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Education Operating Systems Software The Almighty Buck Windows

UK Schools Told to Dump Microsoft 646

kubla2000 writes "The current issue of the Times Educational Supplement is running an article in which they cite a report by the British Educational Communications and Technology Association telling primary and secondary schools in the UK to dump Microsoft Operating systems and products in order to save millions. In a report to be published next week, obtained by The TES, Becta will highlight schools which have turned to free software instead of the market leader's products. Becta does not name Microsoft in its analysis. But almost all schools use some of the company's products. Their conclusion? Schools running OSS are saving 24% on average per pc versus those running proprietary systems."
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UK Schools Told to Dump Microsoft

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  • Discount (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:40AM (#12475061)
    I bet they're are looking to get a sweet deal from Microsoft by threatening this...
    • Wouldn't be the first time. It happens all the time. A big client "rumours" they're ditching and Microsoft comes along with massive discounts. In many instances there isn't even a plan to migrate, just a rumour..
      • Re:Discount (Score:4, Interesting)

        by MoonFog ( 586818 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:48AM (#12475124)
        But aren't schools already getting a significant discount? How much lower can Microsoft go before they give it away to schools?
        • Re:Discount (Score:3, Informative)

          by ChTh ( 453374 )
          They can go really low. The Swedish government recently got a deal 5-10% below the discount normally given to major customers.
 [] (in swedish)
        • Re:Discount (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dnixon112 ( 663069 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:54AM (#12475180)
          Probably not much lower. But I'm sure MS would give it away for free if it meant keeping people locked in.
          • Re:Discount (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @08:59AM (#12476238) Homepage
            Why would they? If they have to give their product away for free, they lose the basis for their entire business model.

            Besides, even if you get MS software for free, you still have the costs associated with mitigation and damage control for the zillions of exploits that will dog your network.
            • Re:Discount (Score:3, Insightful)

              by HybridJeff ( 717521 )
              The GP's not talking about giving it away for free to evreyone, he's talking about giving it away to schools. You know hook 'em while they're young and all that.
            • Re:Discount (Score:5, Insightful)

              by porcupine8 ( 816071 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @09:50AM (#12476691) Journal
              I would think of it as a loss leader...

              If kids get used to using, etc at school, then they're going to go home and tell their parents about it at home, who might decide to go for it on their next computer. When those kids get their own computer, they also might decide to try OpenOffice over MS Office. Same for teachers who get used to it at work - if they start saving their files in OOo's format, they want to be able to open them when they get home, etc.

              Especially when it comes to what the students are using, most schools only have a couple dozen computers for all the students to use. So by giving away 30 or so copies of MS Office, MS could be preventing a couple hundred kids from telling their parents about OOo.

              • Re:Discount (Score:5, Informative)

                by Jellybob ( 597204 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @10:08AM (#12476878) Journal
                Especially when it comes to what the students are using, most schools only have a couple dozen computers for all the students to use. So by giving away 30 or so copies of MS Office, MS could be preventing a couple hundred kids from telling their parents about OOo.

                I don't know where you're from, so I'll let you off, but in the UK most schools don't have "a couple of dozen computers" - I worked in a primary school doing IT support for a while, and for the 5-8 age range there was a machine in every room, 5 support machines for staff, and a suite with another 10 in it.

                And I've been saying what this article has been ever since I started working there :P Licensing costs the school thousands a year, due to "having to upgrade", money which could be much better spent on extra support staff in classrooms for kids who need help, or hundreds of other things.
                • Re:Discount (Score:4, Interesting)

                  by porcupine8 ( 816071 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @10:37AM (#12477197) Journal
                  Well, I can't really tell if that's a couple dozen or not, not knowing how many classrooms are in your school. Obviously, it's going to vary with the size of the school - my main point is that there are FAR fewer computers than children, meaning that MS gains more than one bit of mindshare for each computer they give free Office to - and stands to lose more than one bit for each computer that's put on OSS.

                  I'm not arguing against schools going for OSS, I'm just saying that it wouldn't be such a bad deal for MS to give away their software in this instance.

        • Re:Discount (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          I don't know how much lower they can go :) , but think of it this way: how much can Microsoft PAY the schools for using their products? When all the students are using their products, it's not like the only benefit they get is simply money from the licenses. Things get rather complicated.
        • Re:Discount (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Xrikcus ( 207545 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @06:18AM (#12475346)
          What's wrong with free? Works for universities.

