UW sells out
August 14, 2002 7:24 PM   Subscribe

UW sells out -- for only $2.3 million. As part of the "Academic Innovation Alliance Initiatives" agreement with Microsoft, the University of Waterloo's Electrical & Computer Engineering department has agreed to teach C# to students. In addition to discussion on uwstudent.org, Slashdot thread, press releases from MS and UW and a rebuttal release from the UW Federation of Students.
posted by paulschreiber (19 comments total)
Hey, that's just the beginning. All students enrolling next year will be required to take for-credit courses on "Electronics, Sony Style", "Dow Chemistry" and my own favorite, "Cigarettes Don't Kill People, Regulation Kills People", underwritten by R.J. Reynolds.
posted by Zonker at 7:39 PM on August 14, 2002

The key point here is that C# is being taught in a required course: to get the degree (not computer science, incidentally) you have to learn MS's language.

I'm a Waterloo grad (MA in history, 1996) and I can't say I'm happy about this.
posted by mcwetboy at 8:05 PM on August 14, 2002

C# may have been invented by Microsoft, but it is also an ECMA standard, unlike, say, Java™, which is also taught at quite a few schools.

True, it's not a coincidence that the course is required, but you can go get Mono or Rotor and code away on FreeeBSD if you prefer. It's also a good langauge; it's not as if students are being forced to learn Visual FoxPro, or, well, Java.
posted by Ayn Marx at 8:44 PM on August 14, 2002

That UW sold out to Microsof? That's nothing. Talk to me when you've got a Gates Hall, an Allen Library, a Gates Law building, and the head of your board of regents is one William Gates, Sr...
posted by Hildago at 9:28 PM on August 14, 2002

Stanford: i think hildago's talking to you...

Basically, corporate funding of public universities is not really that big a deal, nothing new and certainly not a bad thing, the universities have to get the money from somewhere, especially in countries where universities are free of charge.

It seems a little shortsighted though to switch from a language that has been used for almost 20 years to one that was invented little more than a week ago...
posted by popkick at 9:52 PM on August 14, 2002

As much as I love to hate Microsoft, I can't find much wrong with the concept of being forced to learn a propriety language. At Queen's, we're taught Java, Sun's language. It was switched over from C++ a couple of years ago, I wouldn't be surprised if some sort of corporate partnership led to it. Although that's just conspiratorial speculation, I don't really know.

There's something disheartening about schools soliciting corporate sponsorship to fund their programs, but it's not hard to understand. Various Canadian governments have been drawing funds away from education institutions, forcing them to seek out other means.
posted by dave at 10:12 PM on August 14, 2002

C# might as well have been called MSJava, the languages are that similar. I really don't see what the big deal is here. When these students graduate and end up working in some IT job somewhere, they're going to be using all sorts of proprietary technologies. The only way to stay employable in IT is to be constantly learning whatever the latest (proprietary) thing is this week. Might as well start as they'll be going on.
posted by normy at 10:20 PM on August 14, 2002

C# is georgious... and this is hardly "selling out" Hard to guess your bias...
posted by woil at 10:48 PM on August 14, 2002

popkick: the universities have to get the money from somewhere, especially in countries where universities are free of charge

I don't know what country this was directed to, but universities certainly are not free in Canada. The tuition is approx. numerically equal to those of US state-run universities. In fact, at Waterloo, CS, Eng, and Optometry are considered deregulated programs, and tuition just jumped 15% for them.
posted by mfli at 11:46 PM on August 14, 2002


i know. i was thinking of central/northern european countries... finland, sweden, germany in particular... nokia, ericsson, siemens, etc... it's pretty common that companies support the universities, and of course case studies of companies in courses are a regular occurence...
posted by popkick at 12:28 AM on August 15, 2002

To my mind the problem with C# is the invidious way in which Microsoft is undermining Java to promote the language, i.e. not shipping with the JVM installed. OK it's business and Sun and Microsoft are in competition, but for those developing Java apps it's something of a nightmare and ultimately it's the users who lose.

But I guess the prize is large, the enterprise is a big space but Java is starting to make significant headway in the wireless arena, somewhere were Microsoft would love a proper toehold.
posted by johnny novak at 3:04 AM on August 15, 2002

Apparently the language isn't an open standard (or, it is as much as Java is). The only parts submitted to ECMA are C# and the CLI which excludes Windows Forms, Web Forms, and many base libraries which are proprietary and owned by Microsoft.

About this though... geez, they should at least try and act as if you can't buy curriculum rather than rebranding it as a bold new future.
posted by holloway at 3:45 AM on August 15, 2002

Except for the corporate sponsorship, I don't see much wrong here. Teaching a class in C# is about as good as teaching the class in Java. If the person goes on to develop software, then its simply more exposure to different languages and if they don't, then who cares what language it is in the first place?

