Microsoft: Indiana Schools Still Favor Windows

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In the study, the Government Insights unit of research firm IDC conducted in-depth interviews with five Indiana school districts that are opting to spend their own funds to continue installing Microsoft software. The school districts said they were more comfortable with Microsoft's as a long-term strategy.

"The school districts interviewed for this study choose Microsoft solutions because they believe that Microsoft provides reliability, adaptability and a long-term vision for its partners in education," said the IDC report, by analysts James Pettler and Thom Rubel. "Reliability, adaptability and a long-term vision come together to maximize organizational efficiency, the learning experience, and taxpayer investment in education."

The school district IT officers that IDC interviewed were identified for the research firm by Microsoft, the study said.

Earlier this year, Indiana officials said that under a state program -- Affordable Classroom Computers for Every Secondary Student (ACCESS) -- more than 22,000 Indiana public school students were migrated to Linux-based desktops integrated into the curriculum. The program is being rolled out in large part with desktops built by Wintergreen Systems, an Elkhart, Ind.-based system builder, and ACE Computer, an Arlington Heights, Ill.-based system builder.

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With the ACCESS program's popularity, Microsoft isn't conceding any ground in the Indiana education market, though one of the Redmond, Wash.-based software company's executives acknowledged that there's room for both platforms.

"If you take the 'free' conversation off the table, what is interesting about open source?" said Anthony Salcito, Microsoft's general manager of education. "Typically, most school districts aren't going into the source code for the OS. What they tend to find interesting is the application work on the edge, where maybe they'll collaborate with other school districts on an application for a student grade book or a learning management system.

"We've actually seen CIOs and others say, 'The best world is where we could have a stable and secure platform, an integrated directory, an integrated security model, with Microsoft software on the desktop, like Office,' " Salcito continued. "We've embraced interoperability across the stack, not only with Linux but with Apple, Sun, etc. That's Microsoft's heritage, to embrace broad platforms."

The IDC study suggested that the Indiana school districts staying with Microsoft solutions favor stable and known platforms. "Every district interviewed identifies reliability as key and indicates Microsoft products are highly reliable. Downtime is rare and their products are secure, they offer," the study said. "Respondents note that since Microsoft solutions are reliable and easy to maintain, their districts save money that might otherwise be spent on outsourcing technology assistance."

John Samborski, vice president of ACE Computer, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner in addition to its work on the ACCESS program, said he has seen a difference in the Indiana school districts that opt for a Microsoft solution vs. switching to a state-funded Linux solution.

"If the school district has money to spend on their own, most of them are buying Windows systems," Samborski said. "But now you're getting some crossover software, like Xandros, where you can run things like Microsoft Office." That works in favor of a partial Linux solution, he said.

Salcito also said Microsoft is engaged in "one of the largest shared-source initiatives" that includes its SharePoint collaboration product and the SharePoint Learning Kit for developing applications.

"We call it 'shared source' because one of the things about open source is there is no accountability at the edge to make sure innovation is connected to the work, as well as making sure the code is secure and stable. So one of the things we've done is put a code base out to the community and say, 'Go at it, figure out how you can use these tools for education,' " he said.

That provides a competitive answer to the shared-development desires of school districts, Salcito added. "We are going to stay part of the conversation," he said.