What would you do with $3 billion dollars? I know where to find it!

I saw a blog,  schools-should-use-openofficeorg , the other day that got me thinking: "how much money are we spending on Microsoft licenses for all the students in this country?"  Per the US 2005 census results for education , there are 75 million students in this country (a pretty amazing number on its own as it represents over 25% of the population over 3) . That covers everyone, from elementary kids, through Jr. High, High School and College. Includes all those folks who have gone back to school as well for a career change, etc.

School districts pay somewhere between $50 and $100 for MS Office licenses for each and every computer in the school.  Add to this the home computers running MS Office for Students and the numbers can get big.   Let's assume that every student using the MS Office Suite is paying Microsoft $75 each. From the 2005 Census, there are  33 million k-8 students,  17 million 9-12 kids in high school and 17 million college students (of all ages).

To be fair, let's assume that 1/2 of K-8 students are covered by a MS Office license either through their schools, their parents computers or both.  That comes out to ~ 16.5 million k-8 students. If we multiply each student  by $75 we get ~ 1.24 billion spent on licenses.  That's just elementary school.

Now let's assume that 2/3 of the high school and college students use MS Office and also pay on average $75 each.  Do that math and we arrive at: 22,440,000 students x $75 each or ~$1.68  billion. Combine with the other number for a grand total of almost $3 billion.

While clearly not a annual expense (typically, people only buy MS Office licenses when they get a new computer, or upgrade to a new version) and perhaps the math is a bit off,  it's still a big number and a significant % of many school & student budgets. Why, with so much good open source software available at no cost,  are we spending this kind of money? 

For example, take a look at Open Office (openoffice.org)  - includes word processing, spreadsheets, drawing, presentations and a blogging tool - and it's FREE.    You don't have to be a computer guru to set it up and use it. Thing is, a lot of people simply don't realize that there are options out there.

I realize that compared to the overall cost of a college education these days  you might be thinking "yeah you have a point, but what's another $75 bucks". True, but think about what we could do if everyone who could afford money didn't buy the MS Office license and instead donated  to their local schools, PTAs, teachers or needy students.

Next time you are considering buying a Student and Teacher edition of MS Office  - STOP! Go to openoffice.org and download OpenOffice for FREE! Try it out and then send the money you would have sent to MS to help someone who really needs the help.   It's not right that schools have to cut arts funding, after school programs, athletics and still pay for MS Office licenses!

Become an open source activist - ask questions at your schools, your colleges, your bookstores

And in other news:

The Detroit Red Wings clinched their sixth straight Central Division Title and their third consecutive Western Conference title.  Playoffs start tomorrow!

Go Red Wings!



Now if only more educators would adopt the Sun Academic Initiative. Sun needs a "Make Solaris yours" compaign. Save Solaris save Sun.

Posted by Eric Gardner on April 11, 2007 at 04:00 PM PDT #

I totally agree with you. Not only is it good for Students, its good for tax payers too. Pay teachers more and microsoft less... My question to you is "What are you going to do about it?"

Posted by Charles H Alexander on April 15, 2007 at 01:27 PM PDT #

Yes, I've thought about this too. But I don't think you've captured the entire explanation about why MS remains overwhelmingly dominant in higher ed (my area). The primary reason is that users rarely see the cost on their end. Schools buy site licenses. So, for exampe, for me to get a full copy of MS Office is like $10.

Couple this with the fact that MS Office is a market leading monopoly product such that students can be assured their skills will transfer beyond their degree (and that administration on campuses know this), that it is fairly tightly coupled with other quasi-monopoly extension products such as Endnote (for bibliographies and citations), and that OOo stil has a ways to go to provide a compelling alternative, and you can start to understand the problem better.

Just to give you a sobering piece of anecdotal evidence: I have never come across anyone in my field that uses anything but MS Office. I'd be surprised if any of my colleagues have even heard of OOo.

Posted by Bruce D'Arcus on October 21, 2007 at 08:47 PM PDT #

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