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Commentary: Microsoft Targets Education Market

By Alan Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – A recent court settlement with Microsoft left many people less than satisfied and concerned about the future of competition in the industry. Listener Commentator Alan Kryszak uses a Macintosh network, and he's not alone. He says many educators have frustrated Microsoft, which controls 95 percent of the market, by stubbornly choosing to go with their only competitor in education, Apple Computer.

Microsoft Corporation has recently celebrated their newfound freedom from anti-trust law with a new TV character dressed like a happy butterfly. What the Butterfly man won't tell you is what Microsoft is doing to eliminate the competition in the not-yet-conquered educational market.

A recent settlement proposal offered by Microsoft is so bizarrely aggressive, Machievelli himself would've said, wow . It kindly offers free computers to selected schools throughout the land. But look closer. If the company's support of alternative computer choices were legit, grants would've been offered, without pushing Microsoft products. Instead, the Butterfly man offered machines that require a permanent future commitment to Windows products. Since financially struggling schools would be foolish to turn down free stuff - that could effectively eliminate Microsoft's sole competitor, Apple Computer, from the face of education. It's really ingenious. Microsoft suggested that their anti-trust activity be corrected by allowing them to kill off the only existing competitor in education; kind of like a shoplifter saying Your Honor, I agree to shoplift from Walmart exclusively, so you can keep tabs on me.

Their newest product, the Windows XP operating system, culminates the software giant's goal to keep the customer on a short leash. Millions of consumers are snapping up copies of Windows XP for the privilege of handing over complete control of their privacy and future hardware options. After the grace period, licensing rules prevent users from starting their computer until they check in, and can interfere with added hardware. Media Player tracks everything you listen to and Microsoft's "Wallet Web Server" keeps track of everything you buy. And schools, with sensitive financial and student information, may soon be jumping on the same run away train.

Windows XP keeps a profile of each computer to prevent the same license being used on 2 machines. And, in theory, if a school leased XP, Microsoft would have the ability to prevent all of those "free" computers from starting up if third-party hardware was added, or if a monthly software lease payment wasn't credited. What would George Orwell think?

If the absolute, centralized control issues aren't enough to creep you out, how about the security of Microsoft's recent products? According to industry journals, hackers and authors of current viruses are completely aware of Microsoft's 212 plus known security holes - whether you are or not. So, if a school leased Windows XP, they would join the over 7 million consumers who, on December 20th, discovered that hackers could, in Microsoft's words ...gain complete control over the system unless the newest patch is installed immediately. Two examples: A Microsoft Passport server was exploited when it first came out. And Microsoft's SQL Server 2000 bit the dust recently because of a virus attack. It disrupted worldwide internet access, and prevented ATM transactions at Bank of America. Even Microsoft's own headquarters was hit due to lack of precautions.

Maybe that's why the five boroughs of New York City and the State of Maine use Apple in their schools. Why hospitals use Novell. Why General Campbell moved the U.S. Army web site to Apple. And why UNIX and Apache - not Microsoft - form the backbone of the internet.

So, as Microsoft slides by the Department of Justice one more time, giving away computers like puppies by the side of the road, schools should ask these questions: What will Microsoft charge to lease the software when its only competitor in education is eliminated? Who pays for regular and emergency maintenance for donated computers? Will a school ever have to ask Microsoft's permission to start a computer? How much will schools pay, when the one of the more than 200 security holes is breached and an expert has to come in and restore the school's data?

The proposed Microsoft Settlement begins with Children are our future - a precept usually spoken by parents, teachers and administrators. In this case, children really would be Microsoft's future. It would mark the first time schools in America promoted one corporation's product to the exclusion of all others, where the words computer and Microsoft would be synonymous. Pesky people, like myself , have tried to keep Microsoft from turning classrooms into exclusive showrooms. Teachers and administrators may have to do what the Department of Justice is apparently too weak or afraid to - tell Microsoft and the Butterfly man to take a hike.

Listener Commentator Alan Kryszak is a composer, computer technician, teacher and former IT administrator. And in the interest of full disclosure, he's the husband of our news reporter Joyce Kryszak.