The Kane County Chronicle is reporting that one district in this Illinois county has recommended that all high school students have a copy of Office 2007 running on their home computers before heading back to school this fall. Since the district (Batavia, Illinois, if anyone outside Kane County cares) is upgrading all of its machines to Office 2007, it cited the "tedious process" of translating between document formats if students have older versions of Office at home.
In the same letter describing this tedium to parents, the district also describes the process parents must go through to obtain an academic discount on the $500 software bundle (faxed/emailed enrollment verification and parent's photo ID sent to a third party software vendor so that the office suite can be purchased for $84.95).
As I've said before, I'm a big fan of Office 2007. It has a lot of incredibly cool features and a beautiful interface. However, for most users, it does nothing more than Office 2000, Office 2003, or, more importantly, OpenOffice. The average home user gets nothing more than eye candy out of Microsoft's latest cash cow. Unfortunately, the letter (as reported) only "stressed the disadvantages of not having the new software" rather than offering suggestions for ensuring compatibility with other document formats or workarounds to allow parents to continue using free or already-installed alternatives.
Quite frankly, this smacks of both irresponsibility and a poor understanding of the new technology being rolled out in the district. I know my parents would have dashed out and paid full list for the software, not wanting to jump through the hoops required to buy the software on the cheap and wanting to make sure that my best interests educationally were ensured. They were good like that, but also naive. How many other naive parents will shell out even the $85 unnecessarily? Office 2007 is great, but we've rolled it out in student labs, taught students how to migrate between formats (OpenOffice, Office 200x, and Google Docs/Spreadsheets). It's easy. And yes, students occasionally lose the coolest of the eye candy from their PowerPoint 2007 show, but the content (what should really matter in a presentation) remains unchanged in OpenOffice Impress. Way to tax your students, Batavia. Anyone else seeing this sort of silliness, talk back below.