As a part of the upcoming Microsoft Settlement:
November 20, 2001 11:52 AM   Subscribe

As a part of the upcoming Microsoft Settlement: "Terms of the deal would require Microsoft to donate software, recycled laptops and desktop computers, and other services to students in grades K-12 who attend public schools where 70 percent or more pupils are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches."

So, is this MS reaching out to help disadvantaged children and positively affect their future, or is this allowing MS to lure hundreds of thousands into being MS customers for life?
posted by mathowie (40 comments total)
Honestly, I'm torn about this. Is this a punishment or gov't-enabled expansion for them? I can't tell if it will be ultimately good for the children or if it will allow the MS monopoly to continue unfettered.
posted by mathowie at 11:54 AM on November 20, 2001

a little from column a, a little from column b.
posted by o2b at 12:06 PM on November 20, 2001

I certainly hope school children are learning the operating system that is on 8 out of 10 computers they'll face in the workplace.
posted by revbrian at 12:09 PM on November 20, 2001

Um, yeah, Apples dominance of the schools sure has made it a sure fire standard out there in the real world. Seriously get over the whole evil Microsoft thing.
posted by zeoslap at 12:13 PM on November 20, 2001

I have several thoughts, not all necessarily cogent, but here we go:

First, I would love to find a $500 or $600 laptop that could run XP. :) Maybe they're talking about wholesale prices, but Dell just told me not to upgrade my mother-in-law's Celeron 433 because the processor wouldn't handle it. That could be CYA, so I'm going to try it anyway (after stuffing it full of RAM).

Second, if these computers are going directly to the students, who's going to teach them how to use them? Teachers in the classroom? Not in the district I work for (Anchorage, AK). They barely have time to keep the 5 and 6 year old Macs working.

Third, if they're going to schools or districts, are there plans in place to support them? We have a support staff of literally under 30 people spread across various departments, all in different parts of town, to handle roughly 10,000 computers. Most of their time is spent working on the computers of the administrative staff, not in the classroom.

$90 million in training is helpful, but most school districts have support situations like ours. And in four years, will those computers be worth anything? We're having to scale back plans for our intranet web site because we can't count on teachers have a machine capable of running a 4.0 browser. Our intranet.

This could be a very good thing, or it could be a $900 million sink hole. The spread of the MS monopoly is the least of the concerns, IMO.
posted by mccreath at 12:14 PM on November 20, 2001

I certainly hope school children are learning the operating system that is on 8 out of 10 computers they'll face in the workplace.

Even if those Operating Systems are on those desktops through unscrupulous methods, huh? The ends justify the means?
posted by terrapin at 12:18 PM on November 20, 2001

I have XP on a 450Mhz 256mb box and a 500Mhz 96Mb laptop runs like a charm on both so no worries regards the laptop mccreath.
posted by zeoslap at 12:24 PM on November 20, 2001

[Even if those Operating Systems are on those desktops through unscrupulous methods, huh? The ends justify the means?]

Yeah! If the mission of schools is to educate children then they had better educate them for what they will face in life. What do you propose we teach them? Things they won't need but are of purer origin?
posted by revbrian at 12:24 PM on November 20, 2001

As the husband of an elementary school teacher and a guy who procures used computers for schools, most schools need every damn bit of tech they can get. I have an Apple 2E at home that I kept out of respect when I was able to replace it with a P75 running W3.1 - six months ago. That Apple was in use up to the day I replaced it.

Speaking for those kids and teachers, I don't care if Hitler himself comes barrelling out of hell in a Microsoft delivery van, I'll take any damn computer he wants to give. I can wipe off the swastikas on the cases.
posted by UncleFes at 12:33 PM on November 20, 2001

Using Tandy computers in elementary school didn't turn me into a Radio Shack customer for life. Oh, wait -- it did. Never mind.
posted by ljromanoff at 12:35 PM on November 20, 2001

I know the free Apple IIs and Pascal disks we got in high school locked me into a nefarious skill set I've never been able to shake. Damn Jobs!!! Damn him to hell!!!
posted by marknau at 12:35 PM on November 20, 2001


The instructional platform really isn't the issue. You can teach a kid computer skills on an Amiga as long as the skills are basically the same. And thanks to interface standards (insert old saw about MS stealing from Apple who stole from X-PARC), learning how to use a mouse and application menus is pretty much the same no matter what platform you're on. Kids are smart. They can move from one platform to another much quicker than most adults.

