Have we raised a generation of technology drones?

Short URL: http://fsmsh.com/1902


I received an interesting note today from the school my children attend. In order to save precious dollars, last school year, I suggested that they begin using OpenOffice and only install Microsoft Office where there are licenses. The note I received today listed computer needs, and one of the needs listed as "Because Open Office is a lesser program compared to the Microsoft office programs, it wouldbe helpful to have either tutorials or at least manuals for these programs." Now, I agree that I should have provided books or pointed them to online manuals. However, since the school has been using OpenOffice for over a semester now, with minimal support requests, I incorrectly assumed everything was running fine, or at least they could google answers to any problems. However, the point that actually amused me wasthe assumption "Because Open Office is a lesser program..."

I have been in the IT field long enough to remember when we didn't live in a Microsoft centric world. Several office applications from different vendors existed: Wordstar, Ami Pro/Word Pro, WordPerfect,Word, etc. Everyone had their preferences, based on needs, personal preferences, support and sometimes just on having learned a particular application first. Microsoft's domination in the office and now educational desktop seems to have led to a generation of technology drones. How can competition exist when anything not produced by Microsoft is considered to be a lesser product?

Part of my involvement with the school includes introducing free and open source software where appropriate. Their web site, which didn't exist before, is running on Joomla and LAMP. Over the summer Iinstalled an Ubuntu LTS server for file and print sharing; using a re-purposed desktop computer. These are behind the scenes deployments and are transparent to users. The school was fortunate enough toreceive a generous donation to replace the near 40 computers in the computer lab. Due to the software they own and purchased new, the desktops are running Windows XP Professional as are the teacher and administrative computers.

This isn't a tirade that free software is the answer to all technological needs, but I am of the opinion to put technology that meets your requirements in place. I can't imagine K-8 students havingthe specific requirements for Microsoft Office. At least I have never seen a RFP for K-8 computer labs requiring MS Office specific features. If there are, I should be a little more concerned about our educational system.

This also isn't a tirade against Microsoft. I currently support both Windows and GNU/Linux environments. Admittedly, I would prefer to operate in a GNU/Linux only environment. My preference is based on my experience with supporting both platforms, independently and in heterogeneous environments. One of the problems I currently have is locking down desktops without a Windows 2003 server and Group Policy (a personal nightmare), or third party applications, (i.e. more money). Since the educational applications are Windows based it would be illogical to suggest another desktop. Desktop lock down in Gnomeor KDE would be a much simpler and cost effective solution if it weren't for the chosen applications. I have had luck with third party applications locking down Windows desktops and sometimes the added cost is worth the uptime.

In receiving this note today—and yes I was amused at the context—it made me reflect on the recent attempts to introduce options for desktop applications. It seemed that Applixware, WordPerfect for GNU/Linux and others didn't have a chance against the Windows desktop domination. Things are changing, GNU/Linux is a viable desktop operating system and choice has been the result. How then does the IT community compete against this singular mindset? This generation must have their minds opened to creating new ways of doing things, new ideas, and new technologies. It amazes me, going beyond the information age, the limits some have put on themselves. I worried that maybe I had become a technological elitist. I knew alternatives were available, I figured out how to use them, and they serve the needs of my users. How can I be an elitist though, when trying to provide a cost effective, hopefully innovative, solution to a problem?

The most troubling though, is that these young teachers have possibly grown up in this technology isolation, never even considering that viable, even superior, alternatives exist. Fortunately, my childrenhave been exposed to their options and know that there are alternatives. They have embraced these alternatives and I look forward to a new generation that can realize these options, make choices based on their requirements and not just become another generation of technology drones. My generation has certainly remembered the way it was, maybe we can change this current generation.



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I am the technology coordinator for a small school in New York, and am a big fan of open source solutions. Our website currently uses Moodle (moodle.org), and open source course management software (much like the pricey Blackboard). There are tons of free applications out there for schools to use, but it is often difficult to get administration on board... until they see the numbers:)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Over here in England, GCSE and A-Level courses are BASED ON MICROSOFT SOFTWARE.

Yes. Really.

Well, they don't say "use Microsoft Word to do this", but it tells you where to find stuff on Microsoft software. So I walk in with Linux, and get told I can't use the internet. They say because I could break it; I say because they don't understand it ;)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

You know what's funny? You read their opinion about MS Office being a "better program" than OpenOffice, and because of this, you start to question the whole of humanity, figuratively speaking. Nevermind the fact that the entire blog post is just looking for possible reasons to protect your own opinion.

Obviously, no one can have such an opinion if not for brainwashing. My god, what has happened to society that no application can ever be better than Microsoft's in the eye of the public? Nevermind the fact that this opinion comes from people who have no specific reason to hate one package or another out of fanboyism, and who aren't just saying things because they're too lazy to perform the rollout. These are remarks coming from people who installed OOo, worked with it, and felt, at least somewhere, uncomfortable working with it.

