News flash: Microsoft finds that it is god of its own world

Microsoft's commissioned study finds European kids will flunk out of school with open source software, but the truth depends on where you start.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

I must admit that I am shocked - SHOCKED - that Microsoft found that its software is better than open source software on the desktop for European schools. Shocked, I tell you! I mean, after hours of rigorous study and painfully bought and paid for research, to find out that it likes its own software more than open source.... Who would have thought?

For those who aren't aware, Microsoft paid Wipro Technologies to come up with findings (as Mary Jo Foley and others have reported) that show that open source software on the desktop stinks for schools, and that Microsoft is manna from heaven.

Among the "findings":

  • In schools where both Microsoft Office and Open Office are available, student and teacher satisfaction with Microsoft is consistently higher. For desktop productivity, 48?50 per cent of schools reported that student satisfaction with Microsoft products is higher than with OSS, but only 17?26 per cent reported the same for the open source platform.
  • In terms of its support for student and teacher activities, Microsoft receives a higher rating than OSS in eight out of ten areas, in the two remaining areas the platforms were rated equally. Teachers reported that Microsoft offers stronger solutions for learning-management scenarios such as monitoring, grading and collaborating on assignments online with students and parents.
  • Despite the lack of licensing costs for OSS solutions, the schools benefit from Microsoft?s lower ongoing support costs, fewer failures, and less time devoted to troubleshooting. The study found that OSS solutions required just over 105 hours ICT support per month, in comparison to Microsoft solutions that required just over 87 hours per month (based on the report average of 148 PCs per school).
And there you have it. Open source stinks; Microsoft is king. Silly mortals who disagreed....

The problem with such "findings," of course, is two-fold:

  1. Microsoft had to pay someone to come up with this and
  2. This sort of finding is only useful if self-referential.
On this latter point, I mean that for those who have only used open source on the desktop (or only used Microsoft on the desktop), it makes no sense to compare one with the other. I have some neighbors that I set up on OpenOffice (because they couldn't afford or simply didn't want to afford Microsoft Office). Ask them if they're more or less productive and they won't know what to respond - more or less productive than what? They only use one product, so how could they be more productive?

In the case of these schoolchildren, the only way I see them being more productive on Microsoft Office is if they had been using it all along. I suspect that those who only have, say, OpenOffice would find Microsoft Office less productive to work with, because of the learning curve (however slight). It all depends on where one starts.

Which, of course, strikes me as the whole point behind exercises like this. Microsoft clearly, desperately does not want governments pushing its schools to use anything other than Microsoft, because once they start...there may well be no turning back. No dumping dollars into the Microsoft wallet in the sky.

I like Microsoft's desktop technology (excepting Windows). I think it works just fine. But I've also used Firefox, OpenOffice, and other open source desktop technologies for years, and I would be hard pressed to call Microsoft's technology better in isolation from open source technology. It works in its sphere, and open source works fine in its world.

Where open source desktop technology clearly exceeds Microsoft's software (or proprietary software, generally, for that matter) is in personal productivity applications beyond boring ones like a spreadsheet and presentation program. Ever tried Handbrake on the Mac? Or Adium? These programs are worlds better than their proprietary counterparts, and I'm guessing they're closer to what schoolchildren would rather spend their time doing than Microsoft Office is.