Schools enter agreement with Microsoft

Deal: The company is selling its products at a bargain rate to 65 state institutions.

July 26, 1999|By Michael Stroh | Michael Stroh,Sun Staff

Students and teachers across Maryland will gain access to hundreds of dollars worth of Microsoft software for the price of a single textbook, thanks to an agreement between the software giant and a consortium of Maryland schools.

Under the three-year contract, schools will pay $42 for a suite of Microsoft's most popular word processing, spreadsheet, database, and development software -- programs normally sold to educators for $150 each and to the general public for $500 or more.

Microsoft has forged similar deals in other states, but this is the first to include such a diverse collection of institutions, officials said. Sixty-five elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities with 278,000 students have signed up to participate, including Baltimore County public schools, the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland.

"We shouldn't allow a student who is not technology-adept to graduate, just as we shouldn't allow a student who cannot read or write to graduate," said Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University System of Maryland and architect of the agreement.

Besides helping to make students and faculty proficient with the latest Microsoft software, Langenberg said the deal will enable schools to save money. The University of Maryland, Baltimore, for example, will save $150,000 per year through the deal, he said.

Langenberg said putting all the schools in Maryland on a common Microsoft "digital language" might eventually make it possible to move a student's scholastic record electronically from kindergarten through graduate school.

The University System of Maryland, comprising 13 higher-education institutions in the state, will pay Microsoft roughly $1.5 million per year for the software licenses. Participating schools must reimburse the USM for these costs.

All the schools will make the software available to students through either campus libraries, computer labs or over their networks.

The agreement also allows schools to sell the software to students. Only seven of the 65 schools in the consortium have decided to do this, but USM officials hope more will do so in the future. Under the Microsoft licensing arrangement, students can keep their copy of the software after they graduate but cannot share it with friends, family or neighbors.

Despite practically giving away its software to schools, Microsoft has not always been welcome on campus. In March, students at the University of Wisconsin held a rally to protest a bulk software contract between Microsoft and the university, burning Microsoft disks and photos of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

Critics there and elsewhere worry that by blanketing a campus with Microsoft software, school administrators will be less likely to support non-Microsoft products popular in some academic departments, such as word processor WordPerfect or the operating system Unix.

"Nonsense," said USM chancellor Langenberg, who stressed that the Microsoft agreement is nonexclusive and allows schools to buy and use whatever software they want. School help desks, USM officials said, have agreed to continue to support non-Microsoft products as long as they are part of the curriculum. Much of the software will be available for both PC and Macintosh computers, which traditionally have a large constituency on campuses.

Competing software makers say they don't view the growth of "Microsoft campuses" as a threat. "We can coexist," said Colette Lepine, who manages educational programs at Corel, maker of WordPerfect. Many schools, she says, offer a mix of software for their students to prepare for "real world" job environments. For example, 70 percent of law offices use WordPerfect as their word processor, she says.

So far, faculty in Maryland view the deal as a positive, if inevitable, development.

"I just gave an assignment to one of my classes and told them they could use any spreadsheet program they wanted to do it," said Bruce Rollier, an associate professor at the University of Baltimore.

"One hundred percent turned it in on [Microsoft] Excel."

Pub Date: 07/26/99

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