          Well... sometimes it works, anyway. We in my CS dept are still using win2000, apparently because MS hasn't given us XP and we have no intention of paying for it. The tactic hasn't worked for us yet... but then, it doesn't really harm us either.
          • Re:Discount (Score:5, Interesting)

            by walt-sjc ( 145127 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @08:11AM (#12475951)
            As long as you are still using Windows, you are not threatening. Announce a migration to Linux and THEN you may get free or significantly reduced product.

            MS WANTS it's software in education so that Windows and MS Office are the only things young people entering the workforce know. Apple's educational programs are really the only thing that kept them alive all these years (although OS X has finally given them a true technological edge over MS so it's not Quite as important, but is still important. Pre-OS X MacOS was truely horrible.)
        • Re:Discount (Score:5, Insightful)

          by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @07:28AM (#12475727) Homepage
          They can just give it away for free, in order to maintain their stronghold. Then, they just write it off as a donation of $199 a copy for Windows, and $500 a copy for office, and they end up making money off giving donations to the school.
  • by Kinky Bass Junk ( 880011 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:41AM (#12475073)
    Wow, this will be a great oportunity for OSS to snap up another user base. Not only will it save a lot of money for the schools, but this will more than likely result in more users seeing the wonders of free software, and converting themselves. Would be good if they openly condemned Windows though :P
  • dupe..... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:41AM (#12475074)
  • by Saven Marek ( 739395 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:41AM (#12475075)
    Just recommending dumping one supplier of software simply to save money is a worry.

    Is our school's education all related to money? do we just want to make it cheaper?

    Or make it truly better. As much as I don't like Microsoft maybe there are situations where their software is best.

    Just saying to dump them because of cost to save 24% sounds appealing at a first glance, but then replacing teachers with babysitters at half the wages would save 50%.

    But it's not doing much good for the kids. Maybe a less broad "Microsoft is 100% evil" attitude would help the kids. Their the ones learning
    • by nacturation ( 646836 ) <nacturation @ g m> on Monday May 09, 2005 @06:05AM (#12475264) Journal
      Want to really save money? Dump computers altogether in elementary schools. I didn't get involved with computers until grade 7, and even then it was a real stretch of the imagination -- a single LOGO class was about it. Even in high school, computers weren't all that prevalent until grade 11. As a result, I had to learn things the old fashioned way -- by figuring it out on my own without a computer doing it for me. I think things turned out fairly well as a result and my interest in computers carried me the rest of the way. Do kids these days even know multiplication tables without reaching for their cell phone's calculator app?

      • Your post should be given full merit but... a lot of jobs today require computers unlike in the past. You didn't suggest it, but I think computer use should be scaled back alltogether, used sparingly and not thrown around as though it will solve all of educations problems. I'm at college and even there we have to do it the old fashioned way before we touch the various rooms full of lovely powermacs, macs, emacs and various scanners or even the college network. The understanding is that you must be able to
      • by MindStalker ( 22827 ) <mindstalker AT gmail DOT com> on Monday May 09, 2005 @07:08AM (#12475653) Journal
        Most Elementary schools don't have computers in every classroom, nor do you use computers to help you in your assignment. Generally there is a computer lab that every student visits once a week for maybe an hour. During this hour they learn some basics about computers and possibly have a little but of fun. It definatly does not replace traditional learning. They are there mainly to get kids interested in technology for the future. I know LOGOWRITER got me interested in programming at a young age, though I doupt they do anything nearly as cool.
      • Do kids these days even know multiplication tables without reaching for their cell phone's calculator app?

        multiplication tables?
    • would you rather have Microsoft on your computers or have both Linux on your computers + a few extra teachers? There's always a bit of a trade-off, and I think that not spending money wisely is even worse for the educational system.
    • Started off right (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tharald ( 444591 )
      I'm with you through the second sentence... Education is not all related to money. There are other concerns, the most important ones are:
      -how well does it facilitate people learning?
      -does it provide an environment that is open to advancements and does not lock you in?

      Of course there are basic requirements like being able to perform the required tasks, and cost related issues, but aside from these issues, open source beats MS on all fronts.
    • It is not about "dumping one supplier of software simply to save money". It is more like a matter of "stop wasting money on products where there are serious, free, instructive, alternatives to them". The money saved (by stopping their waste) can be used/invested by the school in more helpful/instructive ways/projects for the kids. Does it make more sense to you now? Bye, Luca
    • Money's a big factor at my kid's school.