I, as a longtime computer user, software developer and allround technology lover, can't say I disagree with them, and alot of my friends wouldn't either. Honestly, the fact that they're actually telling you they might need manuals (and thus taking upon them the added task of reading and understanding those) might be a hint at the fact that OOo's UI isn't quite as intuitive or inviting as MS Office's. Sure, it might also mean they're just really, really used to using MS Office, but I can't remember the last time I set up MS Office for anyone and had them ask me for manuals afterwards.

There's something really authistic about the idea that, because they have a specific opinion you do not agree with, you start wondering what has happened to the world that such a thing is possible.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I'm a young teacher who's been fighting tooth and nail to get my school to let me even install "some" OSS apps. I managed it, but only the students in my IT classes were shown them - all other students are ignorant of their existence.

I'd love to run at least one of our three IT labs fully OSS (read: GNU/Linux), but the state education department has a deal with Microsoft that basically has us agreeing to use Microsoft products (admittedly for markedly reduced fees).

Maybe once our Technology Coordinator (who doesn't even know what a CPU is) loses the position (hopefully to myself) in a few years time changes can start to happen.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I have been traveling through S.E. Asia recently. The perception here is that MS products are better and all others are inferior. In this context inferior is synonmous with unfamiliar.

I have also noticed that people would prefer to use pirated copies of MS software rather than the GNU/FOSS offerings.


Terry Hancock's picture

Well, at least they were honest in blindly calling OpenOffice "lesser". It makes it pretty clear that there is no specific reason for preferring MS other than "everybody else is using it, so it must be better".

Regrettably, MS has shown us what happens when a proprietary format or program is considered a de facto standard.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on


I loved you post. I have been thinking this for quite some time. I, too, remember a time when there were wordstart, ami pro, multimate, xywrite, etc. As a tech writer, i use and have used many different wordprocessors and know that word holds its "superior" perception only because if MS exercising its monopoly AND, IT support people, for big organizations, seeking a single solution to support. (IMO, this is partly how we got to where we are now.)
Also, while the Open Source movement is making headways, i would argue that they are only duplicating the problem, i.e. Open Office is an attempt to dupllicate MS Office. BUT, if these are not good tools, then the goal is to duplicate only a good tool. I would challenge the Open Source groups to not only try and duplicate, but why not try and create a BETTER product. (e.g., why not try and Open Source a version of Wordperfect?)
For my own use, i still use Xywrite, under DOS, under virtual PC on my six year old Mac Powerbook. A great and extensible wordprocessor that, imo, is still unmatched.
Great article!


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I used Open Office for years. Then I began contract work. All of a sudden some of the fancier documents that I was to interact with would not open in OpenOffice. Oh well, I care more about my earning potential than advocating an application that is not practical for use. It's just the way it is.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I too can remember when Microsoft wasn't the dominant game in town. I learned wordperfect in highschool and many people I knew had Apple II family computers. I even still had my C64. After spending several years in a MS world and thinking it was the only thing worth while anymore I then found GNU/Linux and have been using that for a few years now. I have two daughters that I intend to show the freedom of choice to as they get older.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I agree with your comments.

Whilst I read the article I told my friend "Open office IS a lesser product" and told him that you can't email a C.V. saved as a word document to a company without atleast checking it on a real copy of Word first, because OpenOffice regularly screws up formatting and you can't trust it won't damage your reputation as a result.

He challenged me on this so I sent him the most complexly formatted word document I could think of, half pasted from the web with as many features in as possible. He edited it and sent it back and to my amazement it was actually fine.

I was forced to eat my words.

My misconceptions were obviously based on earlier versions of open office. I think people need to stress how much better its become come. Especially since version 2 as well.

Nice Article.


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

OO.org _is_ lesser. Even for trivial wordprocessing tasks, OpenOffice is not as good as Word. I don't understand how you can argue otherwise. I have gotten totally fed up at Word not working, as I am sure most others have, but when I tried OpenOffice, assuming it must be better than Word as Word fails at this super commong task, but OO does an even worse job. So yes, Word is pretty bad, but OpenOffice is no better, and in most cases is worse.

-Charlie Hayes

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

My wife has the same opinion about OpenOffice. To her, it is 'lesser' because you have to learn different methods in order to achieve the same goals. Documents made in one do not look the same in the other, and as most people are afraid of change, they think the system they are used to is 'better'.

Have you considered using wine on top of linux to run the windows-based education software? You could then lock down the desktops in kde or gnome, but allow the windows software to run just fine. A friend of mine just recently got World of Warcraft, of all things, running in linux, so I don't see why a far less complex educational software wouldn't run in it.

