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April 28th, 2015

Microsoft & Education: The Song Remains the Same

It’s the way of The Internet. What was once a raging firefight between two or more factions, is now a topic dead and forgotten somewhere on Slashdot or within other piles of forgotten Internetia. What was once a topic or cause over which to go to war, now only survives as fodder for The Oatmeal or other hip and funny sites. I’m talking about former the-tempests-in-a-teapot for such things as:

#systemd

#Mir

#it_is_GNU/Linux_you_luddite

Well, you get the idea…

It was one of you who first presented this cartoon to me a number of years ago. Along with the attachment was a simple question: “How does it feel to be famous?”

Linux cartoon

“I dunno,” I replied. “I’m still waiting for the limo that isn’t coming to pick me up which will not take me to the private Gulfstream that was not sent for me in order to go to a concert I will never see when Adam Levine does not invite me backstage to hang out with his personal groupies that I will never meet.”

Is that the fame you were asking about? Nuff said. I still drive a 20 year car and buy my jeans at Goodwill. The senior citizen buffet at Golden Corral still beckons me on Wednesdays and WIC milk at the local grocery store suits us just fine. This argument I present does still have its back and forths, but I didn’t have to go online to find it. It was presented to me, live and in person.

Students must have Microsoft Windows and MS Office to prepare for life and livelihood.

One of our hardware donors emailed me and asked if I would come to Austin and pick up a dozen Optiplex 745s with 17 inch monitors and accompanying keyboards. These Dells already had scrubbed drives and had either 4 or 8 GB of RAM, depending on what they were originally assigned to do. I said I most certainly would and arranged a time to be there. This donor has been especially generous to us, and not with just decent hardware. They also present us an annual Christmas cash donation of $1000. On the years they do employee matching, it is more than that — a lot more.

Rick, the tech guy for this company, does all the paperwork and helps me load the equipment into our old Explorer. He’s also a big FOSS supporter. While he was helping me load the computers, he cleared his throat and began a conversation.

“The owners want me to ask you if you are anywhere near transitioning your computer donations to the Microsoft Surface Pro or Windows. Their kids attend a private school and Microsoft donates 140 units a year for their students. He wants to know when your organization can confirm that you will begin getting Reglue recipients switched over to these devices.”

I watched him for a long five seconds to see if I could see a “Gotcha!” moment coming. Unfortunately, that was not going to happen. He could see me struggling with a response so he beat me to it and he held up his hand in a “hold on a minute” gesture.

“Yeah, I know…I know. But These folks live in their ivory towers. All they know is that their private schools are using them so all students should have the same opportunity. If the schools says they have to have Windows devices to prepare for life, then they get Windows devices. They can reduce the clutter and environmental footprint and at the same time, have a superior learning experience. I know that’s not going to work for you, but my bosses want me to tell you that they will consider to continue supporting your efforts if you agree to use the annual cash donation and matching funds for Microsoft Surface devices or laptops.”

I didn’t want to open my mouth because I knew nothing but yammering and stammering would come out. These people’s donations not only represent more than 10 percent of our annual budget, but because of them we can place, at the bare minimum, 30 computers a year into the homes of kids who need them.

Microsoft worldFinally, I gathered enough composure to respond. “Rick, you know I won’t do that, right?”

He nodded his head in affirmation. “Is that what you want me to tell them?”

I shook my head no. “Just tell them I have to gather my directors and talk about this. Did they say when they needed an answer?”

“I got the impression they need to know today,” he answered.

We both shrugged and began the goodbye handshake ritual to formalize that we were done talking and would be going our own ways. I had a knot in my stomach when I pulled away from the loading dock. This is a loss I never saw coming and hoped would never happen.

There’s no way in Helena that I’m going to agree to that. It makes me a bit sad to think that a company with their level of success could be so blind to the needs of the kids growing into the next generation. And for those of you who say, “Pfft…spend their money on MicroGarbage and continue with business as usual…”

Well, yes…that’s probably a good idea and it would solve the immediate problem, but since you brought it up: will it be you who supports those computers for three years? When virus or malware makes them less than paperweights…are you going to support those machines. I didn’t think so.

