Ars technica featured an article last week (Microsoft funds questionable study attacking open source in education") focusing on a European study of user satisfaction with, and adoption of open source software versus Microsoft products in educational systems. Not surprisingly, the Microsoft-funded study concluded that Microsoft products were not only long-term money-savers, but were also better-liked than their open source counterparts.
If we look a little deeper and quell the knee-jerk anti-M$ reaction, most of us may find that this is actually true. How many of us have met with resistance from students and staff when we've attempted to roll out open source software, eschewing Office and Windows? How many users really like trying new things? The answer is very few. If they use Windows at home, they probably want to and prefer using Windows at school. This isn't rocket science.
Computer Business Review Online has an interesting perspective on this so-called Wipro study (check out Paying for software you can’t use – is Microsoft really good for schools?). This article reflects on Microsoft's ongoing attempts to charge license fees for all eligible PCs (including Macs and those running OSS) for schools entering into campus agreements. While countries like Norway have successfully pushed back against this practice, schools in the UK in particular continue to be bound such agreements.
These agreements basically remove any incentive to use OSS since the schools end up paying for Microsoft licenses anyway on all machines. The ars article points out the absence of UK schools from the Wipro study, since, "Wipro's research recruitment experience indicates that the adoption of OSS solutions in UK schools is presently, very limited." Yeah, no kidding.
Nasty licensing practices aside, however, the ars article made some very good points about adoption of Open Office in particular. As the post noted:
[Key features identified in Microsoft Office] are [all] strong features, but all of them are also currently available in some form in OpenOffice.org 2.2, which is included by default in the latest Ubuntu release. OpenOffice.org isn't great software, but for most users, it will get the job done just as well at a significantly lower cost. Nevertheless, the study's claim that Office is preferred over OO.org even in situations where both applications are available shows that OO.org still has work to do if it ever hopes to make hamburger of Microsoft's cash cow.
So where does this leave us? It leaves us with really good software from Microsoft for which we have to pay, often in ways that seem a bit underhanded. It also leaves us with a pretty good Office clone in the form of Open Office. What this study shows is that Open Office needs to worry less about duplicating features of Office and more about "selling" itself as a viable piece of software in its own right. It also leaves us looking to Web 2.0-style apps for our productivity software, since most of our users only need a tiny subset of the features available in Microsoft Office. There are lots of alternatives; the question is simply does it pay for you and your users to make use of them?