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Schools and Charities

Donated Computers for Schools and Charities

‘It is a legal requirement that pre-installed operating systems remain with a machine for the life of the machine. If a company or individual donates a machine to your school, it must be donated with the operating system that was installed on the PC.’ So says Microsoft (excerpt current as at May 2002).

Hamstringing Schools and Charities

The implications of this for schools and charities are that they cannot accept a donated computer unless it has the original software and official proof-of-purchase for that software. In many cases, even this is not enough. Much Microsoft software has a non-transferable licence, meaning that if you want to use the software and not risk fines and confiscation by the BSA (Business Software Alliance, or the Australian equivalent, the Business Software Alliance of Australia), you have to either buy new copies of the software or rely on a ‘generous’ donation from Microsoft.

There are several important points to note about Microsoft, licences and generosity. Enterprise licencing agreements have a fixed term, so if you are installing software covered by such an agreement, bear in mind that the software becomes illegal unless the computer remains in a system covered by that agreement. That means that if the computer ever leaves the system (goes to a school or organisation not covered, or is taken home, or the Agreement lapses) it becomes illegal.

If Microsoft choose to ‘donate’ software, it is often ‘donated’ under a similar licence (which they may elect to not renew, making your software illegal at the end of the term of the agreement), the ‘donation’ counts as income for the organisation, and Microsoft get to write off the full value of the ‘donation’ (which is extremely cheap for them to actually produce) against their own income.

You will also need to buy virus scanner software for every machine.

One final insult to add to the above injuries: have you any disgruntled employees, ex-employees, past students etc who would love to earn $5000 and at the same time get you into deep trouble? “There’s a $5,000 reward for information that leads to a successful action against a business entity using unauthorised software” says the BSAA website. Food for thought. The BSAA have also just launched their ‘ No Business Too Small’ campaign. They seem to report strikes against well-supported organisations like Future School but not against charities and poorer schools, presumably for image reasons.

No fines, no auditing, no leases, no worries

All of this is avoidable. As with viruses and security issues, the spectre of being fined or having to turn down donations is almost unique to Microsoft. You are perfectly at liberty to overwrite the operating system on donated computers with Linux (or another Open Source operating system), or erase it completely and run the computer as a Linux “thin client” on a network.

Equivalents are available for the most common packages used on EULA-encumbered systems, for example, is a complete and highly compatible office suite (wordprocessing, spreadsheet, presentation, vector graphics, etc), and KOffice is a less complete but wider ranging suite able to run on more restricted hardware. There are also packages available for Linux which are not available for Windows.

The aggressors admit no responsibility

In a stunning display of chutzpah, the BSAA no-biz-too-small campaign page claims that...

Lack of management of IT systems can result in:

Linux solves or at least greatly mitigates every one of these problems.

The sense of chutzpah kicks in when you understand that the BSAA’s most involved members are Microsoft (whose software is responsible for almost all virus activity on the Internet; who is infamous for ’faux pas’ security holes; and who is also infamous for using and threatening litigation with a generous hand) and Symantec (whose entire industry depends on those design flaws in Microsoft’s software). As to the legal actions, er, sorry, who’s launching those actions if not the BSAA and those behind it?

In short, you’ll be bluffed and prosecuted by these people who know that you’re always 100% in the wrong, because they’re always ‘100% in the right’ - they can’t see their own contribution to the problems.

Morality, Education and Proprietary Software

Quoting ‘theaem’ from Argentina:

My problem was when I started loving more to learn how to use programs than playing Commando. How could I get my hands on new software when software packages costed two or three times more than in the US and we earned half of what people earn in the US?

Yes, you are guessing right. I learned how to pirate software. I exchanged copies of software with my friends and soon I was learning how to use dBase, Quattro, Excel, etc. There was simply no other way.

I understand that is hard to comprehend for someone that has had access to computers and software at home, at school and everywhere. But how do you learn, how do you even know your choices when you/everybody can’t get access to the hardware/software?

These days the gap between prices in the US and Argentina has fallen somewhat but the cost of living has increased and the wages are getting smaller relatively and unemployment keeps growing by the minute. How do you learn? How do you get a competitive advantage to enter the work force? Education.

I worked because I knew how to use Access, Excel, Word, etc. very well. Now go and tell a kid that he has to pay tons of money for the software he needs to earn a living. What happens if suddenly the software the government uses is open source? This kid can learn to use it without shelling out money he doesn’t have without breaking any laws.

I’m not trying to exculpate myself. I’m just trying to make you aware of the whole situation people face in my country and how different is from here in the US.

The situation in Australia is very much like the USA rather than Argentina, so far, but still the question applies: if my school uses a proprietary package thousands of dollars per retail copy (professional versions of PhotoShop or Macromedia’s tools, MS SQL server, etc), if I am to follow on, or to work at home in order to achieve a better (or even passing) grade, either I or my parents must shell out enough money to buy several computers, or a good second-hand car, or food for three to six months - or I must steal the software. Presuming that the software is the latest and greatest, I may also need to pay to upgrade my computer or operating system to use it.

If the school uses entirely Open Source software, the financial problems evapourate, the software is generally more portable (so, for example, I won’t need to replace my Macintosh to get access to database software, even professional SQL servers), and my friends and family can share or test my efforts without the need for things like runtime licences or changing their computers.

What’s my next step?

For case studies and examples of schools which have switched to Linux, visit the SEUL (Simple End-User Linux) case studies page, and for examples of schools that have converted to LTSP (the Linux Terminal Server Project) ‘Thin Clients’ visit K12LSTP’s case studies page. The Testimonials page speaks of many organisations putting a highly compatible Open Source office suite to good use.

If you have computers to donate, or are interested in using donated computers, Computer Angels are our best Western Australian contact. Otherwise, contact your local Linux User Group, as someone in it is sure to know about local computer charity organisations. If you know of a registry or clearinghouse for computer charity organisations, please let us know.

CyberKnights will provide some advice to charities and schools free of charge. We have worked with LTSP, and with schools, and are available to help - or to refer petitioners to suitable experts, where appropriate. You can also hunt up your own Western Australian helpers (such as students who use Linux at home) by joining our local Perth Linux User Group. PLUG is gearing up for a Conference in late January 2003, and would be pleased to have more local schools and charities to showcase.

At the film company DreamWorks, Ed Leonard has ported the entire graphics animation department to Linux; Shrek was created on a “renderfarm” (a powerful, refrigerator-size rack of servers) that had 800 processors running Linux. Leonard took the money he saved by not having maintenance contracts and used it to buy far more inexpensive Linux PCs. He says the money he has saved will allow DreamWorks to replace desktops and the renderfarm every two years instead of every five. — Scott Berinato

Last changed: 09-Sep-2008 18:29:32  Find out who links to this page. Verify for yourself that this page is pure, standard HTML, not Ruby.

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