Microsoft puts the squeeze on NW schools

Update:

Microsoft has found it in its frozen heart to grant our school district a reprieve until January. Also, check the Slashdot thread.

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In a technically legal but still outrageous move, Microsoft “randomly” audits the nine largest school districts in Oregon.

The schools must audit 25,000 PCs in 90 days. If they can’t find the staff, Microsoft will thoughtfully send some people free of charge–unless they find one computer out of compliance. Then the district has to pony up.

There is a blanket licensing agreement available where the district counts computers and pays about $42 each. The catch? They have to count all computers–not just PCs. The cost adds up to about ten teaching positions.

The solution? Local Linux user groups are scrambling to help. It is my sincere hope that MS has made a fatal error.

17 Responses to Microsoft puts the squeeze on NW schools

  1. kelly says:

    10 teaching postions equals roughly $500,000+. What would Microsoft gain financially by catching
    these schools districts with unauthorized computors? I thought Bill Gates and CO were supposed to be very pro education? With declining state revenues, now does not seem like the time to put extra expenses on these districts. not the time to set an example.

  2. Cat says:

    No kidding. Perhaps MS is feeling the crunch of the recession, and is grasping for cash wherever they think they can get it.

    In any case, I seriously hope they’ve shot themselves in the foot. This and all the sneaky crap on XP finally made up my mind–I’ll never buy another PC. My next machine will either be a stripped box that I’ll run with Linux, or (more likely) a Mac. I’m done with these assholes.

  3. Paul says:

    You go, Cat.

  4. jr says:

    But I *like* XP…

    *cries crocodile tears*

  5. Sen says:

    *bites jr*

    Muahahahahaha! Now you will turn into a Mac user with every full moon!

    *ahem*

    Seriously, I hope kitty’s right and Microsuck are gasping for cash, which has led them into a fatal error. If Apple and the various purveyors of Linux have any sense at all, they will hustle Redmond right out of the education market (and the I-used-these-at-school market) on the strength of this. (Wanna bet Apple won’t manage it though? They need to HALVE the price of those eMacs.)

  6. jr says:

    Hey, if I could afford a Mac suite, believe me, I’d be a super ultra happy happy joy filled booze nobber. Or something. But Mac’s are simply too pricey for me.

    *cries some more crocodile tears*

  7. This won’t kill Microsoft; they’ve made far worse blunders. (Remember when they let a little upstart called Netscape almost own the Web? Any other company would have been doomed to be an also-ran after that.)

    The real blunder is on the part of the school districts. Since they haven’t accepted Microsoft’s offer to pay for the audit if no unlicensed software is found, at the very least they know they don’t have policies and procedures in place to keep unlicensed software from being installed. And at worst, they know that they do in fact have some unlicensed software on their machines. Whoever’s setting IT policy for these districts is incompetent and should be fired. No corporation of similar size would leave itself open to that kind of liability.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Why should schools be exempt from the law?

  9. Cat says:

    Much of the hardware to schools is donated. It often comes with software already loaded on. This software is perfectly legal and paid for–but the license documentation doesn’t necessarily go with. We do this here–we donate hardware, but we can’t possibly sort out the software licenses. Keeping licenses in order is hard, especially with the turnover school districts experience in IT staff. Additionally, many of our licenses are bulk–how can we give the school district a 50 user license that we need when we’re donating 10 PCs? There are a billion reasons why their documentation would be out of order, and illegal software doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it.

    The point is, Microsoft aimed. They claim the audits are random, yet the largest school districts in Oregon and Washington were targeted during their busiest time. Yes, it was foolish of the school districts to take on any MS software in the first place, but they are vastly understaffed and underfunded, and take what they can get.

    No, this certainly won’t send MS under. I wouldn’t expect it to. My greatest hope is that the schools switch to Linux, taking away a large source of MS indoctrination.

  10. Sen says:

    Why should schools be exempt from the law?

    Snuh? The point of the laws that MS is working here is to prevent anyone making money from MS products without paying MS for a licence/authorised copy. Since when were schools about making a profit?

    No, this certainly won’t send MS under.

    I can dream, can’t I?

    Whoever’s setting IT policy for these districts is incompetent and should be fired.

    Jerry, I think that’s a bit harsh: of course they can be certain they have some illegal stuff, there’s no way to keep it off that many independent machines. The only way to avoid this liability would have been to avoid MS products in the first place. Since Macs cost more, that means Linux — and I’d hate to be the poor schmoe trying to get a gummint department to switch to an open source OS. “We can’t rely on those, those hippies!” Like Cat, I hope this latest MS assholery finally convinces the beancounters to give Linux a go.

