what they learned in school".

    Schools today are basically free Microsoft training centres. The kids don't learn word processing, they learn MS Word. They don't learn spreadsheets, they learn Excel. They don't learn to design web pages, they learn FrontPage. The teachers are just parrotting from the Microsoft textbook. All those unreliable Windows machines need resetting from time to time, so a full-time "IT technician" is required to go around rebooting them and never understanding what went wrong in the first place. This demeans the job title of technician {it used to mean "someone who knows just as much as an engineer, works just as hard as an engineer and gets paid half as much as an engineer"}. A monkey could be trained to do that, for crying out loud. Maybe somewhere in the world there is an organisation which has actually trained a monkey to reboot misbehaving Windows boxes. Actually, Microsoft are working on lowering the status of "engineer" as well {it used to mean "someone who did more mathematics at university than someone on a mathematics course"}.

    Maybe if schools weren't indoctrinating impressionable minds into The Microsoft Way from an early age, then businesses wouldn't all be buying MS Office "because it's what they learned in school".

    I was actually around in the 1980s, and I was forced to listen to all the music that doesn't get played at "80s nights" because it was shite. In order to survive around computers in those days, you had to pick up on abstract concepts because there was no consistency. BBCs, Commodore 64s, Orics, Spectrums, Dragon 32s, Amstrad CPCs, and the obsolete models they had replaced -- they were all different. Get yourself an emulator and some tape images, and have a play. Newsagents sold magazines with listings that the truly masochistic could spend hours typing in. Some people actually managed to hack a program written in one computer's dialect of BASIC to run on another {I accomplished this feat at least twice myself, modifying a PILOT [wikipedia.org] interpreter originally meant for the Apple ][, and a text adventure game meant for the Oric, to run on the BBC model B}. As the next-generation machines like the Amiga took over, type-in listings disappeared; due in no small measure to the lack of a useful bundled programming language. {AmigaBASIC was like a poor-quality "1970s crate" emulator; barely computationally-complete, and certainly couldn't be used for writing any sort of application programs.} When I left school and went to university, there was a curious mix of DOS, VAX/VMS; and, later, more or less heavily modified versions of Unix. The VT220-alikes in a room wouldn't even necessarily have the same keyboard layout.

    I survived.
    • I recently got an engineering degree. We did more math than anyone except the math majors and the physicists. And we scoff at people with no engineering degree, some industry cert, and the name "engineer" in their job descriptioni.
  • This brings up the issue of software companies use differential pricing, and I wonder about the ethics and legality involved.

    For products it is not legal to charge two customers different prices without some approved mechanism (like coupons). Mr. White comes in and buys a loaf of bread for $1, then Mr. Black comes in and it's suddenly $2. Illegal. Now if Mr. French comes into a store in Paris, you can charge him $3 for a loaf, while charging Mr. Indian in New Delhi $0.10. Legal. Hell, if you're Amaz

    • Sometimes, differential pricing for services is the only way to turn a profit while doing something socially desirable. Think of a doctor; he/she should save the life of a rich person for a high price, and save the life of a poor person for a low price (or for nothing). Two lives saved, and the doctor's family fed.

      Airlines are the same; they need to offer 'first class' and 'economy' fares. A seat still available 30 seconds before the door closes is worth more than a seat that you promise to occupy 6 months

  • by Intron ( 870560 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @08:34AM (#15659645)
    So why isn't desktop software purchased the same way as every other item a school buys? Just put out a spec saying what it has to do and the level of support expected and take the lowest reputable bidder. If the spec says: "must have email, spreadsheet, word processor, email, etc." then OK, but if it is written to say "must be MS" then something is wrong. If they were doing that, there would be no need to have to "review" whether they did the right thing, they would have done that up front.
  • If all you get for the licence fee is a promise that the Microsoft lawyers won't sue you, then no, they are not good value. You would be better off with pencil and paper.
  • The local high school [wednet.edu] requires that every student complete a 'tech' requirement to graduate by either passing an online test or by taking a one-semester 'tech' class. The 'tech' subjects that the students are required to know are not computer languages, file systems, operating system functions, user interface layout, programming, etc. No, the 'tech subjects' are MS Excel, MS Word, MS Publisher, MS Powerpoint, and MS Front Page. The online test displays screens from these apps and then asks the student to

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.

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