By hook or by crook

Saturday, February 14th, 2009 | Feasibility

Fishermen conceal hooks in pieces of bait in the hope that an unwary fish would be fooled into thinking that a morsel of food is up for grabs. The fish is, in effect, offered a free lunch. But since there is no such thing as a free lunch, the fish often has to pay a price by becoming the lunch itself.

Schools should take a lesson from this. Beware of anything that seems to be free – particularly on the technology front.  Search for the hooks.  There may be none, but you could never be too careful.  Consider a few possibilities.

Second hand computers are donated to a school.  This is usually done when it is no longer financially viable for the donor to maintain the equipment.  The hidden hook is that the high cost of maintenance is transferred to the school.

Microsoft has a free licence agreement with schools in South Africa according to which schools may use most of their products at no cost.  But this agreement is only valid for a few years.  What happens after this period?  Is this a clever trick to hook schools into a product from which it would be difficult to be extricated?

An alternative to proprietary software is open source software.  The promise is that it is free and can liberate a school from money-grabbing software companies.  Is there a hidden hook?  Is it possible that some companies are preparing to enrich themselves through consultancy and training that must inevitably happen when schools try to come to grips with an unfamiliar technical platform?

Donors offer free technology to schools.  Why would they do this?  What do they hope to get in return?  Often the cost to install the equipment exceeds the value of the donation.  Could one afford to accept such gifts?

Then there are the NGOs (Non Government Organizations) and NPOs (Not for Profit Organizations).  Through a published philanthropic guise a school may be tempted into a relationship with such a body.  But you simply have to investigate the remuneration packages of the executives of these organizations to see how noble the organization really is.  And what do they expect in return for their services?

Of course, these examples are generalizations and do not apply to all who offer free services and products to schools.  There are some honest give-aways out there – but they are few and far between.

School principals and teachers are, in general, naïve when it comes to commercial tricks.  Often schools are cash strapped and in need of assistance.  For these reasons one can not blame them if they get hooked.

A warning is in order – look out for the hooks and the crooks.

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1 Comment to By hook or by crook

Wednesday, 18 February, 2009

We have to be equipped with the relevant information to make decisions in the best interest of the organisation (the school in this case). Personally I would say that I would not have survived had it not been for FLOSS. All my software is legal. I bought Windows XP (two copies) and MS Office 2007 despite working for Khanya. I should get it free, but there is no legal agreement between me, Khanya and Microsoft. My decision was to buy it in the interest of my work. The rest are all freeware or shareware running on XP or Linux. I am have partially moved over to Linux because I’m not buying anymore software. It will make me bankrupt. I would rather invest my time in learning and maintaining my hardware. What I like about FLOSS is that I can copy it and install it as much as I like without any activation codes. It can be installed on a 1 GB flash stick (4 GB would be better) and used on any machine. The hook here is the learning curve. It is flippin’ steep especially if you are used to Windows.

I am not in favour of school getting older/second-hand computers. Having experience in working with schools, too much maintenance.

As for using MSOffice instead of (free). When one gets used to using a certain product, you are loathed to change.Cola tastes crap when its not Coca Cola even when the former is much cheaper. The better taste is attached to a higher price. Open Office works like MS Office, but the former is free.

I would say, use what you can or what you have. But at some stage you’ll have to learn new things since IT changes all the time. I’m investing in FLOSS and would suggest schools should do the same on any platform. Vista….crap. Windows 7 – You’ll have to pay again. Will the schools have to do the same when XP is no longer supported or will they get it free? Another hook?

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