Remember, these people aren't so stupid that they'll never learn another language, or think that C# is the end-all and be-all of programming. These are Computer Engineers for goodness-sake!
posted by Kovax at 5:51 AM on August 15, 2002

also... keep in mind that Java really isn't Sun's language, anymore. It was released as an open standard in '95; granted, it was a standard defined by Sun, but I'd call that a strength, not a weakness. Lack of vendor ego coddling that goes on in most standards committees led to an internally self-consistent - if not necessarily ideal - design for the platform. It is the openness of this standard that allowed C# - highly derivitive of Java with just enough VB/VC++ idiom thrown in to make career MCSDs comfortable - to be built in the first place.

C# is an ECMA standard because Microsoft wants to pay lip service to competition - that's it. As mentioned above, the ECMA standard parts of the dotnet platform taken alone are pretty much useless. Likewise, Java is not an ECMA standard because Sun - who still basically holds the keys - is under the delusion that it's a major player in the Java space. IBM, Oracle, hell, even the Apache Foundation - they're the ones who build and maintain the infrastructure that most of the Java stuff in production these days runs on.

By constrast, the major players in the C#/dotnet space are... Microsoft, and the ISVs surrounding it that are little more than wholly owned subsidiaries. Excitement about C# is generated by... Microsoft advertising, and Microsoft-devoted VC++ developers wearing Windows blinders that have been jealous of the much cleaner language their Java-speaking cousins have been using since the first Clinton administation.

To my knowledge, most of the introductory Java courses out there were designed because Java was the best choice available... Georgia Tech switched to Java from Pascal in 1997 - they skipped right over C/C++, because you have to worry about details in C and C++ that really should be second-semester problems, not cluttering up the discussion of introductory computer science. If anyone has evidence of Sun paying a university to use Java, I'd like to see it.

On the other hand, the sea change from Pascal/C/C++ to Java in the late 1990s must really irk Microsoft. Here they are, trying to starve any platform that isn't Windows by ensuring application and systems developers grow up in a Windows world, and all these universities are teaching Java - which they've been trying unsuccessfully to kill since 1995. C# came too late to take advantage of the wholesale dumping of the C/C++ curricula, and too early for many campuses who are still working out the kinks in their new Java-based courses to consider dumping the time and money invested in their development overboard in favor of C#.

That is, of course, unless you pay them to dump Java...
posted by Vetinari at 6:35 AM on August 15, 2002

I'm a Waterloo grad as well (yo mcwetboy!). Yes, this is part of MS's push for C# acceptance and use in the near-future market. However, MS has been involved with Waterloo for years. I remember seeing a Microsoft NT lab where students worked with MS on aspects of NT before I knew what NT was. I remember seeing AT&T labs, IBM labs, and any number of other companies with branded labs. This is old news, if it's news at all.
posted by holycola at 6:46 AM on August 15, 2002

C# is georgious

There goes my belief that programmers are educated.
posted by jragon at 8:29 AM on August 15, 2002

Not all programmers are bad spellers, jragon. I personally would take anyone who describes C# as "gorgeous" with a grain of salt anyway :-).

My $.02 on the Waterloo C# thing:

Some may argue that Waterloo's switch to C# is no different than the switch many other universities (including my own alma mater) have made to Java in recent years, but they are ignoring one fundamental fact: neither Sun (nor anyone else) went around paying universities to teach Java. Both Sun and Java have enough "cred" in academia that such an effort would have been unnecessary.

Microsoft's attempt to "buy" Waterloo is merely a lame attempt at lending academic legitimacy to to a language that was created for one reason and one reason alone: to neutralize the disruptive influence of Java.
posted by ldandersen at 2:29 PM on August 15, 2002

As a Waterloo CS newly-grad, I can tell you that this isn't a huge deal, curriculum-wise. Computer Engineering is basically Applied Computer Science. They're supposed to learn real-world technology. C# is real-world, so is Java.

However, I agree with ldandersen in that Java has earned enough respect on its own merits to be part of the curriculum, whereas C# at UW is a paid offering. Thus, while not a horribly bad thing for Engineers, it does reduce the academic cred of UW somewhat. Speaking as someone who has seen blatant industry-pandering on the part of the university in every single semester, I can tell you that UW has little academic cred anyway. Important theoretical courses are being phased out in favour of applied CS love-fests, more powerful (in the theoretical sense) languages like Modula-3 and Scheme are disappearing in favour of C++ and Java, and so on. Because of its reputation, UW can keep the best of two seemingly contradictory worlds---the intact integrity of the program, and the incoming corporate dollars---without really even having to try.

In summary, because it's Engineering it's permissible (but barely). If it were CS, the program would be reduced to a hideously unfunny joke.
posted by Succa at 10:34 PM on August 15, 2002

Point well taken--I guess I didn't read closely enough to realize that we were talking about Computer Engineering and not necessarily Computer Science.
posted by ldandersen at 12:47 PM on August 20, 2002

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