Good luck, and thanks for your open-source advocacy!

brantgurga's picture

I have worked in open source software, having been a developer of the help browser in Mozilla Firefox. I have also worked at the most notable proprietary software company, Microsoft. I have used OpenOffice.org primarily because it was free. I have also used Microsoft Office in the most Microsoft environment possible.

I do agree that for most uses, Microsoft Office is not necessary. Even features that OpenOffice.org has are rarely used such as styles. Most people seem to just highlight text and change the font settings manually. For rudimentary word processing, and in the case of educational use, OpenOffice.org should be good enough.

However, there is power that can be wielded when Microsoft products are used together. Sure, you can have a Website that lists when school activities are. However, if you do the same thing with Sharepoint, you now have a Web page and a set of calendar events that seamlessly flow into Outlook and Exchange. I believe that is where the power of the Microsoft solutions come from.

Brant Gurganus

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I'm adjunct faculty at a Utah university and the one course I teach is basic computing. We use Win Xp and Office 2003. Everything we do is focused on the MS mentality and I'm convinced that all we have done is teach our students how to use MS Office products instead of teaching them the reasoning behind WHY you create documents with headers/footers, etc.

In my 5 years here as a student and an instructor I've come to the conclusion that the only program out of the whole course we really need to teach is windows. Like it or not, we live in a windows world and it's important that new computer users understand the primary computer interface. But Office Software? That's a dime a dozen. As Brant said, Office is not nessissary for most of what we teach. Instead of forcing students to use Office (and either pay the cost for the program or the time to use our lab) we should teach them on OO, which is freely avalible and they can convert if need be. Getting text manuals is not a difficult thing.

Now, with all that said, OO is a different product the MS Office. As an experiment, I tried to complete our class using Linux and OO. For the most part, all the basics were the same (with the exception of Linux of course). It was the more advanced features, such as Headers/Footers where I began having difficulties. OO and MS Office may look the same, but in higher level functions they are as different as vinager and water. It took me over a month to figure out how to do basic things I knew by heart with Office. But once I relearned them I had no problems.

I don't understand why educational facilities are so dead set against Open Source Solutions. If your teaching a basic Office course where it is assumed that the student has no prior exepriance or training in Office Products...then why not Open Office? It's better for the school financially and it's better for the student educationally. I can't tell you how many students would love to have a copy of Office to use at home instead of spending hours per week at our lab. But as long as we continue to use Office they will have to pay in time or cash for the 'education' they are getting.

And it's not much...most of our students are computer drones....able to repeat what we ask them to do but not have a clue why they are doing it.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I have to say that in certain circumstances tehre are things that MS Word can do that OOo can't, eg text to tables and vise versa. However, this does not in my mind preclude OOo from the school environment. I as a PA only discovered some of the MS Word capabilities many years after being introduced to the product and I have found OOo Write to be almost as user friendly as MS Word.

There are some amazing short tutorials available for the OOo package on some of the free education sites.

Also as OOo is open source it won't be long before someone/people create tools and stuff for the OOo package that MS doesn't offer.

PS. If you are worried about the format changing, print the thing to PDF, using free PDF writers and send them that way, or save them in MS Word Format (an option that is available).

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I don't know about you, but when does school infrastructure bashing become indoctrinated into the personal ramblings of certain situational aspects that over-generalize the true nature of this articles supposed true intent.

From your articles heading, I would have presumed this to be an environmental piece on the nature of the 'digital age' itself and the affects our current generation of young students is facing, and yet it's more of a tirade against opposing forces that may or may not be within ones control. Such are the bounds of institutionalized corporate/government reach, funding, licensing and subsidies that schools must face with diligence at a constant level.

The nature of teaching in schools has never been to mandate 'new ways of thinking,' there is never a climate of creative involvement in many processes, nor is this instilled into student learning behavior. You are pretty much benchmarked by your output, and not your journey through creative means that go against the status quo [i.e. using 'lesser' means to reach the same expected output].

An easier path to learning or to defy what is the norm is a hard cocoon to crack when policies and protocols become standard rigor. As far as I'm aware students have a right to choose, teachers impart their wisdom as to how conclusive results would be best 'managed, marked and scored,' and not how they would be ascertained through 'creative' approaches to dismantling or changing the status quo. This I can confidently say transposes onto replacing or transitioning any process whether it be the hardware that is used or the software. This however transcends a lot of other issues within the educational system as well.

Ergo, we have a common issue where the path to least resistance will inevitably be always taken and not in most cases by choice, but by political and cultural directions authorized by societal acceptance/expectancy/stigma.

The undertone to this whole article is basically showing you why choice within schooling, is and will always be a forgone option.