      Ditching MS software would enable them to hire one or two more teachers. This will give the kids smaller class sizes and get better teaching as a result.

      Also their parents wouldn't have to fork over a load of cash for OS + AV + Net Nanny + antispyware + office software + drawing software and so on.

      With MS you get the OS and not much else, with any decent Linux distro you get everything you need.

      My kids (8 + 4) can use MS and Mandriva with ease (I set it up that wa
    • ...what you need to learn children is not OS or application-specific. I would be equally frustrated if they started teaching about /dev/hda0 as C:\, and init-scripts instead of autoexec.bat.

      Office suites have long sinced passed the barrier where it is your skills that is the limit, not the application. Most children I know couldn't wield the full power of OpenOffice or GIMP than they could with MS Office and Photoshop.

      And by skills, I don't mean knowing which keyboard shortcuts to push, but to understand
  • Good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ajs318 ( 655362 ) <sd_resp2@earthsho[ ] ['d.c' in gap]> on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:43AM (#12475079)
    Once schools are teaching how to use Free software, then businesses will no longer be able to use the bogus argument "but that's what they teach in schools" as a reason to stick with Microsoft.

    Schools should not be Microsoft training centres anyway. We pay for schools with our Council Tax, and this particular Council Tax payer resents having my hard-earned spent on consolidating a foreign monopoly.
    • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

      by blowdart ( 31458 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:48AM (#12475129) Homepage
      Nor should schools be a place to push an OSS agenda simply because it's OSS.

      Schools should, in theory, be pushing what is best for the pupil, not what is cheapest. So whilst there is an argument for using free software to teach, for example, programming, a course which teachs pupils spreadsheets or word processing could, arguably be using the most widespread software.

      Oh and the article title isn't exactly truthful. "Told to Dump Microsoft" makes it sound like it's an order from on high; it's not. It's a recommendation, not a government mandate.

      • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

        by bhalo05 ( 865352 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:57AM (#12475204)

        So whilst there is an argument for using free software to teach, for example, programming, a course which teachs pupils spreadsheets or word processing could, arguably be using the most widespread software.

        Why? They should teach a generic use of a word processor, I doubt the goal it's about becoming an expert in an especific product. Then why should they teach expensive programs that students possibly can not afford to use at home legally or share between them?

      • Re:Good (Score:2, Insightful)

        by ajs318 ( 655362 )

        So whilst there is an argument for using free software to teach, for example, programming, a course which teachs pupils spreadsheets or word processing could, arguably be using the most widespread software.

        Because writer, KWord, Abiword and others all have the typing keys laid out totally different from MS Word, don't they?! And calc, KSpread and Gnumeric not only have the number keys in completely different places from MS Excel, but use different symbols for the common m

      • Re:Good (Score:3, Insightful)

        Your reasoning is probably why this government reccomendation was made. A single school wouldn't want to go out on a limb and put a child in a situation where s/he is the only one who uses OpenOffice. By "encouraging" schools accross the UK to learn OO, these students will grow up together and will be trading .sxw's instead or .doc's.

        I think this works when it's a country wide thing. The other thing we should remember is how corporations have seduced school systems by making systems cheaper *cough* Appl
    • Re:Good (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Biogenesis ( 670772 )
      Exactly, I'm currently at Sydney University and so far I've used Linux in 4 subjects, and Windows in 1. Namely I've been tought C, concurrency in Java and some networking intro stuff (simple signals in MATLAB) on Solaris systems through the IT department, and I did a computational physics unit in MATLAB under RH8 systems (I think they ditched windows and optical mice just so they could get 17" LCDs :D). The only time I've used a windows machine was when learning MATLAB through the engineering faculty, which
    • by dipfan ( 192591 )
      We pay for schools with our Council Tax

      Except we don't quite - only about 25% of UK school funding comes from council tax via local education authorities, and much less than that in some parts of the UK such as Wales (about 15%+). The rest comes from general taxation via central government. But one way or the other the taxpayer ends up sending big cheques to MS, so your point is valid.
  • Chicken or the Egg? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gotpaint32 ( 728082 ) * on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:44AM (#12475097) Journal
    The issue at hand is really a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" question. Though some may argue otherwise, schools exist to educate young people and prepare them for their eventual dilbert-like status in the the cubicle. So if these student all learn linux and open office and who knows what else the schools might be offering instead of M$, then what will they do when their prospective employer asks, do you know how to use word, access, powerpoint, excel, xp, the list goes on. Is this a safe bet, and who should adopt what first.
    • Well, I would hope they would answer "No, but I've got experience with blah, blah and blah." To which a reasonable employer would say "Hey, that's good general computing experience." If the job involved a lot of Microsoft Office, he might add "Can you take an evening course over at $(LOCALCOLLEGE)?

