Live@edu and Moodle: A shameless publicity stunt?

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, CXO, Collaboration, Google, Microsoft

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  • Licensing

    Assuming that Microsoft is the copyright holder of this code, they can do what ever they wish with it. They are NOT restricted to the GPL.

    Any later additions/changes by others is another story however.
  • Okay, what is the problem?

    I'm not sure that I follow your concerns. What are you objecting to? Is it the fact that Microsoft created a product and is aggressively promoting it/pushing it to others? Or is it the fact that they are leveraging an existing ecosystem with add-ons that connect to their own online services? Or are you worried about the fact that they are aggressively marketing their product?

    I'm not sure that I see the problem in their behavior. Merely because Microsoft created a product and markets it does not mean that a potential customer is forced to use it. It's a single option amongst many, and I for one, am actually quite happy to see it's arrival. I hadn't even heard of Live@edu. Thus, your story wasn't just news, it was welcome news.

    I am going to be teaching an extended onlinne workshop over the the month of August, and this appears to offer some nice hooks that I can use in my existing Moodle site.

    So, even though Microsoft may be pushing their services, I don't think that is necessarily a big deal. They're free. And so are Google's. In the end, they will have to compete and features with a strong opponent. That is good.

    And because Moodle is OpenSource, there's nothing stopping Google from implementing their own plugin. In fact, because Microsoft's plugin is GPL, they could fork it and use that code-base for starters.

    So, no. I wouldn't call this a publicity stunt. Rather, I think it's a very positive sign from a company that is trying to avoid problems. Microsoft knows that it needs to evolve their business model towards interoperability, services, standards and openness. In conjunction with trends in Windows 7, Office, and Windows Server, I see this as just another step in that process.
    Rob Oakes
  • This article is nonsense

    Its amazing that Microsoft can offer a free product and allow integration with existing open-source tools that are widely used and they get criticized like this. I wonder if a similar article would have been written if Google had done it.

    In the end, the only reason either of these companies are in this market is because of money. The end goal for MSFT is get students using MS products and eventually be hooked into the MS world (Windows, Office, future cloud apps, etc). That is why it is free and that is why Google is in the game too (unless you think Google is really doing it just for the children). MSFT and Google are both singing the same tune - "the children are our future." A future of continued growth and profits.

    I am beginning to wonder why I read articles on this site anymore.
    • It appears the new management at ZDNet

      has decreed that in order to make money, and continue blogging on this site, that Microsoft is to come under attack for everything, as nothing incites a flame war better then that.

      And the bigger the war, the more money is made by all involved.

      Except for us ?foot soldiers? doing their bidding.

      Agreed, the article is quite stupid:

      "Microsoft is bad, they do not integrate with open source."

      Oh look: Microsoft is bad as they are intigrating with open source!"
      • Well, no...

        We bloggers are entirely independent of the editors. We write what we write about and that's it - the editors are there as support mechanisms. If I want to flame Microsoft, I'll do it - not because they've told me to, because they don't :)
        • It doesn't mean

          that you "should" bash a particular company for no god damn reason. This is not your diary - this is a public blog. You can write your opinion, but if it doesn't have any substance to it, you'll be the ultimate loser.
  • If i was you

    I'd rather bash Google for not being competitive and not giving the customers a decent alternative to Live@Edu. After all, isn't everything Google, except for search, half-baked?
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