Home > Desktop User > America’s Schools: Held Hostage by Microsoft

America’s Schools: Held Hostage by Microsoft

Schools in America are held hostage by Microsoft and are being choked one school at a time. We have allowed Microsoft and our State and Federal governments to force us into financing cycles that schools cannot afford.

I have lived in Montana most of my life and worked with schools to get technology funding for 14 years now. The districts I work with use Linux on 75% of the Desktops and all of the servers. I have pushed Open Source applications and operating systems in schools for a long time and there is some progress. However, Microsoft has a serious choke hold on schools. Here is how the choke works.

1. Unlicensed Software Installs
One way schools get in trouble is when they feel they do not have enough money so instead of purchasing licenses they install more products without the proper license. To Microsoft, this is piracy and theft. I agree with Microsoft here, if they have a product and a price you either pay or do something else. I am amazed when I hear schools that steal software from Microsoft but then tell kids there are rules and ethics that they must follow. Schools that cheat on licenses are placing themselves at the mercy of Microsoft.

2. Software Updates
Software purchases must always be made with the recognition and the funding that the software must be updated both in terms of license and hardware. Here is how this works. A school gets a grant for technology and purchases Library software in year one. Not only must the school continue to purchase Library software updates each year, they must also purchase the Microsoft license that allows you to run the software. Oh…and also you must purchase the hardware that runs the software for Microsoft. This is called the Domino effect…one purchase forces the next purchase and schools are locked into these scenarios where they cannot get out. Microsoft controls the software, the cycle and the cost of schools teaching students.

3. State and Federal Requirements
One of the most damaging trends for schools in America is the demand that they purchase Microsoft products in order to report to Federal and State authorities. The State of Montana requires that you provide information from the school to an online sources for the state.  The Office of Public Instruction says that they are creating an online interface for schools that is easy to use and will facilitate all operating systems.  Well,only if your operating system is Windows (at least Windows 2000) and Internet Explorer 6-7. If you use Linux you cannot report to the state.

Schools and Libraries is a site used by the Federal government to provides funding so schools can get Internet access and help with technology. However, you cannot apply for this Federal funding, provided especially for poor schools, unless you have Internet Explorer 6-7.

What is worse is that each year the requirements for school reporting are tied to State and Federal funding outside of technology and the technical requirements to make those reports is tied to the updated versions of Windows and Word or Excel. I talk with people involved in schools in Europe on a weekly basis and they always talk about the freedom that the government allows in terms of which operating system and applications are used in schools.

What’s up with the U.S.? Why are schools locked into these strangle holds?

Long live Open Source!

  1. Max
    October 14, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    Where does it say that IE6-7 is required, and what happens otherwise? I checked the site, and I couldn’t seem to find where it mentioned that. Does the browser page use ActiveX or something that makes it incompatible with Free Software browsers?

    If what you say is true, though, this would be a huge problem. It is kind of hard to believe that the US government would REQUIRE Windows and IE.

  2. October 14, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    Part of the problem is that the rule-makers are ignorant of the burden they impose upon the schools and the whole school system by ignoring in whole or in part the value Free and Open Source Software can provide. The other part of the problem is that Microsoft is only too happy to cheer on, and even start schools and school projects down that long, expensive road. Richard Stallman recently compared teaching kids in schools using machines running Windows to addicting the kids to crack. Once they start that way, you can only go deeper and either pirate software or cough up lots of money.

    To be sure, there is software written to run on GNU/Linux that is proprietary and you pay to use it. This is as it should be. However, if there is a secure, efficient, stable system that is available at little or no charge at all(this same system is used by major corporations and government offices), then why isn’t exploration of using this in our school systems being explored more forcefully?

    I agree with the basis of this post, our schools are in a very real way held hostage by Microsoft, and I would like to get someone in a position of authority to say why this is so.

  3. October 14, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    Both sites mentioned in the article require scripting that is only possible with Microsoft Browsers. Though I contacted both sites and complained for the last 4 years it only has gotten worse. In fact, I completed a report with the US Accounting Office reporting the problem but received no response. I have talked with the tech people in both of these sites and they are aware of the issues but still require IE 6-7.

  4. Ed Landaveri
    October 14, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    I agree completely! Schools can’t afford no longer being held hostages by Microsoft with the Federal and States Governments approval. Besides being overwhelmed by lobbyists there is also the apathy of some school districts that permit this to happen. I work in a school district and I’ve been running FOSS exclusively for over six years and I see my supervisors that are thinking of dumping GroupWise for MS Exchange, without even considering better open source alternatives for our district email. We also run a failed attempt to migrate our mainframe to an proprietary Pearson attendance system that clog the servers continually and finally they gave up. Now they’re going with another proprietary solution that runs on MS Access and .NET. It seems that IT departments have no will to give a try to open source alternatives or not the guts to do it!

