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The Daily Tar Heel

Microsoft Not UNC's Best Option

Today, Microsoft Corp. begins a new version of its license and maintenance program under which organizations like businesses and schools can install multiple copies of Microsoft products on their computers. UNC's campus site license agreement with Microsoft, the current version of which expires soon, will likely be renewed by the end of the year.

But despite a few advantages that the agreement brings the school, there are also a number of problems with it that should cause concern in administrators -- and in users, too. And that means you.

For example, a clause in the license agreement specifies that "Microsoft has reserved the right to include on any copy of the software we make available to you any proactive technical disabling mechanisms that would enable us, with a timed device, to disable the software once our agreement with Microsoft has expired or terminated."

In other words, all Microsoft products on campus only work as long as UNC and Microsoft continue to have good relations. If we ever decide, basically, to stop paying them for the right to have their software, the little "mechanisms" they've planted in that software would "likely" result in "data loss or other system errors or malfunctions if you continue to run the software after the termination or expiration of this agreement."

Meanwhile, Microsoft's licensing policies with other groups raise further questions. When Microsoft Office XP was released some months ago, it was announced that licensers could face millions of dollars in extra costs to upgrade unless they paid Microsoft for upgrade packages before the introduction of the company's new license and maintenance program, which begins today.

Elsewhere, Microsoft is threatening public school systems and in many cases fining them large amounts of money, taking away resources and funds that schools could otherwise be spending on secondary goals -- like, oh, education, maybe.

"Microsoft treats educational institutions as just another market," wrote one analyst. "There is nothing to stop them from acting that way if they want to be greedy capitalist bastards, but it makes you wonder why schools put up with it."

Why, indeed, when there are so many alternatives to the products Microsoft provides. Every day, Linux comes a step closer to having the capabilities necessary to replace Windows on the desktop. Sun Microsystems offers a product called StarOffice that is completely compatible with Microsoft's Office suite and completely free for personal and academic use.

"(UNC) seriously needs to evaluate these and other competing products," wrote junior James Godwin of Wilmington in a June 19 letter to The Daily Tar Heel. "We need to let Microsoft know we have other options."

Some might object that Microsoft has the virtue of being widely used, the product with which students are already most familiar. But UNC is already clear on its position that every student will learn to use a computer by graduation -- that's what CCI is all about.

If students already are being taught how to turn on their little laptops at orientation, it couldn't be that much harder to teach them the fundamentals of getting around with Linux. As to the other members of the UNC community, the cost of a few training programs early on would be far outweighed by the savings that would result from dealing with a less aggressive software maker.

It's not as if Microsoft really deserves to be the standard operating system. Frankly, Windows just doesn't measure up all that well, especially when one considers some of the other options out there. Even the Mac OS is more intuitive and user-friendly.

And nearly all Microsoft products are just as bad. Security problems, compatibility problems, user-interface problems and just plain ugliness plague everything they've released -- with the possible exception of "Age of Empires II."

Perhaps, as Godwin suggests in his letter, Microsoft just wants to hurt us because Bill Gates' wife was a Dukie.

Or maybe they treat everyone like this. Either way, UNC will be a better place the day the last talking paper clip is erased from the last campus computer.

Columnist Geoff Wessel can be reached at vrooom@email.unc.edu.

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