I’m going to be drafting my response letter to them this coming week. I’m going to explain that I will not spend their donation dollars on any Microsoft powered devices and I will tell them why.

I don’t expect to hear back from them. We’ll simply try to route around that damage and continue.

The following two tabs change content below.
Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project, which refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area. Follow him on Twitter @Reglue

40 comments to Microsoft & Education: The Song Remains the Same

  • Wow, that is amazingly weird. Wouldn’t it be less computers for the kids if windows software is involved? I mean sure, they could all invest in MSoffice and such on their own, but it feels like they want you to pay for those license with the donation money you get.

    sad story, hope it turns out in the FOSS favor .. Good Luck.

  • Mike

    Ken,

    It’s obvious they are laboring under the (very mistaken) assumption that Windows and Surface devices would be better for children. That’s because the world of Microsoft is the only world these people know. This is an opportunity to explain that what you are providing is superior. Maybe they will understand, maybe not, but it’s worth the try.

  • Timon19

    Wow.

    I hope you’ve got the ability to write a good, persuasive letter without burning bridges. I’d have a tough time not letting some choice sarcasm burn through somewhere.

    I think your best arguments are cost of ownership/licensing, and supportability. They’re simply going to be paying more (much more) in the long run for almost no added value (perhaps even negative value).

    If there was an opportunity to have them present their arguments directly, rather than through their tech guy, maybe you could fashion a more convincing argument tailored to their fears and perceived wants.

    Good luck, and I hope you can convince them at least partially otherwise.

  • I agree that these people are unaware of the true nature of what you are doing.

    If I understand correctly, the kids you support probably can’t afford Windows product in the long run, if at all. It’s well established the Windows OS is constantly under attack from all kinds viruses of malware and is exploitable. My nephew works in a computer shop here in town. The bulk of their business are infected Windows devices. They pretty much see the same computers over and over again. Even if you aren’t dealing with viruses and malware, you’ll eventually deal with registry issues or defragging the drive. So if the owner of the Windows computer isn’t tech savvy, they’ll need to pop for computer maintenance and repair besides the licensing.

    And finally, you’re taking cast-off computers and putting them to good use. People who are victims of the “digital divide” are getting a chance to experience the benefits of the internet and learning about computers and relevant software.

    And one last detail. If Linux and open source weren’t viable, why is Redhat doing so well? (I should’ve held on to their stock longer.) And why is there an increasing demand for people with Linux and open source skills?

    I hope these people will realize they’ve been doing something wonderful by supporting Reglue. Why stop doing that when someone (with a vested interest in a large corporation’s profit margins) says people need to know MS Office products in order to meet business skill requirements.

    Sorry. You already know all this. I just had to vent.

    Good luck, Ken. I hope they change their minds.

  • Mike

    > “people need to know MS Office products in order to meet business skill requirements”

    …this is one of the biggest lies in education. It is a huge disservice to students, who would be better served by learning what a computer can do when it is under your control, instead of beholden to some corporate agenda.

    Learning MS Office is a waste of time and resources better spent elsewhere.

  • Uncle Ed

    >>I’m going to explain that I will not spend their
    >>donation dollars on any Microsoft powered devices
    >>and I will tell them why.

    One of the “why” issues is that their annual $1000 donation wouldn’t pay for honest and honorable Windows and Office licenses for all twelve computers they donated.

    >> They can reduce the clutter and environmental footprint…

    I sure don’t get that one. How does putting Windows on a computer do that? We can ignore the rest of the sentence for the moment.

    Let’s recognize we don’t want to (perturb) these people off. When they get Ken’s letter, they might shrug their shoulders, call him a kook–but a nice kook with a good heart, and continue their donations.

