Fellow ZDNet blogger, Andrew Nusca, asked a great question today: "Should Microsoft give Windows 7 away for free?" He answers his own question, with a pretty big yes (at least under certain conditions), but I think his question is even more relevant here in the land of Ed Tech than it might be for businesses or consumers.
In the educational field, there are a few very important considerations that make a free Windows 7 far more appealing than yet another upgrade to yet another Microsoft product. The first is the bottom line. While businesses obviously need to focus on costs, educational technology usually makes its way into the first round of budget cuts, along with art and music programs. When it comes down to it, as Linux distributions become easier to administer, free software starts looking mighty attractive.
As Andrew points out, an upgrade to a new Microsoft OS will be a hard sell for those of us still running XP. Anyone who has migrated to Vista, whether as part of a planned rollout or through new hardware acquisitions will also have a tough time justifying the cost of an upgrade any time soon, even if Windows 7 is chock full of fixes.
In K-12 education, our job is, obviously, to teach. In most cases, there is little difference between the ways we can support learning and student achievement on Windows, Mac, or Linux computers. While plenty of proprietary applications exist, if it comes time to shave costs from a budget and we can still achieve our mission using free software, the choice should be pretty easy.
Even at the college level, students are curious, motivated, and community-minded. Have a question about that new Ubuntu netbook you just snagged? Chances are your roommate (or your neighbor or your RA) has been tinkering with Linux since she was 12. When you were in college, what would you have chosen? A $60 upgrade from Vista to 7 (assuming academic standard pricing and the existence of Vista when you were a college student) or a week's worth of pizza?
I'm not even suggesting that every college kid or school should choose Linux over moving to Windows 7. I'm saying that there is no incentive in tight financial times and institutions accustomed to exploring a variety of solutions for moving to Windows 7.
Unless, of course, it's free. Then, given that Windows 7 actually seems to be a pretty solid OS, even in beta, with the wide variety of compatible software, 7 starts looking pretty attractive. As I noted in my title, I'd certainly consider it if it was free. Charge me for it, though, and chances are, I'll find a way to satisfy computing requirements some other way, whether that means FOSS, XP, or even Vista.