Swiss Education IT Agency Campaigns Against Microsoft Live@edu

Mar 22, 2010

The Swiss federal agency known as Schweizerische Fachstelle für Informationstechnologien (SFIB) or Centre suisse des technologies de l'information dans l'enseignement (CTIE) has studied the user licenses for Microsoft products in Swiss schools. The result is a warning against the licensing and a recommendation to use open source products.

The SFIB/CTIE panel came to the conclusion, "after ongoing investigation, that the newly formed Microsoft School Agreement has grave consequences because of its close link with Microsoft's Live@edu offering," as it reported in a public statement. The agency was motivated to make the public announcement because negotiations between it and Swiss Microsoft were breaking down relative to the Live@edu link-up in the School Agreement and the resulting pricing policy. The drawbacks have to do with data security, liabilities, advertising and anticompetitiveness. The agency recommends that school IT groups forgo Microsoft products in the framework of the School Agreement and favor free software instead. The agency by its own report is also setting up a cooperative agreement with the Swiss Educa.ch education center.

The recommendation targets the Microsoft School Agreement, a special kind of volume user licensing for educational institutions, and its bundled Live@edu service. The evaluation was that this arrangement gives a Microsoft an "unfair advantage".

The agency panel was careful to pore over the fine print. For example, Microsoft would in the user agreement have the right to use student data for business purposes even after a contract expires, such as to transfer email accounts to Hotmail accounts. The schools are also obligated to encrypt their data and use other security measures, which was a clear message to the panel: additional costs are involved. The schools would also be responsible for their own privacy policies and would need to provide Microsoft evidence of relevant measures on request. Paragraph 7(c) of the School Agreement says that schools "cannot use any services that would compromise the integrity, efficiency or availability of the Microsoft services," tantamount to a general clause that "allows Microsoft to prohibit the use of any other product the schools might use."

The agency panel evaluation is available for download as compressed archive files. The zipped files (in German and French) include a one-page summary with contact information, a seven-page longer version, terms of use, Microsoft's privacy policy and a sample price list.

The SFIB/CIE is responsible for Swiss information technology exchange for primary and secondary schools and was founded 1989 as a common federal and canton-based institution, although the cantons have borne most of the costs since 2006. The Swiss Institute for Media Education and Culture (Educa.ch), a non-profit cooperative based in Berne, runs the SFIB/CIE and has managed its activities since 1989. One example is lernstick.edu (educa.lacle in French), a USB stick with an operating system and license-free software. Unfortunately there are no open source claims made of the programs used.

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