Microsoft to schools: Give us your lunch money!

By Damien Cave

Published July 11, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

Read the story.

I am no apologist for Microsoft. I believe that if it is not an evil corporation, then there is a great deal of evil lurking in its heart. So don't think that I'm sticking up for Gates, Ballmer or Allen. But the fact of the matter is that Microsoft has a right to get paid for its software. It's that simple. And your hatchet job on Microsoft, which definitely needs to be hatcheted, is totally unfair.

We wouldn't even attempt to argue that schools should be allowed to steal food from RJR Nabisco and Beatrice in order to give students lunch and breakfast. But the same arguments made ad nauseam in your piece could be used to justify exactly that. After all, what's more important, Nabisco's bottom line or that children get a healthy breakfast every day?

Listen, I hope this drags Microsoft down the drain. I hope their actions spawn a huge open-source movement that ends up costing them billions of dollars. I hope that they realize the error of their ways and start giving software to any school or educator that asks for it. But they don't have to do that if they don't want to. And we, no matter how righteous in our incredulity at their heavy-handed tactics, don't have the right to force them.

-- Gavin Fritton

The most appropriate response for educational institutions (particularly cash-strapped schools) is to educate their students and teachers on the alternatives to Microsoft software.

Essentially, what needy schools are saying is "Since we're poor, it's OK to steal." Although most normal individuals despise Microsoft, you cannot decide for yourself that the value of the products they make is nil according to your financial blight. Software seems to be the poster child of intellectual thievery due to its portability and inability to be properly tracked.

What's next? Teachers stealing cars from dealerships claiming their wages are low and they need affordable transportation, all in the name of the kids?

-- Patrick Leal

While reading this interesting article, I found that I was, surprisingly, feeling more empathy for Microsoft than for the schools.

First, if schools' own towns and states are unwilling to support them financially, why should it then be Microsoft's problem to fix? It's obvious who doesn't care about the children, and foremost on that list is not Microsoft.

Second, why in the world did the Philly district office continue sending unreadable files to the school staff? This was easily solved without piracy: placing the documents online or e-mailing them in HTML format, sending them as text only, saving them in one of the other formats the programs used by the schools could read.

Third, what compelling need was/is there for the schools to require MS Office? If MS is required, then MS Works provides much of the power far more affordably. But beyond that, there is a wealth of very low-cost and freely available office programs; just go to And, of course, as some schools are now learning, there are the various open-source and free-software avenues.

I agree that Microsoft and other technology companies may do serious long-term harm to themselves by discouraging use of their products in public schools. And they should seriously consider more lenient licensing structures for the educational community. But ultimately, it is not their job to finance these schools. That is for the local, state and federal governments.

-- David Fischer

One has to wonder how much the lack of viable competition contributes to this.

Once upon a time DEC and IBM contributed untold millions in equipment and software to schools and universities so that graduating students would be knowledgeable in, and comfortable with, their products, thereby creating a population of trained potential customers.

In the current marketplace there is no incentive for Microsoft to act similarly. Its products are de facto standards and a supply of trained users coming from our school systems is unlikely to sway potential large-scale purchasers to give it an edge over nonexistent competitors.

If open-source software matures to where it becomes competitive, then you may see Microsoft respond in its own interest. I wouldn't hold my breath, however.

-- Howard Wiener

After seeing a number of local companies being harassed by Microsoft and their cronies, my company started a concerted effort to eliminate ALL Microsoft software from our company. We started by replacing all our servers with Linux-based operating systems, changing our Office suite from Microsoft-based software to the Star Office suite.

Microsoft's attitude toward its customer base is a consequence of its near-monopoly in this arena (whatever the courts conclude!). It will continue on the same course, as long as the user community doesn't take measures to remind Mr. Gates of where he obtained the money to afford his lavish lifestyle.

-- Richard J. Woodland

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------