  5. Mark Eackloff
    October 16, 2008 at 1:26 am

    Comment number 3 says no response was received to a complaint sent to the US Accounting Office. The reason may be that there is no such government agency.

  6. October 16, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Here is a link to the US GAO which audits the practices of the US Government. This is the organization mentioned in Comment #3.


  7. Peter
    October 16, 2008 at 10:10 am

    If you want to use a website that requires IE6 and are running Linux, try doing a Google search for IEs4Linux. It requires Wine and some work, but allows you to run IE6 under Linux and *may* solve your compatibility problem with those state and federal websites…

  8. October 16, 2008 at 11:24 am

    From a state/federal funded non-profit techie:

    We have used Macs for about 20 years or so, for those reports that use Excel spreadsheets with Active-X controls and IE only sites, we have a couple Windows Laptops around to do the reports (they get turned on once or twice a month at most).

    Also when discovering a limitation of a site or report, making sure to let them know you are not a Windows user is something you must do. If you have technical staff let them offer suggestions to remedy the problem, (“this feature of site X is all that needs to be adjusted…”) even if they don’t do anything now they will get an understanding that they could in the future support multiple platforms.

    To be sure, there is software written to run on GNU/Linux that is proprietary and you pay to use it. This is as it should be. However, if there is a secure, efficient, stable system that is available at little or no charge at all(this same system is used by major corporations and government offices), then why isn’t exploration of using this in our school systems being explored more forcefully?

    The common thing I hear is there are no Linux guys to support it, while there are a ton of MS guys out there. We’ve been through many many MS guys, either not that bright, are too bright and leave for another job instantly (without notice), or are so overloaded that they have a hard time keeping things maintained. Lot of hiring and even more money spent for essentially the same situation.

  9. Roni Oliva
    October 16, 2008 at 11:51 am

    I have worked in community colleges and even they are tied into the M$ cycle.

    I also see the commenter Peter may have missed the point in the article, now he is suggesting that we use Wine, Ie4linux to get reports to the state and federal agencies.

    The simpler approach is for the state and federal governments change their state of mind and allow ALL browsers to work and not just IE.

  10. October 16, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    I have been engaged in a running gun battle with the Austin Independent School District for two years over this issue. All I wanted to know as a taxpayer was how much money out of the school budget was being spent on Microsoft products. Man, you would have thought I’d have asked them for one of their lungs. They dug in their heels and when I finally invoked the Freedom of Information Act of 1974, they agreed to release me the information.

    After I paid them 2000 dollars US to cover “administrative costs”.

    You’re not only fighting MS…you are fighting high level tech support personnel (often MCSE’s), teachers who are told to use MS products by the NEA due to huge donations from MS and Ignorant administrators who think its actually illegal to take MS Windows off their computers. These are PhD’s by the way…

    The battle has been uphill…thank you for giving me another weapon in which to fight it.


  11. yonnie
    October 16, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    You obviously don’t get it! The US government is broken, has been for a long time. It’s going to only get more broken until the current recession/depression forces the butt-heads to drop dead.

  12. Bo
    October 17, 2008 at 10:26 am

    We have the same problem here in Virginia. We use a third party application for students to take there standardized testing called TestNav. This application will only work on windows because of the IE requirement. This app is used throughout the state. I asked the company who makes the testnav app if they could port it to linux a few years ago. The stated there was just not enough interest throughout the state. Talk about a monopoly!!!! So we are kinda forced to having windows at our desktop clients.

  13. Bob
    October 17, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Many jurisdictions have boilerplate provisions in their bylaws/charter/etc., that prohibit doing business with convicted monopolists without a 2/3 majority approval. Has anyone tried checking to see if they could hold their school board to this?

  14. Paul
    October 17, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Comment #9 suggests using IE4Linux which creates a licensing problem.

    “Microsoft Corporation (or based on where you live, one of its affiliates) licenses this supplement to you. You may use a copy of this supplement with each validly licensed copy of Microsoft Windows XP SP2 and Windows Server 2003 SP1 software (the “software”). You may not use the supplement if you do not have a license for the software.”

    I don’t know about you, but I am not interested in $250,000 and 5 years in jail!

  15. Mark Eackloff
    February 17, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Comment #8 provides a link to The U.S. Government Accountability Office, not the U.S. Accounting Office. The complaints sent to the U.S. Accounting Office mentioned in comment #3 most likely went to NSA (No Such Agency).

  1. October 14, 2008 at 10:49 pm
  2. October 15, 2008 at 5:53 am
  3. October 22, 2008 at 2:08 pm

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