First of all, let me respond by saying that I am NOT in love with Microsoft but I don't dislike them simply because they have been very successful and have nearly cornered the market. I dislike them because they do not seem to care foremost about their customers and what customers really want (like affordable software.) Let me also confess that I started out in the high-tech corporate world, having worked for Intel, National Semiconductor, and others. I have been in academia for only the past 8 years, but this combination (perhaps) gives me a different perspective on the impact that academia has on the business world (which is a lot smaller than what we in academia would like to believe.)
Agreed, but those students exposed to open source solutions will have gained
valuable experience to influence a similar decision in their
business/corporate environment, where there are no academic discounts.
and Kevin wrote:
The other side of this story is that we in education do have some influence
in what the business world will use. Most universities stopped teaching
mainframe JCL and COBOL years ago, in favor of unix and c, and I would
venture to say that had some influence on what programming languages the
business world uses now. If we have our students get comfortable in a
non-MS environment, they may at some point be in a position to suggest
using SO or OO at their workplaces, and not just to save money, but to take
advantages of other aspects (adaptability, privacy, security).
The people in the business world (particularly large corporations) who make the decisions about what software tools will be used couldn't care less about what NCG's (new college graduates) think is the most cost effective solution. Besides, in the business world training and support costs are far bigger issues than software licensing costs. The big corporations get good discounts from MS that in many cases are far greater than educational discounts. Like it or not, the business world will track in the direction that the Fortune 1000 go, not in the direction that upstarts or small business goes. Years ago it was said that a DP manager never got fired for choosing IBM, today an IT manager will never get fired for choosing Microsoft. Whether we like it or not, that's the reality in the big world.
Let's look at history. Bill Gates didn't start out trying to sell DOS (an operating system which he didn't even own the rights to at the time) by convincing small businesses and educators that it was the best or least costly solution. Instead he went right to the top. He sold DOS to IBM (and then later purchased the rights to it so he could consumate the deal.) IBM was the dominant player in the computer industry. Steve Jobs, on the other hand, gave away his hardware to educational institutions believing that if academia was sold on the product, the corporate world would be too. As a result, academia for years stuck to Apple solutions (like they did to Word Perfect) in spite of the overwhelming usage of IBM based solutions in the business world.
While I believe this is certainly an issue to be taken into consideration, I
would argue that it's more important WHAT concepts and skills students are
taught rather than the tools which are used to teach them. If a student
learns the fundamentals of say 'Word Processing' or SQL Statements (rather
than MS Word or Access), it becomes less important what vendor software they
encounter in the workplace, and allows them to more easily adjust when
product versions change.
I agree that it is important to have exposure to different tools but someone interviewing candidates to fill a position is more likely to select a candidate who has extensive MS Office experience than a candidate who has little MS office experience. The fact that they have experience in an 'off brand' (don't flame me for this) product will make little impact. Granted, you and I know they are potentially more valueable but seldom will the hiring manager consider this to be a decision influencer.
Take for example the upcoming graduating class 2003. Presumably these
students have gotten familiar with Windows XP and Office XP and are
well-prepared for the business world, right? Well, by the time they
interview and get hired for that dream job, the business world will be
poised to move to Windows 2003 and Office 2003 - both significant
upgrades to Microsoft's current offerings. The learning curve from
Office XP to the new features/menus/etc of Office 2003 is at LEAST as
significant as learning the curve from SO/OO to Office 2003.
Again, we have to look at the decision matrix for a hiring manager. He (or she) won't care that the learning curve may be the same for a MS-Office user and a Star Office user going to a new version of MS-Office. She will only see that one candidate has good MS-Office experience and the other doesn't.
Jeff also wrote:
I fully appreciate that colleges and universities must keep a close eye
on emerging business trends to offer their students a broad but relevant
education. To that end, Linux *is* becoming a significant force in
business (see the commitment of IBM, Oracle, etc) and open source often
goes hand in hand with Linux.
I agree that there is a strong trend toward *nix in the business world but it's at the server level, not the desktop/office suite level. Our Comp Sci and Info Sci majors need to be comfortable and conversant with *nix but I don't think the business world cares a bit about SO experience for knowledge workers.
Finally, Andrew wrote:
Good points on both sides. However one of the realties is that textbooks
are written for specific applications and we need to support the current
curriculum with the current texts.
I agree. The thing that makes MS software so desireable to the business world (and much of the education world) is the fact that it interoperates with virtually everything and open source desktop apps don't (I know they're getting better but they're a long way off.)
Now, please don't flame me too hard. I'm not saying that we need to blindly follow Billy G. like the Pied Piper and keep paying more and more for B (or C) quality software. At the same time we need to see the reality of the situation, the business world is not looking to academia to pave the way for them. Our actions aren't going to influence them much at all. We need to provide an education that will make students capable of more than just getting a job. We need to prepare them for citizenship and economic participation that will make a positive difference and 4 years is not much time to do that.
Flame suit on :-)
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