      Yes, I know it's a little naive. :) Still, I got my job without spending a minute in Microsoft Office before.

      • If the job involved a lot of Microsoft Office, he might add "Can you take an evening course over at $(LOCALCOLLEGE)?

        Gee, I wonder if you are on the MS side or the OSS side?
    • OpenOffice, MS Office, AbiWord etc. are all pretty similar, so it should not be too hard to work out how to use another product; even when the students in question have not learned how to use MS Office directly, they have learned how to use a generic office suite, and could probably pick up MS Office in a day or two, if required.

      The chicken and the egg thing doesn't really matter, what matters is that some party is going open source, and more should follow.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      >what will they do when their prospective employer asks

      I'd go for "Are you fucking kidding?"

    • Chicken on face? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:55AM (#12475189)

      I have this exact problem. In school we were only given LUMOCOLOR pens. Now when I look for work and they ask me if I know how to use Blic pens I just break down and cry. I blame my education for my inability to adapt to change. I think schools should do something about this!!

    • by torpor ( 458 )
      Computer competency does not come from learning one app, and one app alone. It does not come from restrictive interface to a single tool.

      Computers are utterly arbitrary machines.. software only works when people agree on the way software should work, and then use it.

      For schools to be shifting focus from Microsft to OSS is a good thing, because it highlights, yet again, the reality of computers, in that they are only as good as the things you use them for.

      I for one welcome our future generations of compu
  • Dupe (Score:2, Informative) &tid=146&tid=109 []

    [insert witty remark about slashdot editors, education and OSS]
  • erm, no it doesn't (Score:5, Informative)

    by REBloomfield ( 550182 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:48AM (#12475128)
    BECTA don't recommend dumping anyone, let alone naming Microsot. They instead recommend that savings can be made by looking towards Free (as in beer) solutions.
  • Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scottme ( 584888 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:51AM (#12475149)
    If the objective is simply to teach kids the basics of how computers work, what an operating system does, and what can be achieved with a word processor, a spreadsheet, or a database program, then OSS is perfectly adequate to the task. Given that Free software can easily at least match the basic capabilities of proprietary non-Free offerings, it is surely pretty obvious that there should be no real need to spend large amounts on licenses for proprietary software.

    However, don't overlook the wider politics of the matter. To some degree, what employers want is a trained workforce (as opposed to an educated one), and in that case it makes lots of sense to train them with the exact same tools they will be expected to use in employment. Which means Windows, MS Office, etc.

    Also, don't forget that it will surely be so much in Microsoft's interest to get those youngsters to equate software with Microsoft that they will provide exceptionally deep discounts to education purchasers - probably as far as giving the stuff away.

    It will take some principled political leadership to enforce an OSS policy on education in UK, and I really can't see much prospect of that coming from the current government.
    • Re:Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Henriok ( 6762 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:55AM (#12475188)
      To some degree, what employers want is a trained workforce (as opposed to an educated one), and in that case it makes lots of sense to train them with the exact same tools they will be expected to use in employment. Which means Windows, MS Office, etc.

      I was taught DOS when I was in elementary school. When I graduated and got a job, what use did I have for my knowledge in DOS?

      This argument you have is absolutely moot since the landscape of operating systems are changeing so fast.
      • Re:Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jawtheshark ( 198669 ) * <slashdot@j a w t h e s h> on Monday May 09, 2005 @06:59AM (#12475620) Homepage Journal
        Now, don't get me wrong: DOS is archaic these days... BUT you learnt what a file is, what a program is, how to manage directories and basic skills on the command line. You might think that this is stupid, but that are basic computing skills that you have (unknownly) transferred to using in other contexts. Let it be Windows, Linux, Mac OS X or any other operating system of your choice that uses files, programs and have a command line.

        Kids these days do not know the difference between a program and a file. Double clicking on a file is "starting the program", they often don't know where exactly on the filesystem they have saved their file, they don't know what a file type is (Text file? That must be Word, right?) and I could rave on. I see this every day, and it is absolutely maddening.

