A Role Model

What example are our schools giving our children when it comes to copying software? – Ed

Not saying MS is the Virgin Mary on this one, but . . . .

This article points out that Microsoft wants to conduct a software audit of various school districts in Oregon and Washington.

The general tone of the article is “How dare you?”

There’s more than a few lines from the article that shouldn’t be taken the way the speakers want them taken.

In a March letter, the software giant gave Portland Public Schools 60 days to inventory its 25,000 computers. “Which,” said Scott Robinson, the district’s chief technology officer, “is a virtual impossibility.”


“I’m just the chief technology officer. You expect me to know what we have?”

At the busiest time of the year for those districts, Microsoft is demanding that they conduct an internal software audit to “certify licensing compliance.”


Just what are these schools doing between September and March?

Microsoft is well within its rights to call for an audit. Everyone says so. Everyone has read the contract. But school officials in both states are calling the audits “untimely,” “outrageous” and “typical of Microsoft: not very bright.”

The school officers may have a point about “untimely,” but if the company has the right to do this, how can it be outrageous?

“Many also consider the audit requirement a strong-arm tactic to push school districts into Microsoft’s costly system-wide licensing agreements.”


“They’re taking advantage of our lameness.”

“This doesn’t recognize any of the complexities of the educational environment,” Robinson said.


“They’re taking advantage of our lameness.”

“Many of the 25,000 computers in Portland schools were donated and arrive without pedigree or papers.”


What is so hard about this? You get a computer. You find out whether or not you have an OS license. If you do, you put that license away in a place where you can find it again. If you don’t, you make arrangements to get a license.

Imagine the head of a school district saying, “We have 25,000 teachers. It’s ridiculous to expect us to keep track of their licenses or degrees or anything like that.”

Keep that 25,000 figure in mind. We’re going to do a little math with it later.

“For us to try to manage every donated desktop that comes in from a business or an individual is ridiculous.”


“How dare you expect the chief technology officer to manage resources?”

“I have a more simplistic view,” said John Rowlands, director of information services for the Seattle School District: “They just want to squeeze every nickel out of us they can.”

Quite unlike the teacher’s union.

Ah, but wait. Microsoft has an offer it thinks you can’t refuse, if only to avoid the audit: the vaunted Microsoft School Agreement. Under the terms of this agreement, a school or district simply counts its computers and pays Microsoft somewhere in the neighborhood of $42 per machine for one systemwide annual license.


If you’re thinking, “paying $42 a year for a 386 or 486 machine running Windows 3.11 is outrageous,” I would agree (and there’s a couple even more outrageous clauses), but keep that $42 a year amount in mind.

What would it cost Portland Public Schools, which is already facing a $36 million shortfall, to sign that Microsoft School Agreement?

“A rough number? $500,000,” Robinson said, “which translates, roughly, into 10 teaching positions.”


Hmmm, they’re already $36 million in the hole. Maybe they manage the rest of the system about as well as their computers.

But let’s assume this deficit isn’t their fault at all. There seems to be a very simple solution to this deficit. The school district should treat the teachers just like the teachers would treat Microsoft.

All these folks have gotten some money, sometimes plenty of it, from the district. Why are they so greedy?

They just want to squeeze every nickel they can.

$500,000 is roughly 10 teaching positions. It’s probably about 6 administrative positions, a week’s worth of school lunches, the system’s paper budget (forget the cost of the paperwork).

I’d lay dollars to doughnuts Mr. Robinson requested at least $500,000 more for his department the next school year, and it didn’t worry him one little bit how many teacher positions that would have been the equivalent of.

But more importantly, looks like somebody either can’t do math, or he just didn’t like the answer he came up with.

We know the MS license is $42 a year. We know Portland has about 25,000 computers. What’s $42 X 25,000? It sure isn’t $500,000.

I think the gentleman somehow managed to do what he called “ridiculous” and has a very good idea how many undocumented computers he has. It’s as simple as $500,000/$42, and he doesn’t want that little 12,000 computer oversight to come out of his budget and/or hide.

Thus, it’s not surprising that several schools are asking, along with Robinson in Portland, “whether we want to continue with the Microsoft platform.”


Hmmmm. We can’t keep track of software licenses nor pay for them, but converting 25,000 computers over to Linux is no problem at all.

And of course the school district IT people won’t ask for a penny or position extra in their budgets to do this.

If you believe this, you must think fairy stories are documentaries.

The Lessons of This Tale

Whenever you see a story like this, look for the bureaucrats covering their butts.

There is only one difference between not paying the teachers, lunch providers or any other school suppliers and not paying MS. The difference is you’d can’t avoid paying the first group if you want them to keep doing what they do, but you think you can avoid the second.

MS isn’t perfect, or even terribly good, either. Some of the details of that school license seem ridiculous.

Perhaps in the long term, going over to Linux would be a good idea. Then again, it would have been a good idea a year or two ago, too.

Embracing the penguin just before a Microsoft software audit is like a criminal embracing Jesus just before sentencing. One can reasonably question the convert’s sincerity.

This isn’t only a story of mean, greedy Microsoft extorting money from little innocent school districts.

It’s also the story of people not doing their job and shucking and jiving when something hits the fan.

Maybe more important, if the teachers and school staff think it’s OK to stiff Microsoft, is it any surprise their students do, too?

Some of the most important lessons children learn aren’t in any lesson plan.


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