A bigger issue is having a single platform in the classroom, so the teacher isn't having to move quickly between platforms to teach the same skill twice.
posted by mccreath at 12:36 PM on November 20, 2001

I'm sure that the operating systems these kids use in the schools, by whomever they are provided, will bear no relationship to anything they will encounter in their workplaces ten or twelve years from now. It would be more valuable to the students if Microsoft were to pay for some kind of traditional learning having nothing to do with computers. Language study, for instance.
posted by Faze at 12:36 PM on November 20, 2001

My computer science class in high school was taught on an Apricot.

the fast system in the lab in college was used for 3dStudio, it was a 486 with a whole 16 megs of RAM, so it was blazing fast.

the main thing is literacy, and computer literacy...learning to Learn how to learn software....does that make sense?

i don't think it matters about the OS. That is such an opportunity.
posted by th3ph17 at 12:42 PM on November 20, 2001

Yeah! If the mission of schools is to educate children then they had better educate them for what they will face in life. What do you propose we teach them? Things they won't need but are of purer origin?

As zeoslap already pointed out Macs are still dominate in the universities so the argument could be made that they should be learning on Macs. One could also argue that we should be preparing students to work on non-M$ OSes so they aren't stuck knowing only one OS.
posted by terrapin at 12:42 PM on November 20, 2001

You can either be a M$ customer for life, or not own or use a computer.

Forget whether students should learn to use Windows. A more interesting issue is whether the standard MS OS can is adapted to the K12 environment. It seems big schools where students change desks/rooms a lot, work on a variety of projects/subjects over the course of the day, some online some not, is crying out for a networked timesharing system with a visual interface and mainframe-served apps.

Think of it: You come into homeroom and sit down at a terminal screen, keyboard, and mouse. Login. The teacher says: Multiplication time! Click on the icon marked Quiz, and fill in the blanks. Hit a icon when you're done. Your score, grade, some analysis, are all done in an instant. When the class bell rings, the computers logout the users automatically. You run down the hall and log into another term in your biology classroom.

Cheap (well, not as cheap as one PC per room), flexible, and the computers do things.
posted by rschram at 12:49 PM on November 20, 2001

Lord [Bill/Uncle Sam] giveth, and the Lord [Bill] taketh away. From Lincoln Stein's column in Web Techniques a few months ago:
This year Microsoft quietly changed its definition of a qualifying academic institution. The old definition encompassed any primary or secondary school, degree-granting institution, or research laboratory affiliated with a degree-granting institution.

The new definition imposes strict guidelines on the ratio of staff to students, and on the proportion of staff directly involved with teaching.
We'll have to wait and see when Microsoft changes its definitions for Academic Pricing Eligibility again and shuts out the inner-city kids.

On the other hand, Gates has shown to have a level-head and genuine concern for the global disadvantaged and have given to these causes generously.
posted by tamim at 12:56 PM on November 20, 2001

There's little difficulty in picking up another interface. They're all only a little step from the next WIMP interface. There are several KDE themes that so accurately mimic the Windows interface that people have been unawares. KDE is getting to the point where it wins usability tests from mainstream computer journalists. The differences in applications are few and Windows and Linux and MacOS and (until recently) BeOS copy from each other. The instruction platform isn't important because the operating system isn't important.

The office-type applications are the same. They all deal with filesystem trees, and selecting fonts, and spreadsheets and databases. Gimp beats Photoshop some of the time, and Photoshop beats Gimp other times. Translating skills takes no effort.

I don't like this remedy as it doesn't respond to Microsoft breaking the law. Scraping the OEM deals and making their Office suite follow a documented standard would go a long way.
posted by holloway at 1:19 PM on November 20, 2001

One commentator called the settlement "a huge let-off for Microsoft", and I can see why. How long are these "services" going to last? After all, MSFT's strategy with .NET is to lock people into a net-based upgrade path: so in a couple of years, will the schools end up having to pay for support, upgrades, additional licences, and all the other whatnot that you associate with the Microsoftification of the workplace?
posted by holgate at 2:08 PM on November 20, 2001

[You can either be a M$ customer for life, or not own or use a computer. ]

I'm happy here, M$-less with my with RedHat 7.1 OS and viewing MEFI using my Konqueror browser. :-)

I will definitely never be a M$ customer and I do own AND use a computer. I'm confused by the statement.
posted by jlachapell at 2:25 PM on November 20, 2001

A $900 computer set up is nice and all, but it doesn't mean a thing if there is no teacher to teach it. It would be who of microsoft to come up with a standarized, challenging cirriculum. Have teachers go through a 2 week crash course, then setup a help line in case they themselves are lost. Imagine kids learning how to program or how networks work at 4th grade.
posted by geoff. at 2:34 PM on November 20, 2001

will definitely never be a M$ customer and I do own AND use a computer.