  11. Of course it’s possible to make sure all the software on a machine is legal. You use Win2K, you configure it so that only administrator accounts can install software (i.e. no users installing their own stuff), and then your IT staff simply doesn’t install any software they don’t have a license for. And then they keep documentation of all the licenses in a big file cabinet with a folder for each computer. It’s not rocket science, really; pretty much any sizable company does this. Certainly a school district should have license compliance policies and procedures in place.

    By the way, profit has nothing to do with anything when it comes to copyright law. There is no automatic exemption for non-profit use. (There is a “fair use” provision that allows portions of copyrighted works to be used for education or criticism, but this is not a free pass to make copies of complete copyrighted works just because you’re a school.)

  12. Cat says:

    Jerry–

    I get the distinct sense you’ve never tried to manage several thousand computers. Trust me, it isn’t as easy as you seem to think. It’s only simple in concept, especially when you’re understaffed. I have to deal with this every day, and we only have a little over a hundred computers. It’s madness–especially playing catch-up from previous managers.

  13. Dave A says:

    Of course it’s possible to make sure all the software on a machine is legal. You use Win2K

    Maybe you’ve missed one of the big points here: a lot of the computers in the schools are donated without the corresponding license documentation. Most probably aren’t running Win2000. It costs a lot of money to upgrade, and if Win98 or 95 is providing good enough capability, the schools can’t really justify the cost of the upgrade.

    Not to mention that running 2000, however well locked down, is not an easy solution either. At the university where I work, it’s a constant struggle for the computer lab staff to keep the machines running and in good shape. They rebuild the systems every week (luckily, we can afford an MS site license and ghosting software).

    Corporations don’t have to deal with systems that each are used by tens of people each day like one has in school computer labs. They also don’t have to deal with thousands of computers spread across dozens of small facilities spread throughout a metro area.

  14. Of course the difficulty of managing computer stuff is increased by lack of staffing. The solution is not to have enough staff for 100 computers trying to support 200, but to have only as many computers as you can actually support. If understaffing is the problem, either increase the staffing or take some of the computers out of service. Incompetent budgeting does not justify piracy any more than incompetent system administration does.

    Buying licenses here and there to go with donated computers is a lot cheaper than being forced to buy a site license because you can’t prove all your computers have licenses. If you can’t do this, insist on receiving license documentation for every computer you accept, and if you don’t get it, don’t accept the hardware. Simple as that.

    School districts seem to think they should be cut extra slack because, hey, they’re schools, and you’re supposed to be nice to schools because it’s for the children. No, they need to have their ducks in a row as much as any business. More so, in fact, since their behavior is constantly in the spotlight. What kind of moral authority can a teacher wield when his students know that he routinely steals software?

  15. Cat says:

    Jerry: no one has stolen anything. Just because the paperwork isn’t in order doesn’t mean anything is illegal. Yeesh.

    And, sorry guy, but you’re living in a fantasy as far as managing a large computer network. Real life just doesn’t work that way, and it probably never will.

    Schools shouldn’t be cut more slack, but they sure as hell shouldn’t be targeted in this manner. No one should. Why MS would want to cripple our largest districts all at once is a question for someone else, but that is certainly what it looks like.

  16. Sen says:

    Simple as that.

    I really don’t think it is so simple. We’re talking about schools: they are nearly always understaffed and underfunded, and the incompetence that leads to that situation is a long way up the food chain from the people doing the actual work. A teacher is not going to turn down a much-needed tool just because some piece of paper that may or may not prove useful in the future doesn’t come with it. As for locking the system, that’s a red rag to a bull where teenage computer geeks are concerned. Not to mention that IT staff all over the district WILL be installing illegal software, either for their own nefarious purposes or to help get some teaching done. I honestly think that if you are the administrator of a large number of machines, it is not possible to keep illegal software off all of them. I don’t care if you do an audit and fire everyone who has ever loaded a dodgy program; within a week a second audit will find more. It’s the way people are.

    I’m not trying to argue that stealing software is morally right, but from a school administrator’s point of view the choices are pony up for a site licence or rely on the unspoken agreement that companies won’t audit public research/education institutions aggressively (largely because doing so is a PR disaster). It’s a crappy choice, but whatcha gonna do?