Live@edu and Moodle: A shameless publicity stunt?

Summary:Microsoft Education Labs release a plugin for Moodle, a very popular open-source virtual learning environment, to integrate Live@edu and Windows Live. Is this just a two finger salute to Google in an attempt to win one over on their rivals?

Yesterday, Microsoft released 20,000 lines of hardware driver code to the open-source community under the GPLv2 (General Public License) which was quite a secondary stepping stone for the company.

That aside, the blogosphere was abuzz with news today with more open-source news. The company has now made it possible for Live@edu to integrate fully with Moodle, an increasingly popular virtual learning environment (VLE) designed for schools, colleges and universities.

Here at the University of Kent, we have ended our dark and twisted love affair with our previous VLE, WebCT/Blackboard Learning System. For a while it worked well, enabled us to speak to each other, download lecture slides and even submit work electronically. That is, until, a series of upgrades made intrusive popups inevitable, multiple sessions impossible, browser restrictions necessary and session cookies being flagged up as malware.

After a few weeks of using Moodle, an open-source and therefore free VLE, it finally took over from WebCT and we all breathed a sigh of utter relief. To entirely misquote Steve Jobs, using Moodle really is like drinking a glass of ice cold water in the dark depths of Hell. It is not just me who agrees.

This plug-in acts as a single sign-in solution enabling the student to use their Windows Live ID. It also acts as a way of gluing together the Live@edu set of online applications and Moodle; allowing students and lecturers to communicate on one side, students to work and study on the other side and having an overlap which makes the overall experience seem a bit more seamless.

Along with this, Bing will be part of the plug-in, using it to search their calendar, email and instant messages. This plug-in is the first in a number of tools set to be released over time by the newly created Microsoft Education Labs team.

Sounds good so far, right? Wrong.

Everyone holds morals and ethics of some description. For example, my work ethics dictate that I write as accurately as possible, link back as much as often to support my own arguments and support others' work whether I agree or disagree, and if (or when; inevitably it happens) I get something wrong, I retract it or correct it.

It seems some companies out there, Microsoft being the perfect example in this, need to hoist up their belts, take a long hard look at themselves in a giant, corporate branded, metaphorical mirror and reflect upon their own morals and ethics.

There is a fierce battle between Microsoft and Google - not just in the search or advertisement arena - but here and now with Live@edu vs. Google Apps, using students as the weapon. Both are shouting out for universities to accept their email and online application solution as the best one, but Google are being a little less pushy in their efforts.

After speaking to a number of PR folks at Google, I get the general consensus that they will only really reach out to these potential customers if they are invited by said customers, of which then they will advise and promote their product to the full. The word "modest" comes to mind.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is making deals with Moodle in "groundbreaking moves" to show they are the bigger player, when in fact to me, this is just another surreptitious attempt to promote their own student-oriented online suite which directly rivals Google's.

One video shows Bing being used as a search engine, alongside Powerset, a semantic search engine which searches through Wikipedia for articles and media. Wikipedia? When should a student use Wikipedia for university work? For the references, and categorically nothing else. It looks to me that Microsoft couldn't give a hoot about students and their needs - they just want to shamelessly slip in any bit of marketing and self-promotion as possible.

My argument is this. Moodle is pretty awesome and used by over 30,000 sites spanning nearly 200 countries. Microsoft could well be taking advantage of this open-source software by shamelessly integrating its own online suite into the software, making network administrators be swayed towards using Live@edu for this reason alone, rather than others.

Remember: both Live@edu and Google Apps are free, so one cannot compete with the other by simply lowering the price of their product. They have to begin deals, set up partners and work with developers. Some say this is good business practice. I think it is manipulative.

I try and keep things relatively balanced here on the blog. Outlook Live has been interesting to play with, and statistically Google are losing ground over Microsoft's Live@edu. But Google Apps is meant to be easier to install and rollout over a large networks. Surely it is still up to the democratic vote of the users to decide what they want?

Martin Dougiamas, creator of Moodle, even with this news, thankfully can see some alternative uses:

"Since (from a programming point of view) Live has the same APIs as any Exchange server, I think a lot of Moodlers will be using this code to integrate Moodle closely with their private Exchange servers as well."

However, the licensing behind this plug-in could prove fatal if they wanted to use it in other products.

The Moodle plug-in is written entirely in PHP and has been released under GPLv2, along with previously released code. After speaking to a number of colleagues, it is of my understanding that as this code has been released into the public domain as open-source under the GPLv2 license, which is legally binding, if Microsoft uses any of this code in any closed-source applications or code (which can be sold for monetary value), it would automatically render that software as open-source too - therefore, free.

This is very unlikely to happen as Microsoft's legal department is beyond huge, but the danger still exists.

There is a chance that I am overthinking this entirely, and quite frankly wouldn't be surprised if in fact this is the case. However, with my past knowledge and experience of Microsoft as a ruthless bully which will either buy out or squash any competitor it can so it can take the upper hand for the market, I remember why I came to these conclusions in the first place.

Does anyone remember the story of the race between the tortoise and the hare? Come to your own conclusions and let me know what you think.

Topics: Open Source, Collaboration, CXO, Google, Microsoft

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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