My now famous "Dear George…" mail

An Open Letter To:
George Ferreira,
Regional Manager,
Microsoft South and East Africa

Dear George, my whilom philanthrope;

On the wild notion of Microsoft being a partner in educational development with SchoolNet Namibia for a measly US$ 2,000 – passably, a succès de scandale, given the present climate…

Microsoft weather forecast:

“We at Microsoft are committed to working with institutions while harnessing technology to better fulfil their missions of preparing intellectually and technically competent citizens for success in the Information Age”

And further:

“At Microsoft, we foresee a world where all children will be using mobile, digital devices to enhance the learning process both at home and school…in a Microsoft Anytime Anywhere Learning (AAL) world, every student will have their own laptop computer.”

Tony Roberts’ [Computer Aid International] weather forecast:

“In the UK alone over one million computers are buried in landfill sites every year – bespoiling the countryside and damaging the environment … worldwide, 56 million computers are thrown away every year.”

Joris Komen’s [SchoolNet Namibia] weather forecast:

“Professor Steve Molyneux, the Microsoft Chair of Advanced Learning Technologies at the University of Wolverhampton in the UK, has secured some 7 million pounds for a short-term Microsoft-oriented research project; in contrast, Namibia’s economy has enormous difficulty raising 7 million pounds required to provide self- sustaining ICT access and infrastructure to every single school, nation-wide. This is the calamitous comedy of development.”

David A. Wheeler’s weather forecast:

“… according to Robert Kramer of CompTIA (Computer Technology Industry Association), political leaders everywhere from California to Zambia are considering legislating a preference for Open Source software use; he counted at least 70 active proposals for software procurement policies that prefer OSS/FS in 24 countries as of October 2002 … clearly this demonstrates significant positive interest in OSS/FS from various governments.”

————————————————————————

Given these contrasting contexts, dare I hazard to guess that the international perspective as described by David A. Wheeler’s excellent report on Open Source software may help you rationalise the *current* dilemma facing Microsoft in its purportedly philanthropic efforts in Namibia? I argue that your recent efforts are simply ill-conceived ploys to arrest the increasingly common view that such philanthropy does little to obscure Microsoft’s solipsism.SchoolNet’s view is that software licensing is a gadfly all consumers and developers can brush aside with a little co-operation and a common adherence to the punk rockier part of IT: Do It Yourself.

Critically, one fundamental, oft overlooked, issue, is the fact that while “free” Microsoft software offers may well be seen as generous, they are effectively limited to lower quality PC technologies which are NOT bound by “global PRELOAD OEM Agreements” enforced with Tier 1 computer manufacturers such as Compaq, Acer, and Dell, to name but a few. Without exemption from such Preload OEM agreements, Microsoft donations (and Open Source solutions) must either be installed on older or lower quality machines, or must first be paid for – since these costs are embedded in the Microsoft-Manufacturer OEM Agreement – and then overwritten with ‘free’ or open source wares, as we inevitably do, on the high quality computers. Such entrenched OEM deals sap Microsoft’s offer of any genuine, or even effective, generosity !!

SchoolNet Namibia has recently been through just such a dilemma with Microsoft. To illustrate:

George Ferreira wrote:

Subject: RE: Microsoft Schools and cost of laptop preloads
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2002 10:51:56 +0200
Message-ID:
28E2969FC8666944ACE963D31413975D023EE7BF@job-msg-01.africa.corp.microsoft.com

We would like to set up a meeting with you to finalize the implementation of the Terminal Servicee solution at thee sschools you have metioned below. From our side we are ready to deploy together with your nominated technical candidate so that he maylearn the implementation of technology.
Regarding the Aceer Notebooks, Acer has a global OEM agreement with Microsoft Corp, in which they have to report all desktops or notebooks being sold. Due to the series of the Notebook which you are taking it comes standard with an O/S being primarily Windows XP Pro.
Please Accept that I cannot go and interfere in Comparex way of business…

Microsoft undertook to provide gratis licensed operating system and Office Pro application software for up to 100 laptop computers in the SchoolNet – AED BESII (USAID funded) programme in Namibia. Originally, Microsoft offered old MS Millenium stock to serve this purpose, but following our request to upgrade to an XP Pro or MS 2000 equivalent, and given the insistence of our development partners, Microsoft agreed to this change. Following a move to provide laptops with Intel, rather than inferior ISI630 processors, we were fortunate to secure a really good deal on (tier 1) Acer laptops (US$600 below normal retail), but with the dilemma of not being able to avoid Preloaded OEM (XP PRO), as Acer dealers such as Comparex are contractually bound by Microsoft.

Microsoft is now, post facto, unwilling to cover the cost of this preloaded MS operating system, which will set NetDay/SchoolNet back some US$ 9,000, but will still provide 50 gratis licenses for Office Pro, locally valued at some US$ 2,000. Unfortunately, this license package requires us to load Office Pro on each of the 50 laptops, without any documentation being made available to the recipients of such application software.

From the outset of our consultative meetings with Microsoft, it was made abundantly clear that SchoolNet and NetDay would be happy to provide Microsoft with an opportunity to develop a potential alternative to our viable Open Source LTSP refurbished LAN and stand-alone Linux-PC solutions for schools and teachers in Namibia and further afield in Africa. The original understanding was that each of five pilot schools would be furnished with a 20 refurbished diskless thin-client computer + contemporary server laboratory, at Microsoft’s cost, to show and tell Microsoft’s extraordinary commitment to affordable LAN computer technologies for education in Namibia.