  • Yeah, Mike, that ALWAYS gets me angry. I supported one of the big divisions of DuPont for 10+ years. Besides updating their web site, I fixed all their PPT, Word, and Excel docs. Their engineers did their best, but I was the one who made the documents look good and made them work as expected. I did ALL of that work using OpenOffice on Linux.

  • Jim

    Around 2000 I was working as IT support with a large suburban school district in New York. I worked closely with the Director of Technology because i serviced the admin building as well as some other school buildings. She held the belief that kids needed to know Office for work opportunities. I had been using OpenOffice.org since 0.68 (I think that was the version).

    I proposed that wouldn’t it be better for students to learn the general navigation and use principles behind office and other software rather than just training kids to use one particular product. She insisted that it was necessary to learn Office because that’s what they would use when they start working. I felt vindicated when Office 2007 came out and used a completely different interface paradigm that Office 2000/XP/2003. All the training on previous versions of Office were for naught when the new, confusing interface came out. Microsoft continues to modify the interface with each new version of Office. Likewise, what good was training on Windows NT4, XP when Windows Vista came out, and now Windows 8?

    My point is that educators should recognize the value of learning as opposed to training. We should be teaching our kids computer concepts so that as technology changes they are capable of moving with the change. Maybe things are better now that kids are used to tablets and mobile phones, and not ties to one particular way of doing things. Tying kids to only one manufactures technology makes no sense, especially today, and especially when Microsoft is once again changing its Windows interface in Windows 10.

    Did i mention that I did PC support for this school district? I did, so you can guess how much time I spent cleaning up viruses and repairing crashed Windows computers, as well as the damage the kids inflicted on those machines.

    I’m a big believer in the Penn Manor way of doing things: Let the kids take ownership of their computers. Let them explore them and show them how they work. Give the kids the responsibility to fix them when they break or are damaged by other students. Those Penn manor students are more more equipped to live in a technological world than some rich private school kid that learned Office on a Surface Pro, and they’ve learned lessons of responsibility too.

  • seatex

    Ken,

    I would simply point them towards a few articles regarding all the demand for Linux talent in the corporate IT world currently.

    And what if they go to work for a company using Macs as well?

  • Uncle Ed

    Jim, you left out a detail in the support area–the moving target. Years ago, when I was at the university, somebody got a buzzword/acronym, MCSE. Why don’t we have a program so people can get an MCSE while they’re in school? The vice president over my area called a meeting of 15-20 of people and the outcome was that I was to organize an effort to create the program. Oh, and it should also give the student a Minor in Computer Science or something.

    To cut to the chase, we spent a lot of people-hours gathering information, only to get the word after a while from MS that the MCSE we were preparing for would be discontinued at year’s end. The replacement wasn’t ready and wouldn’t be for a while. And the exam format would be changed, too. Oh, well. Didn’t get to add that to my list of career enhancing efforts.

  • archuser

    I would love to get my hands on a MS Surface , i use citrix to connect to my office and it works well only on MS Windows and security applications that scan my computer before allowing me to connect to my office network are only compatible with MS IE.

  • Mike

    >> They can reduce the clutter and environmental footprint…

    > I sure don’t get that one. How does putting Windows on a computer do that?

    @Uncle Ed – I think he meant they could reduce clutter by giving away old machines, not specifically by putting Windows on them.

  • Um. What? OK. So. They want you to purchase Surface Devices?

    Wow. – OK. How about a compromise, why not use Android Devices that can support the Android version of Office is a soul wishes to go down that sad road?

    And, it’s not really a donation if they want the money allocated to a specific item, is it?

  • amenditman

    Wow, purchase Surface Pros and Microsoft Windows/Office licensing with a generous $1000 donation.

    Won’t get very far that way.

    Not to mention all the very good points above.

    Ken, I hope you can pull this off. But if you can’t, you are better off sticking to your principles than succumbing to this sick-minded extortion.