    • Re:Obvious (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mattyrobinson69 ( 751521 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:59AM (#12475216)
      most uk schools now have more than one computer room, if they used an MS room for teaching kids to use MS office, then an OSS room for doing their work. then they're trained to use office and educated on OSS products - if in 15 years, most UK business converted, that could do wonders for our economy.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    UK Schools will be Microsoft dominated for a long, long time to come. Whatever this report says its likely to be wishful thinking. Speaking as someone who has left education in the UK recently, don't get your hopes up.
  • by silence535 ( 101360 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:52AM (#12475161) Homepage
    Lately I was absolutely amazed how much my 14 year old cousin associates 'Windows' with 'Computer' and vice versa. He had absolutely no idea that there even is a company called Apple and that there are other operating systems like Linux or *BSD.

    Computer is PC and PC is Windows.

    This is actually a really bad sign, since one tends to like what you are used to. If you learn on the one OS and get into computers only on this road, than everything else you cross by later will only be 'Not as you know it.'

    We hear that argument ever so often, especially in the context of Office programs. People dislike OpenOffice not because it does not do the job for them, but because ' is not like MS-Office'.

    'In Word I can do this and that...'

    Using MS Products in schools cements their Monopoly in a way that no other marketing campain could achieve.


    • The media furthers this error when they speak in the same way.
    • Computer is PC and PC is Windows.

      Exactly, and it goes much deeper than that. My girlfriend (there goes my slashdot reputation) was absolutely amazed that I had something non-Windows. (I run: Mac OS X, Linux, FreeBSD, OpenBSD and also Windows 2000). Before she knew me she bought a (much too expensive) Windows machine for her needs. She only got trouble with it. She was absolutely amazed at what my iBook could do. Needless to say that she was pretty much pissed that she didn't know about Apple. Why didn't she know? Simple: she schooling she had was Windows-only. Even though some teachers told her to get a Mac, it didn't stick with her. (After all she never saw one before meeting me).
      So when the time came to buy a computer, she looked at the advertisements. The only thing you see there were... you got it: Windows machines. She bought that (and upon the advice of her former boyfriend, she bought the most expensive one that was sold at the time). For the same price she could have gotten a fully loaded Apple. She doesn't need much: she's a kindergarden teacher and has to write the occasional letter to parents and surf the web and email. The machine she had (before buying her new computer) would have been more than adequate with some added RAM. (The old machine now is used by her mom after I added RAM and reinstalled it... It works *just fine*)
      Only after I cleaned her new machine and secured it (which took a lot of time) her machine is now usable. I already tried to convince her to buy a Mac Mini to replace her P-IV machine, but she doesn't want to spend money on new computer hardware anymore. Very understandable.

      As for Microsoft in education. I am an (apprentice-)teacher since january this year. Everything I (have) to teach is 100% Microsoft. The school-programme itself never mentions "Microsoft" per se, but if you read the programme and know what software is installed on the machines, you know exactly what is meant. Up until now, I managed to survive with my own Office 97 copy to prepare courses. Alas, I now have to do databases, which means "Access". I found out the hard way that Access 2003 (what the school runs) is incompatible with Access 97. Today I asked the computer-department to get a copy of Office 2003 in order to upgrade my own machine. (Note: this is completely legal in the context of their contract). It absolutely sucks. Personally I write all my stuff (courses, tests, etc...) in OpenOffice, but course preparation without the software that is run at school is pretty much impossible. I fear that Office 2003 is going to a dog on my P-III 600Mhz laptop that I have dedicated for schoolwork.

      Of course, schooling in this country is completely sold to Microsoft. :-( I'd rather teach the kids the basics, but as I understood, the school programmes are written by asking companies what they want from people that have a certain diploma. The companies obviously want Microsoft, because that will give them people that are nearly immediately productive. It's sad... Perhaps some day this will change, but for now I'm stuck with that kind of mentality.

      Makes me wonder why I actually wanted to become a teacher. :-((

  • by moz25 ( 262020 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @05:55AM (#12475184) Homepage
    I think it's a good move, but only if there is no significant downgrade in terms of quality. Making such a move solely based on monetary or semi-political motivation wouldn't be good. With the current state of OSS software (e.g. OpenOffice), we might be seeing this condition met.
  • by michaeldot ( 751590 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @06:04AM (#12475255)
    Don't schools use a lot of software that runs on top of either of the Windows or Mac platforms?

    Are there OSS equivalents for titles like The Way Things Work, or science lab programs, astronomy simulations, or all those Director based multimedia titles, etc?