Well, not a real one.
posted by kindall at 2:37 PM on November 20, 2001

["Microsoft redirects the value of their proposed software donation to the purchase of additional hardware for the school districts. This would increase the number of computers available under the original proposal from 200,000 to more than one million, and would increase the number of systems per school from approximately 14 to at least 70."]

Now we will see M$'s true colors. This is a very viable solution. Does anybody else doubt whether M$ will go for this. If they are doing this "for the kids" they would.
posted by jlachapell at 2:38 PM on November 20, 2001

If this plan goes through, and if they are under Microsoft's umbrella of .NET and "renting" software, then where will these schools be in two or three years? Will Microsoft continue to donate the upgrades, or will schools have to pay to keep these machines running?

mccreath summed it up nicely - computers are nice, but who will run them? Maintain them? Make sure they are integrated into the curriculum?

The deal is nice on the surface, but gets murky the more you (I) think about it.
posted by jazon at 3:44 PM on November 20, 2001

So, is this MS reaching out to help disadvantaged children and positively affect their future, or is this allowing MS to lure hundreds of thousands into being MS customers for life?

I've wondered the same thing about Apple's early push for their computers in classrooms for years. But Steve Jobs could never be evil. Oh no, he would never think of doing anything except donating millions upon millions... oh wait, that was Gates that does that.
posted by holycola at 3:47 PM on November 20, 2001

Regardless of how I feel about Microsoft (I thought the indictment was out of date and silly, but they are a monopoly and should be held accountable as such), this "settlement" is absurd.

For at least half the value of the settlement, Microsoft gets to basically print their own money. As for the "recycled" computers, I'm sure they were going to be swapped out this year anyway. The biggest problem is that Microsoft is gaining a huge potential market from this. Essentially this says "You are a monopoly, you must be punished. Your punishment will be thousands and thousands of new customers." Remember to that these customers are the most profitable target market imaginable. Soft drink and fast food companies are fighting like mad to get in the heads of school kids.

The idea that a company gives it's old computers to schools should not be part of a settlement, it should be business as usual.
posted by joemaller at 3:51 PM on November 20, 2001

Let's see...$900 million worth of sofware on one million machines. That comes to $900 of software per each machine. How much does it cost MS to produce a copy of Windows XP (retail: $300) and a copy of Office XP (retail: $479)? Could it be that they are up to their old trick of announcing the retail cost of the software rather than the production cost?

The lawsuits in this case are about MS overcharging for their products -- how does this agreement stop them from continuing that behavior? This case is related to the antitrust suit -- how does allowing them to dump product into a market dominated by a rival address antitrust issues?

If this agreement had teeth in it, it would say that MS had to spend the money on non-MS products.
posted by joaquim at 3:53 PM on November 20, 2001

Now redhat is suggesting MS stick to providing free hardware only, and they'll provide the software.
posted by mathowie at 4:17 PM on November 20, 2001

Sneaky old RedHat! Can't wait to see the Redmond response to this one...
posted by dlewis at 4:23 PM on November 20, 2001

This is the double-edged sword of the Gates' Foundation: they donate computers to schools and libraries. But those computers also allow them to extend the ubiquity of their operating system. You'd think that altruism and marketing might have a slighly more legible line between them, but perhaps I'm being idealistic.

As my job involves working with public schools and their technologies, I have a few things to add: 1) Macs are almost non-existent in the k-12 public schools in my area. The local universities still have them, but the ratio of Win32 to MacOS has been going down everywhere except Apple's core markets (graphics, video, journalism departments, etc.). 2) The most ubiquitous network OS I see in the schools is Netware, usually with Win98 or WinNT running on the client machines.

To agree with Holloway and some others (and to deploy a little education lingo), there's a difference between "education" (which needn't be platform-specific) and "training" (which is and should be). Teaching kids computing fundamentals (whether they be end-user fundamentals or programming fundamentals) doesn't need to be done on brand-X machine or with brand-X operating system. Learning is vendor-neutral. And, with upgrade and hardware costs being what they are, you'd think any wise school technology coordinator would opt for Linux boxes running KDE2. But you'd be wrong. It's amazing what crap they'll buy and keep buying. And it's sad how few geeks work in the public schools. Your typical high school geek knows more about hardware and OSes than most school technology "coordinators" (read: librarians who've read a copy of "Windows95 for Dummies")

Oh, I'm not bitter or anything (turns to kick a nearby Win32 box).
posted by wheat at 4:25 PM on November 20, 2001

Have teachers go through a 2 week crash course, then setup a help line in case they themselves are lost.