  • anon

    Just do the hard numbers: $1000 gets X PCs, or 1 Surface tablet.
    Then remind them that this project isn’t about creating a privileged few but enabling the many underprivileged.

  • Mike

    @anon

    It’s good to keep in mind that Surface tablet can’t do 10% of what a cheap Linux PC can, either.

  • CFWhitman

    My initial thought is that you shouldn’t have to make it about what’s actually “best” for the kids (though we as IT people are probably going to think that learning how things work rather than how to run a particular program is what’s best). You could make it about how you can do the most good for the kids.

    You can certainly make money and equipment go further doing things they way you’ve done them. Surfaces cost more money and are less repairable than the units you have been distributing. Old equipment that is donated and perfectly acceptable for the software stack you are using may not all be viable for a Windows software stack. It takes much more time and effort to support Windows computers long term than to support the Linux software stack that you use now.

    Because of these factors you can help a lot more kids the way you do things than by switching to trying to put Surfaces in the hands of as many kids as you can. What money this company might donate will not be nearly enough to make up the difference.

    Of course, because of these things there is also the matter that your entire organization is geared to do what you’ve been doing, and you’re not really set up to do what they are asking. It may be great to buy Surfaces for kids who couldn’t otherwise afford them, but it’s not what your organization does, and doing that would require a fundamental change in your entire organization.

  • CFWhitman

    It occurs to me that Surfaces or laptops are also a much more enticing target for being stolen (or more likely to be lost for that matter) if that is a concern regarding the kids you provide computers for.

  • Jim

    @archuser

    You don’t need Windows to run a Citrix client. Here’s a link to to the archwiki on installing and setting up the client on Arch:

    https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Citrix

  • Jim

    @ Uncle Ed

    I had the same experience years ago when I decided to upgrade my XP MCP cert to a Windows 7 MCSA. I bought the manuals and started studying only to find out Microsoft was dropping the cert and changing everything around again!

    This experience also touches on my point of training vs. learning: Microsoft manuals teach you how to press the right buttons and check the right boxes, but there’s very little about how Windows actually works. Linux learning materials, on the other hand, teach you about OS fundamentals that carry over to different distros and that you can use as building blocks to resolve real-world problems because you understand how the underlying OS works.

  • A. Penquine

    Ken- You’ve done so much good. Would you consider the following in your letter: the computer you’re providing is just a conduit (like a chromebook) to the internet, where schools and individuals can access all the cloud versions of Ms office et Al that people could ever want. Microsoft wants everyone to move to the cloud anyway, and windows 10 is tantamount to freeware now anyway. Good luck, AP

  • archuser

    @Jim Real pain to install citrix receiver on 64bit Linux , until fossforce does something to Citrix to force them to release a purely 64bit version , current version though 64bit requires hell a lot of 32bit dependencies also does not work well on linux.

  • archuser

    I am planning to buy a laptop that works good on linux but hardly find any that work out of the box without tinkering too much, still leaves a lot to be desired, also battery usage is high compared to windows.

  • archuser

    As an alternative to laptop, i thought let me try a NUC with intel but faced so many issues with linux using latest kernel ,had to return it back.

  • Mike

    archuser said “until fossforce does something to Citrix to force them to release a purely 64bit version”

    I’m not sure you understand what fossforce is, or how FOSS software works.

    archuser also said “I am planning to buy a laptop that works good on linux but hardly find any that work out of the box without tinkering too much”

    Funny, I put Linux on laptops all the time, including MacBooks, Chromebooks, Dell, IBM, and others with no problems. Looks like PEBCAK to me.

  • archuser,

    I’ve had the same experience as Mike; ie, successfully installed Linux on a variety of laptops/computers.

    Which distro are you trying to install? Arch, I assume.

  • Timon19

    archuser is a troll. I’d ignore him.

  • Uncle Ed

    One more vote for Linux on laptops. Right now I have some flavor of Mint on at least three brands of laptops. I got a Lenovo ThinkPad (used, of course) as a perk for a Reglue donation and my wife took it. So I made another donation and got another one. They’re readily available on eBay and occasionally at other sellers.