    OSS is great at replacing an office suite, email program, graphics editor, etc.

    But are there a lot of OSS educational programs out there, or educators going to rely on web site content?

    Just curious.
  • It's about time! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LinearBob ( 258695 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @06:09AM (#12475293)
    I have been wondering just how long it would be before someone realized that the annual tithe they pay to the folks in Redmond made little sense when the purpose was for students to learn how to use a spreadsheet or a word processor. There are plenty of lower cost or even no cost (as in free beer) versions of these old warhorses. If the basics of page layout and print formatting are the subject at hand, then using MS Word or Office is not the most economical way to go.

    What this really does do, though, is break the lock step routine that has been going on for a while -- the schools teach MS specifics because Business uses MS, while Business says they use MS because that's what new hires know, so the new hires won't waste a lot of time having to learn new tricks.

    I hope to see more of this, because for too long MS has been "locking" students into their way of thinking and of doing things. Bravo for the folks with enough courage to stand up to the MS juggernaut!
  • A special problem in education computing is the need to add and remove user accounts in batch. If you are setting up a Linux based server and you need to add many hundreds of new user accounts to it, I hope you might find this useful: []

    It offers a little free utility called "createusers" that I wrote for adding and removing user accounts en-masse. As well as basic login accounts, createusers optionally also sets up corresponding Apache personal webspace in the home directory, Samba acc
  • by pandrijeczko ( 588093 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @06:20AM (#12475354)
    I have always found it disgusting that some of the taxes I pay for public services find their way into the pockets of private enterprise, financing the huge salaries of CEOs and paying out to shareholders.

    I recognise that sometimes this is unavoidable - for example, hospitals need computers and those computers need to be bought from a PC supplier like, say, Dell. But I would alaways hope that in such a curcumstance, the best deal possible has been negotiated.

    In the case of software in schools, I do not understand why commercial software is purchased when viable free alternatives exist at the level at which they are used in schools - for example, if a schoolkid is being taught how to use a word processor or how to create a spreadsheet, why do they need MS Office when OpenOffice has more than enough functionality for the level they need?

    What's more heartbreaking is the fact that companies like Microsoft suck money out of the system which can instead be put to better use training and paying teachers more, on books, etc.

    No, I'm not blaming Microsoft alone or directly, they're just a business trying to make money after all, but Open Source software can also serve as an example to kids to show them what can be achieved when people put pure financial gain to one side and just work together for the purpose of making something good.

  • Saving Money (Score:4, Informative)

    by 01000011011101000111 ( 868998 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @06:23AM (#12475378)
    I thought I'd reply here to everyone that's currently bashing the idea of using cheaper software in schools as somehow being bad for childrens education.
    IT'S NOT. Schools (in the UK at least) have a very limited budget to spend, which doesn't just cover software - it has to manage teachers (of whom we currently have a shortage due to the abysmal wage they get), school dinners, visits and trips - even things like the bus to school in some places. Now, if this was aimed at the government as some "magic tax-saving measure" (get OSS for schools, save £1-2Bn tax) then I'd be worried. However, as it's aimed at schools, it means that they can free up sizable chunks of their budget to concentrate on other areas (Teachers for instance) - other areas which, in all honesty, probably do more for a childs education than M$ Super-dooper-text-ed-2025++ edition OR Open-tux-GNU-codehacker-6000.
  • Quick, get ballmer on a plane with a 70% discount!
  • by jesterzog ( 189797 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @06:33AM (#12475450) Homepage Journal

    The report may well be perfectly valid, but I'm a little suspicious of it without further information, if only because the main cost normally hyped for Open Source Software tends to be the training cost. (I'll welcome being corrected.) From the article:

    The association analysed costs at 33 schools which use paid-for software, and compared them with 15 which have pioneered the use of free programs, known as open source, and the pared-down hardware to run them.

    It's difficult to judge this because the report hasn't been released and the article isn't very specific. I'd be interested, however, to know what kinds of prior skills the people at the 15 OSS schools had before they began, versus those at the 33 Microsoft schools. For all we know from the article, these 15 schools had the only 15 staff who are at all familiar with open source software in the entire UK education system. This is unlikely, but my intended point is that the actual cost could be dependent on what skills are available to the school within their existing staff.

