When Microsoft get tired of battling the big issues, they turn their spotty
hands to a little bit of petty bulling against the weak and helpless, in
this case, the US school system.
Read, and be totally unsurprised!
- CiH -
Software license finally enforced. Microsoft puts the squeeze on NW schools
04/21/02 Steve Duin of oregonlive.com
Predatory? Monopolistic? Customer-unfriendly? Microsoft?
Say it ain't, Joe . . . and Steve and John and Scott and the rest of the
computer tech supervisors at the 24 largest school districts in Oregon and
At the busiest time of the year for those districts, Microsoft is demanding
that they conduct an internal software audit to "certify licensing
compliance." 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
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
Many also consider the audit requirement a strong-arm tactic to push school
districts into Microsoft's costly system-wide licensing agreements.
"Given the fact that the letter came from their marketing department, and
included a brochure about their school licensing agreement, this didn't seem
terribly subtle to any of us," said Steve Carlson, associate superintendent
for information and technology for Beaverton schools.
"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."
For sheer irony, it's hard to beat the fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation is pouring millions of dollars into small, high-tech high schools
even as Microsoft is looking for loose change at schools such as Jefferson
The school districts are considered guilty of software piracy until they can
prove they're in licensing compliance. If the district can't drum up the
staff to manage the inventory, Microsoft is willing to show up with its own
audit crew, but if a single computer is found with illegal or undocumented
software, the district must pay for the audit.
"This doesn't recognize any of the complexities of the educational
environment," Robinson said. Many of the 25,000 computers in Portland
schools were donated and arrive without pedigree or papers. "We're bubblegum
and baling wire in terms of what we're putting on the desktops. For us to
try to manage every donated desktop that comes in from a business or an
individual is ridiculous."
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.
As Rowlands noted, IBM rolled out this idea years ago. Schools liked it
because they could add hundreds of computers over the course of the school
year and not pay for the additional software licenses until the next
But Microsoft has put a new spin on the agreement, requiring an
"institution-wide commitment." That means the district must include in its
count not only the PCs, but all the iMacs and Power Macs that might
conceivably use Windows software.
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."
No one at Microsoft -- and I dialed three different offices -- returned
phone calls Friday to explain why the "random" audits targeted the nine
largest school districts in Oregon and the 15 largest in Washington. Nor was
anyone available to explain why Microsoft failed to notify the two groups
chartered to represent the schools in licensing negotiations, the Oregon
Educational Technology Consortium and the Washington School Information
"Everyone has a bad taste about the way this came down," Carlson said. "The
audit is heavy handed; its non-participatory. Either they're starting out
with the assumption that we're all crooks or they feel they can bludgeon
school districts into their marketing agreement. It's clear they're not
spending much time talking to the schools they're purporting to be
Thus, it's not surprising that several schools are asking, along with
Robinson in Portland, "whether we want to continue with the Microsoft
One of the options is Linux, open-source software schools can run on their
desktops free of charge and without a license. Linux is particularly useful
on donated computers that aren't worth the $100 Microsoft charges for a
Paul Nelson, a teacher at Riverdale, and Eric Harrison with Multnomah ESD
have developed a thin-client software called K12LTSP that runs Linux. In the
last nine months, they've distributed the software to 5,000 schools.
"Schools and government agencies that are paying for Microsoft Office are
wasting money," Nelson said. "They should be using free software. A lot of
this stuff has become generic. It doesn't take a fancy program to make
R. Thor Prichard, the executive director at the Oregon Educational
Technology Consortium, observed, "Microsoft has made it known they're
concerned about Linux invading their territory. They're doing a lot of
strategy building about eliminating Linux as a threat. Some of the districts
they targeted are some of the districts doing initiatives in Linux."
Subtle? Artful? Benevolent? Microsoft? That'll be the day.
Now here's some reactions to this piece, first one is courtesy of the head
of Microsoft's customer disservice department!
From: MD [Michael_D]
Subject: Re: Software license finally enforced. Microsoft puts the squeeze
on NW schools
Are these schools currently belong to the group of The 9-States that are
trying to break up MS ? If so, they deserve the ax put on them! How can you
hurt the very person who is trying to help you all along ? In business
sense, you out to pay me to use my products, period. I have been closing my
eyes to let you use my products without lisense in hoping to gain market
shares and it is a common practice! The schools should pay any software
vendors, not just MS for using their products! In additon, there are free
OSes (ie. Linux), why not use it instead of crying!
From: juliusz [email@example.com]
Alisdair Meredith wrote:
>> Well, for the check they have to cut to Microsoft every year, yes,
>> every single year, and the cost of the audit, they could hire a time
>> of engineers, Linux experts to help them keep in top shape all the
>> inventory. The cost of removing Windows and installing Linux could be
>> a part of the educational process and done by the students. Sort of
>> "freedom in science" lesson.
> Out of curiosity, how does installing Linux everywhere free you from
> an invasive MS audit anyway. You think they'll be happy to take your
> word for "It's OK, we don't need any licenses as we're running Linux
Uh.. I don't know. It's a good question. So, is it possible that Microsoft
has more power then IRS or FBI and can audit anybody for no reason at all ?
I don't think so. But, of course I always can be wrong.
From: Alisdair Meredith
Deepak Shenoy wrote:
> Do the schools pay for the audit? I thought MS would do the audit and pay
> for it...
If they find a single violation on a single PC, then the audit costs are
At least, that's the way it's worded. I'd hate to imagine the PR fallout of
a hundred k-dollar audit being passed on to schools for breaching a single
windows license on an obsolete PC in a closet. OTOH, if they find more than
a few, expect the full weight of the cost on your shoulders.
From: Alisdair Meredith
Alessandro Federici wrote:
> So they spend money and they never know where they go? They never record
> any expense they make?
I gather much of the equipment is donated, rather than budgetted. As such,
the documentation may often be lacking?
> If they were legal before should not be an issue to know where and how
> many licenses are being used.
OK, now prove all of those licenses in every corner of your organisation on
many sites covering the state.
And do it without tying up any of your already stretched resources without a
From: Michael J. Austin
It is pretty likely that there are *many* unlicensed copies of MS software
installed on the school system's PCs. I have no firm knowledge of this. But,
I have worked as a high-tech migrant worker for almost 20 years and I have
worked at 40+ companies and government agencies in that time. I seriously
doubt that any company I have ever worked at could survive an audit. I
seriously doubt that MS could survive an audit.
MS has already lost an incredible amount of good will in the Portland area
as a result of their actions. If they pursue this to an expensive
settlement, they may be surprised at the extent of the backlash. This has
the potential to be a PR nightmare for MS. School systems everywhere are
extremely strapped for cash. (David S. Broder just discussed this school
funding crisis in his nationally-syndicated column.) It is going to look as
if MS is kicking the schools when they are down.