At our consultative meeting at Microsoft offices on Thursday 17 October, it became imminently clear that the development of a potential Microsoft alternative to our viable Open Source LTSP refurbished LAN solution at five pilot schools in Katutura would incur considerable cost for SchoolNet, given the revised understanding that Microsoft would not be paying for the refurbished hardware, but would only provide the software platform at some unknown Research & Development (!!) cost resulting from co-opting expertise from other third-party Microsoft partners.

Such a change of direction would result in SchoolNet having to pay out in the order of US$ 4,500 per school to provide Microsoft with a significant educational branding opportunity in Namibia, coupled with free technical support service obligated by SchoolNet to all its school clients, in an extraordinary deviation from SchoolNet’s commitment to provide skills development, technical support and helpdesk services to its Open Source LTSP LAN school clients and Linux-PC teacher clients.

Based on your earlier blatant assertions, Microsoft is very keen on harnessing major publicity along the lines of “Microsoft replaces Linux at SchoolNet Namibia”. I’m afraid that is simply not going to happen. I have, from the very beginning made it VERY clear that SchoolNet has NO desire to REPLACE Linux with Microsoft, but would be happy to accommodate an AFFORDABLE Microsoft diskless refurbished thin-client LAN alternative for potential use in areas where Microsoft distributors would be able to provide technical support to such proprietary Microsoft LAN alternatives.

I should, however, stress that SchoolNet has no desire to FUND Microsoft in such an endeavour, to the tune of US$22,500 for pilot [Microsoft-driven] school hardware + US$ 9,300 for laptop MS OS, in exchange for a paltry US$2,000 worth of proprietary OFFICE PRO application software!

I would like to express my sentiments regarding the way SchoolNet, and through it, 1545 schools in Namibia might, remotely, have been duped for a paltry US$ 2,000. I do so, since you likely still see SchoolNet Namibia as a velitation of some negligible nuisance value.

Given recent developments in Peru (see Dr EDGAR DAVID VILLANUEVA NUÑEZ’s breath-taking correspondence), I’m actually afraid to say that SchoolNet has the tenacity of a DDT-resistant Formica Ant.

SchoolNet provides strategies, technologies and network implementations that solidify Namibia’s nascent knowledge economy. Our products bespeak a great opportunity for replication, and promise to narrow the digital divide in the majority of developing countries in Africa. A bit big to swallow? Chew it — DDT is another flavour of global corporate partnership in development .

Earlier this year, South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki announced in his state-of-the-nation speech to Parliament that Microsoft would provide free software for all of South Africa’s 32,000 government schools. Subsequently, in apparent Zeitgeist, Microsoft Africa pledged to try to do the same for Namibian schools, through SchoolNet, in exchange for direct branding opportunities with some of SchoolNet’s educational projects.

A big multi-national company trying to shrink the digital divide by giving the kinds of things that are purportedly easy for it to give amounts to a philanthropy properly called perverse. While corporate generosity should ordinarily be worthy of praise, recipients must approach it with utmost suspicion nevertheless. At the risk of solecism, I suggest that offerings in the vein of Microsoft’s philanthropy belie good corporate citizenship to the advantage of key business in most developing African countries – lucrative Government enterprise licenses! Viva WSSD, viva WSSD Global Partnership Outcomes as seen through the eyes of the Vandana Shivas of the world!

As rightly pointed out by http://www.bridges.org earlier this year, the real issue for schools is not the cost of proprietary software licensing, but the challenges and costs of deployment, maintenance and skilled human resources of sustainable ICT infrastructure at often very remote schools. Conventional Microsoft products have rapid product cycles and quick obsolescence, along with expensive long-term maintenance and support implications. In the few urban settings in Namibia, there are probably enough MCSE paper tigers to get some affordable, albeit dubious, maintenance and support. However, such probability declines as one travels into remote areas of Namibia.

It is highly unlikely that Microsoft will ever respond to this missive, unless of course it perceives SchoolNet to be a pest as swatable as the Peruvian government. Given these circumstances, and SchoolNet’s own special brand of Open Source Zeitgeist, I see no further reason for SchoolNet to pursue Microsoft philanthropy in Namibia.

Our well-developed relationships with those international development, government, parastatal and local corporate participants which support the roll-out of ICTs in education in Namibia will see us through delivering a tried, tested and well-supported open-source LTSP LAN solution to some 600 odd (mostly secondary) Namibian schools in next 2 years (as well as countless schools elsewhere in Africa), coupled with various value-adds such as gratis internet access, reduced telecom costs, wireless technologies, solar technologies and open source educational content and administrative tools – a truly miraculous gem of an educational ISP cost-benefit model for replication throughout Africa – with an absolutely clear conscience!

Shafted for a paltry US$ 2000? Not in your wildest linga-longer dreams!

Yours faithfully

Joris Komen
Founding Executive Director, SchoolNet Namibia and NetDay Namibia.

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Posted in anger management, assistive technologies, beltway bandits, EduNet Namibia, FOSS, FOSSFA, George Ferreira, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, ICT4D, Ict4e, M$FT, schoolnet

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