    I’ve bought three or four ThinkPads on eBay for various people or purposes and don’t think I’ve ever had anything that Mint’s hardware detector didn’t find on the first try. Remember the fans and hard drive are pretty much the only mechanical parts of a computer. Other than physical damage or burning up the display after a LONG time of bright use, if it’s been running 2-3-4 years, the rest of the computer is apt to still be running for a long time.

  • Randal

    Too bad you never seem to post much on your blog anymore. This would be a good story, with a reminder of what and why you do what you do, with all the points mentioned above, as well as other examples (like MS releasing .net tools for Linux/etc where they are trying to “embrace” Linux).

  • Jim

    For those that haven’t seen the TEDx talk here’s a link to Charlie Reisinger, IT Director for Penn Manor School District in Lancaster County, PA:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8Co37GO2Fc

    Penn Manor is a perfect example of why there needs to be more Linux in schools and less proprietary garbage and old thinking.

    PS – Keep up the great work, Ken!

  • Uncle Ed

    @Randall I think a person still recovering from having most of his throat removed might get a little while on light duty. However, if you’re referring to his G+ page, there have been several entries in the last little while and one today even was about the Microsoft tools.

  • @Jim — Thanks for the TEDx link. What a great talk and a very compelling, real-world example of what FOSS can do.

  • […] Microsoft & Education: The Song Remains the Same by Ken Starks | posted on April 28, 2015 […]

  • Sum Yung Gai

    Ken,

    This is “Sum Yung Gai”. I’ve helped you out before in the past. You need computers with no strings attached? Contact me.

    Yes, I’m serious.

    –SYG

  • John Morris

    Cheer up, you got this if you keep the mental frame. First off, remember who is doing who the favor. If you don’t take their cast off hardware they have to pay to have it disposed as e-waste now. So be positive. 🙂

    All you need do is lay out the numbers and let them decide. Explain how expensive it would be to deliver Windows. The license fee for Windows and Office, the hardware upgrade costs, the anti-virus/anti-malware subscription and most of be sure to lay out that most of the expense is long term support which would be multiple times what it is now. So lay it all out, show what it would cost to begin handing out the full Windows experience on the donated hardware and another page showing how much it would cost to begin giving the kids brand spanking new Surfaces. But don’t phrase it as an excuse for not doing it, lay it out as a serious funding proposal. Agree with them that you would really like to do what they suggest and you are oh so glad they sound like they want to take their involvement up into this new level.

    Now they might call the bluff and write you a big enough check to hire in a couple full time equivalents and establish a first name relationship with a Microsoft Licensing partner…. sucks to be you I guess if that actually happens. But if they are currently only donating a K or so, it is a fairly safe bet they drop the subject. 🙂

  • Douglas Jenkins

    @John Morris THANK YOU for your response!

  • Douglas Jenkins

    @John Morris THANK YOU for your response!

  • Eddie G.

    I cannot think of anytime in history where a company “dictated” what its DONATION money should be used for! Isn’t that some how against the LAW!?…(embezzlement?…coercion….misappropriation of funds?…SOMETHING!!) How dare they tell you what to do with monies they’ve donated! What happens with that money or with ANYTHING someone donates to your organization is YOUR decision to make…(or you and the directors!!) As much as their bucks help, it’s obvious their mindset been tainted by Microsoft, (which it appears seems to sully everything they come into contact with!…MS going Open Source?…or embracing the Linux community?..NO THANKS!) You’re a better man than me Ken, for I’d tell ’em in a heartbeat where they could ahem “place their donations”! Hope you can finesse a better response from them with your letter! I also hope everything works out for you!

    Cheers!

    EGO II

  • […] of you may recall that two weeks ago I was lamenting our loss at Reglue of a valuable hardware donation source. The computers donated by this firm were a bit older, but we […]