Article from Issue 60/2005

Dear Linux Magazine Reader,

A fifteen-year-old I know came home from school recently with the announcement

that he is taking a class in computers. I asked what he will be learning – maybe some beginning networking or programming? It seems that the course will instead cover how to do things in office suite applications – like word processors, spreadsheets, and slide show editors. I won’t deny that it makes sense for schools to teach students these tools, although it is perhaps an overstatement to say they are learning about computers when they are learning to type. My real alarm came when I asked him what office suite they were using and he said: Microsoft Office. Perhaps I am engaging in a bit of my own overstatement. I wasn’t really alarmed; I could have guessed the class would be centered around Microsoft products. Still, this episode brought an important problem to light. How much are all those schools, everywhere in the world, paying for the privilege of indoctrinating students into a software merchandising model that will continue to exact tribute for years after graduation? I have no doubt that Microsoft offers a big “educational discount” to enchant buyers. They may even donate software to some schools. But the only effect of their generosity is to allow the school to offload the cost of computer literacy back to the student. A graduate who wants to use this new knowledge will have to either buy their own Office license or work for someone else who has purchased an Office license.

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