Tuesday, 29 May 2007

We Don't Need No Office Education

Today's Herald leads with a story about Government's licensing of Microsoft software. The government declined to renew a deal that licensed Microsoft Office for every single Mac in schools, because it turns out only about half of those Macs actually are using Office.

The Herald paints this in alarming terms:

Pupils suffer in schools computer row

Software has been wiped from thousands of school computers because of a row over Government funding.

Principals said the move was baffling, as it went against the drive to use computers to enhance learning.

Auckland Primary Principals Association past president Julien Le Sueur said schools were being told to improve links with parents and their communities.

But the outside world was dominated by the global giant Microsoft.

"We've had our legs cut out from underneath us," he said.

This is outrageous in several dimensions...

Obviously those 50% who want Office should buy it themselves and stop being subsidised by the other 50%. It's probably an overall saving of money.

(Aside: Microsoft loves these "pay per machine, not per copy" deals because they make it impossible for competing products to get a foothold. It's these sorts of deals that gave them dominance in OEM operating systems until the US Department of Justice forced them to stop. The NZ government would be wise to avoid these deals just as a matter of policy.)

I'm greatly disturbed that educators are linking computer skills and enhanced learning with Office training. Word and Excel are boring and if kids are taught that's what computers are about, they will be turned off computers for life if they have any sense. That would be a disservice to them and to our economy.

By the time kids get into the workforce it's very likely that Office as we know it will have been eclipsed by Web-based tools. The future of computing is more likely to resemble kid-driven solutions like phones, online games and social networking sites. Microsoft-pushing school principals need to get out of the way.

Furthermore the dismissal of Apple and OpenOffice alternatives is very weak:

But Mr Le Sueur said NeoOffice was littered with problems, and its website warned that users could expect lots of bugs.

"That's not the sort of software we should be expecting kids in New Zealand to be using."

As if Microsoft Office doesn't have lots of bugs! Anyway, kids won't push these products all that hard. A stronger point against OpenOffice would have been its sluggishness on low-end machines. On the other hand, Apple's stuff is cheap and supposed to be good.

I hope Steve Maharey stands his ground.


  1. Couldn't agree more...
    Sadly, education in schools has always been more about dumbly teaching software skills, than about a broader understanding of information technology and how to use it.
    Gotta love how the lobbyists twist it though :) If we are to question money vs practicality, then I'm also dubious of Macs in schools - they are generally overpriced - and don't really offer a better user experience than a PC. They are great machines, but ultimately could be more damaging to the future prospects and experiences than what brand of software they use for spreadsheets.
    If a school decided to buy more, cheaper PCs than fewer Macs, I wonder if Apple would dare question the validity of that decision?
    Food for thought...

  2. > By the time kids get into the workforce it's very likely that Office as we know it will have been eclipsed by Web-based tools.
    Or at least redesigned a la Office 2007. Also,