There's this myth that teachers have scads of time, especially in the summer. They don't. Many teach summer school, and most work well more than the forty hours they're paid for during the school year. So expecting them to show up for a two week crash course in computer management isn't realistic.

Teaching kids computer skills is a great idea and necessary, but expecting teachers to add "computer expert" to their credentials isn't realistic.

The best we can really hope for is "competent computer user". And for that to happen, there needs to be paid support staff in the school, not at the other end of a long distance phone call.
posted by mccreath at 5:08 PM on November 20, 2001

Frustrated Linux-as-desktop user, but trying to learn.

Um... Doesn't Red Hat already make its software freely available? I'm not sure what they're offering. Online help is not useful if your machine isn't working.

I think the Microsoft deal is full of pitfalls and doesn't punish Microsoft in the least, but putting Linux in schools that can barely figure out how to keep an Ethernet full of Macs running is not a recipe for success.

I'm also not bitter or anything, wheat. ;)
posted by mccreath at 5:24 PM on November 20, 2001

Yeah - redhat already has zero cost, but there's a boxed version with instruction manuals and many extra CDs. I assume when they say Red Hat offered to provide open-source software to every school district in the United States free of charge that it wouldn't be half a pack of CDRs. After all, they don't want to leave the schools blue-faced.
posted by holloway at 6:10 PM on November 20, 2001

"I have XP on a 450Mhz 256mb box and a 500Mhz 96Mb laptop runs like a charm..."

I've only had XP recently. Before that, all I had was a lot of :) and :D, yet after I moved on through :X and 8(, I eventually ended up with XP. My only guess is that XP~ will be the next in line...
posted by samsara at 7:01 PM on November 20, 2001

Go, Lindows!

Failing that, my next laptop will be a Mac.
posted by jetgrrl at 12:15 AM on November 21, 2001

Just to add my tuppenorth, I was recently forced to learn Quark on a Mac after years on a PC and wasn't happy about it, but actually found it a piece of piss. And I'm old and a girl.
posted by Summer at 3:57 AM on November 21, 2001

I'm remember hearing about a study done some time ago by psychologists, where they took long term Macintosh power-users and put them in a computer laboratory for observation. They were asked to go about their normal working routine on the computers but, unbeknownst to them, these Macintoshes had actually been booby trapped. After a preset amount of time, the menu bar was programmed to disappear. The study reported many users becoming effectively paralysed, entering into a state of mild panic accompanied by light sweating, palpitations and incoherent speech.
posted by dlewis at 4:31 AM on November 21, 2001

I've heard of a similar experiment done with PCs running Windows. In this one, the Windows users were put in a lab and observed, every 30 minutes or so their systems crashed (this wasn't actually part of the experiment, it just happened). Most users instinctively reached for the phone to call the tech support, or their mother's boyfriend who works with computers. The others just whined loudly and were in a general state of confusion. Some just sat idly by. Eventually a tech support person arrived, chided them for not knowing anything, and told them how they should be running linux boxes and some unknown software. After rebooting their systems he immediately left before confirming that he had solved the problem.
posted by hotdoughnutsnow at 6:45 PM on November 22, 2001

to add "computer expert" to their credentials isn't realistic.

Most schools already have a special computer teacher. Most of these computer "teachers" are just people who happened to work with computers and rarely have any credential in teaching or computers. They get paid (albeit little) for 9 months of work. Businesses train their employees all the time with "crash courses" or what not. I don't see how this would be different. Anyway, I think that a computer teacher is more important then phys ed or some of the other extra programs schools have. It'd be nice to have everything but if you have to choose, give the child something that would be invaluable in the work place.
posted by geoff. at 7:39 PM on November 22, 2001

From today's NYTimes: Steve Jobs Rejects Microsoft Plan.

"It strengthens Microsoft's position in education against their only competitor, and at the same time it gets them off the hook," said Roger Black, an industry analyst with the market research firm IDC. "It even makes them look generous."
posted by mattpfeff at 3:11 PM on December 3, 2001

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