    If the IT staff at the OSS schools were already confident with installing, configuring and maintaining OSS software, it may be that it was no problem and they could have the low-cost benefits of free software. For all we know, however, the staff at the Microsoft schools might have been regular teachers with more important teaching responsibilities than how to administer the computers. Using Microsoft software would clearly cost more, but what matters is how it'd compare with training all the necessary staff to use OSS.

    Staff at Microsoft schools may have had little or no OSS experience, and almost no hope of successfully setting up or administering an open source system without some serious help from an expert. This would be compared with plugging in a pre-installed Microsoft PC similar to their home PC, and running a few setup programs for various educational software, that is.

    What's the current status of random people being able to randomly install and use open source software in useful ways? Without having had to go through an installation from that point of view for some time, it's hard for me to know.

    Anyway, this isn't to say that the OSS installation and configuration issues couldn't be bypassed in some other way that might still work out to be cheaper. Perhaps it's still not too expensive to simply train people. Alternatively, depending on how serious the curriculum was, an education department might offer a service to configure computers for schools, and perhaps even administer them remotely.

    • From my totally unscientific sample of one school near to my college which I consult for, I can say that school IT managers tend to be some 'knowledgable person' the hire to 'learn on the job'. Schools cannot offer the kind of salarys required to get a professional IT manager in. Hence anyone they get in will either have to learn MS on the job or OSS. Also one might just point out that training is the one thing schools are very good at :).
  • by JimiRoenberg ( 882565 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @06:35AM (#12475462) Homepage
    Why is this Free/Libre Open Source Software discussion always about being against Microsoft or other commercial companies that develop software.

    Try to focus on the principles that are important - it might actually make sense to choose a commercial company to develop the software as long as the software adhere to the principles.

    For example the principles in the bill that Peru introduced on the states use of software. The bill set forward some principles that all suppliers of software must follow: []

    Microsoft of course tried to fight this bill since they don't want to follow these principles, but that's their business descision. The bill does not ban Microsoft or any other supplier for developing and delivering software to Peru.

    It would really be nice if all other countries tried to follow this approach.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 09, 2005 @06:38AM (#12475488)
    my mum is a year 6 primary school teacher. in her class there are 5 computers; 3 with Windows 2k and 2 older machines with SuSE 9.0 (that i installed a month or two ago).

    only one of the windows machines is covered by their office licence, and their other licences for educational software. the other two windows machines were pretty useless until i installed abiword on them.

    the SuSE machines are definately the most popular amongst the kids (aged 10-11); partially due to the selection of games that came with the distro, but mostly because its something new and different. this effect will obviously ware off after a couple of months but it will be interesting to see which machines they favour in the long run.

    The worst that can happen is that they'll know that non-MS operating systems exist.
  • by rufusdufus ( 450462 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @07:10AM (#12475662)
    A lot of people seem to be saying that kids should be taught Microsoft so they wont need to be retrained when then get jobs. This is inflexible old-think espoused by people who really don't understand how computers work.

    It is only people who lack much experience with a diversity of technology who think you need to be trained how to use each specific task keystroke by keystroke.

    Young people who have grown up in a technological enviroment have much more powerful mental paradigms relating to computers. Truly proficient computer users do not need to know specific details about what menu to use or what button to press. They have a higher level understanding of the general design of user interfaces and can jump with little effort from windows to mac to linux to xbox to ps2 to nokia to motorola and so on.

    Increasing exposure to more types of technology is in the end a better education than intensive study on one particular (soon to be obselescent) technology.
  • by el_womble ( 779715 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @07:18AM (#12475693) Homepage

    Genuinely teaching kids how to use information communication technologies and not Microsoft Office is one of my pet peeves. A kid that is taught the fundamentals of GUI and CLI use and is exposed to several different implemetations is going to be significantly better off as with any luck they'll absorb the concept of usage metaphores.

    Rather than teaching a child how to use Outlook to send emails, I'd rather they were taught how emails fit in to their toolkit of applications. When to send an email not a letter, when to send an email not make a phone call, not: Press Start, Program files, Outlook Express compose new email. If nothing else it future proofs their knowledge.

    What kids need is as much exposure to different technologies as is possible and genuine disscusion on when that technology is appropriate, that means using proprietary and OSS solutions.

    The problem here is making sure that the teachers understand this and the curriculum reflects this. The scary thing is even IT professionals don't seem to understand.

  • by MaestroSartori ( 146297 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @07:39AM (#12475794) Homepage
    ...for BECTA teachers, specifically their internet connections. They had no idea whatsoever about computers, or how to use them. I don't think that going from Windows to Linux will necessarily help these people, not without giving them a great deal more training than they got when they were given Windows systems to learn (I believe they got 1 day's worth of Windows tuition).

