This debacle over school computer software shows just how beholden the big institutions in society are to major software companies, and in particular - Microsoft.
The Government should have just stumped up the $2.7 million to keep Microsoft Office on those Macs, then vowed to go open source when the contract term ends - on all computers in the every school. That's a good ten year plan to have anyway.
Microsoft has the right to be paid for its products and set its own licensing terms, but if the Government isn't willing to meet its price and those terms, it has an obligation to look at more viable alternatives.
The Ministry of Education and the whole of Government need to take a coordinated look at a move to open source software. This may not have been viable before, but Linux is more user-friendly than ever before, which is why in the US, Dell has started selling PCs with Ubuntu 7.04 as an alternative to Windows starting at US$599.
Maybe Edubuntu is an option for New Zealand schools.
Something like that, with Open Office as the main productivity tool has to be able to do what most kids need anyway. Keep some Macs and Windows PCs in each school to run those programs that require them ie: Encarta, Microsoft Student or third-party Windows-only programs. With a lot of schools using open source software, an IT service industry will emerge to support those schools that have made the switch. They may even get better support as a result.
And what about software as a service? Wasn't Project Probe designed to get every school in the country on broadband? Surely we're reaching the stage where every school's software can be delivered via the web, on a subscription basis. That means less hardware requirements, less cost. All the computers need is web browsers. Sound like a viable plan? Should the education sector be looking more closely at open source and software as a service?
The tech blogosphere:
Aardvark on the school software issue.
Richard McManus on Mydeco.com.