Some disturbing news about the state of tertiary education in South Australia being reported by Suzanne Tindal on ZDNet Australia. Flinders University and TAFE SA (similar to a polytechnic for my Singaporean and Malaysian readers) have adopted Microsoft Exchange based Live@Edu for a three year contract. While on the surface the features actually sound cool, the potential ramifications of adopting this expensive system are scary.
To Microsoft's credit they've done some stuff right recently, or perhaps "less wrong" is a more fitting description. Windows 7 improved the experience over Vista, Internet Explorer 8 renders pages in a somewhat more standards compliant way and is faster than IE7 or IE6, and while the hardware is still unappealing the Zune's music subscription service sounds like a great way to discover new tunes.
This education initiative is not something to add to that list.
I can't help but think Microsoft is worried about the increasing penetration of Apple notebooks in tertiary education as well as free and open source OSs in IT courses and that they'll use their Live@Edu service to provide a reason not to use Macs or FLOSS over, say, a Windows 7 loaded machine.
Speaking from experience
I'm a student at the University of South Australia which uses Exchange and Outlook Web Access which in any other browser except Internet Explorer 6 is terrible. Unlike Google Wave which warns people trying to access it in non HTML5 standards compliant browsers, Microsoft warns me when my browser doesn't contain their proprietary rendering engine and as a result is not capable of displaying a dynamic inbox that Google managed to figure out how to do in other browsers back in 2004.
I've made no secret of my general loathing of most Microsoft products and my dismay at their spectacular fall from grace (I grew up on Microsoft Multimedia titles in primary school and loved them), but if the South Australian government or Microsoft won't guarantee that contemporary browsers that meet certain open standards used by students will be able to access all these new services, this amounts to a monopolistic move and should be investigated by an independent body.
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I talked about the lack of transparency with Microsoft and various Australian governments back in April of this year (It started as a Centrelink Windows 7 critique) in the context of the cost involved, something I haven't discussed here but that also bears keeping in mind.
To tell the truth I'm more frustrated with the South Australian and Federal governments than I am with Microsoft.