    It isn't just the quality of the tool, it's how well you can use it. We need to educate the educators more, regardless of which technology they end up using...
  • by GURU Meditation 8000 ( 790934 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @07:48AM (#12475849)
    this article is a dupe of an identical one from last week. anyway. When I was at school we used such computers as commodore PETs, BBC Micro Bs and Masters, Acorns and the occasional spectrum or Dragon32. I didnt use a 'Windows PC' until college (17 years old) and even then its not what folk use these days (being pre Windows 3.11!) and that was only when I couldnt get onto an Acorn Archimedes 3010! what harm did 'not using microsoft' do me? none. I am far more computer literate than someone who has been stuck in front of a Win2k box for 4 years and been taught 'computers'. I think not only ditching microsoft at schools but also ditching x86 PC's is the best way to go. lets get an eductional machine back into the schools. lets allow our children...future generations of the human race..what computers mean and how they work. NOT just to move the mouse to select icons and how to type a basic spreadsheet in. I WROTE a spreadsheet program when I was at school. do children learn that sort of skill now at school?
  • Well.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Monday May 09, 2005 @08:20AM (#12475995) Homepage
    I'm an ICT technician working in Primary Schools within London and Microsoft are not the whole problem here. RM (Research Machines) still hold a virtual monopoly over all-things school, at least in the primary schools arena, and they will supply and support only MS.

    Then you have individual boroughs who will ONLY supply/support RM stuff, so you're fighting a losing battle.

    The borough I work in has no non-MS schools to my knowledge, there are no borough tech's supporting non-MS stuff (in fact, support for any non-RM stuff is almost nonexistent hence my employment). Borough support has been effectively removed for any school which dares go non-RM (I kid you not).

    Schools with even just plain Windows 2000/XP setups are abandoned and have to employ people like me to do silly things like add printers, block websites, fix paper jams, etc. as well as keeping the network going in all weathers.

    Convincing a school in such a borough to go non-RM (and therefore possibly non-MS) means possibly removing any sort of borough support, having to coexist machines (the borough I work for can do finances, classlists etc. **only** via a piece of arcane Windows/DOS software), replacing every piece of software and all their paid-for expensive site licenses with an equivalent via Linux, or getting Wine to work with programs that cause no end of trouble even in Windows-only environments.

    Training of staff/students is a minor matter, despite some posts on here, because most primary school teachers are nowhere near proficient on computers (I've met 2 or 3 across 6 different schools, and that's using a definition of "can install printer on standalone Windows PC by self given instruction manual and driver disks"). Some staff I know have cheat-sheets for almost every action from saving to printing to logging in.

    Change the OS, change the cheat-sheet, the teachers still fumbles along without too many problems. You can actually watch them and see just how quickly they relearn how to work when you go from standalone to networked, PC to laptop, 95/98 to XP/2000. This happens almost every year for a decently-funded school.

    The problem is 90% political, 10% technical. Convincing a school to go against the grain is hard. Cost savings are easily countered by hiring of technicians to replace lost support, previous expenditure on software and licenses. School's have little to no interest in moving to a "unheard-of", non-popular, finnicky, incompatible, new operating system with no "groundbreaking" features for themselves.

    Existing software is pretty much Windows-only, even with Wine, and hardware is very below-par (some schools still have PC's with 233MHz or less). But most hardware is Linux-supported, even down to things like SmartBoards, microscopes, printers etc.

    Teachers know nothing about software compatibility and will expect to be able to pick up Rainbow Fish/Barnaby Bear/Tweenies etc. and just plug it in the network for it to work. This will not happen with Linux. It barely happens with Windows.

    No major educational software distributor that I am aware of supports Linux in any way, shape or form.

    Saying that, I have slipped a Linux machine or two into schools but as kiosk-style machines for things like the Intel QX3 microscopes, exotic printers without XP drivers, etc. but these are expected to run pretty much unattended and unserviced for years and, when they stop working, it's no great loss to throw them away.

    In short, get rid of RM, make boroughs and those higher-up in educational terms learn what an ass RM are making of them, encourage most educational software creators to support Linux, let ICT Co-ordinators/Heads/Governors know that this "Linux" thing exists and THEN try for a push.

"The pathology is to want control, not that you ever get it, because of course you never do." -- Gregory Bateson