Now, the true answer to your question: Yes, we are creating a new generation of drones. Why? It's because students are not taught by choice or lack thereof to be given many options to work and define their aspirations creatively. So as a society of parents and teachers, I believe subconsciously we are producing less free-willed and less free-thinking people than ever before.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Whats really sad, is that all these kids will leave their school, and they will go to apply for jobs in offices, or just about ANY business, and that business will ask. "do you know Office".

they dont ask "DO you know word processing", or spreadsheets etc.

they ask Specifically for MS Office skills, ALL children leaving school these days, have a minimum lever of computer skills, and skill in using computers for "Office type" applications.

saying "I could learn it, so why shouldt everyone else" is Elitist.
children in schools are there to prepare themselves for the real work, and for their working lives.

they should not be pawns for some idioligy be it open source, Linux or whatever else.

they dont teach latin in schools, because its pointless, and does not help the student in the real world. and like it or not, basically 100% of all business use Office and windows.

im sure it would be cheap to teach latin to students in school, but its not a skill that is easily transferable to the real world.
I believe you are doing those students damage, and giving others that learn office applications an EDGE in the real world.

i wonder if you thought this through before putting your beliefs and constraints and a large group of children who are trying to get the RIGHT lessons in life. their chances of finding an employer asking for skills in "OpenOffice" rather than MSOffice, are Few are far between.

its helps your cause, to "get em young" but you are restricting them.


"There seems to be no doubt that the wild grotesqueness of appearance of the gnu is a provision of nature to protect the animal.
When frightened or disturbed, these remarkable antelopes go through a series of strange evolutions and extaordinary postures, in order to enhance the oddity and hideousness of their appearance, and to frighten away intruders."
(Scientific American Feb 1904)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

You've just used many words to say "drones". Ever more these days, grey/gray is the standard colour and anything else is discouraged. How dare anyone consider anything different?
Just the admission that one uses OpenSouce software attracts a label - bigot, idealog, zealot, danger to society, brainwashed, etc. These brickbats come from people who have been fed what is acceptible and to regard any alternative as an evil or worse.
Put these blinkers on and you will see clearer than ever before - painless 20/20 vision.

Terry Hancock's picture

It's true that the educational bias reflects the bias of the companies which will likely do the hiring. This is a case of "education as a means of producing students as product to be consumed by industry", though, and not "education as a means of enhancing the human potential of each student".

So, which is better, "pawns of ideology" or "pawns of industry"?

Yeah, I know, that's "the way it is". But it has serious drawbacks to society -- it's short-sighted.

And, just for the record, knowledge of Latin remains very relevant as it is an important root language for technical jargon in English. As a matter of fact, it is still taught, though not often required. :-)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

However, there is power that can be wielded when Microsoft products are used together. Sure, you can have a Website that lists when school activities are. However, if you do the same thing with Sharepoint, you now have a Web page and a set of calendar events that seamlessly flow into Outlook and Exchange. I believe that is where the power of the Microsoft solutions come from.

And this is why we need open standards! Imagine if the internet used proprietary standards. Some sites would only be available to certain OSes. Wait, it already happens when people use crufty code "optimized" for IE. What we need is for that Sharepoint to work with any calendar software, not just Outlook. It should work on Mac and Linux versions too. But no, MS just likes locking people into only using their software. That's where they get you, if you use one of their programs, you have to use them all.

they dont teach latin in schools, because its pointless, and does not help the student in the real world. and like it or not, basically 100% of all business use Office and windows.

Unless you are doing some majorly complex stuff, I have found Open Office and MS Office to be identical in behavior. You click on the disk-icon to save, you click on the B to make it bold, etc And, having been working in the "real world" for about 4 years now, I know that 99.9% of people are just doing these simple tasks. It's only when one gets into the ridiculously complex stuff that the methods begin to diverge.

Finally, this guy will expose them to Open Office and I'm sure that another school will expose them to MS Office. Now they can list BOTH of them on their CV. If the hiring manager doesn't know about Open Office, they'll think this is some kind of wonder-kid who knows so much about computers. (Yay for differentiation) If they know about OO.o, then the company probably uses it and it'll be a good thing that the person has been exposed to it.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

All I have to say about it is Massive Market-share.

Microsoft is the de-facto standard. Like it or lump it.

It doesn't seem to me a complex or involved answer to your musings.

How does the linux/OSS community change this is another question entirely.

PS As to the anonymous coward nonsense... Am I to register at every weblog on the net to be brave?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

If you ask most people what a computer is and what it is capable of, they will tell you what windows is and what windows is capable of.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

The drones will one day all be open sources new best friends. They'll like the different colours when it boots. They'll be excited by the different icons.

What is very very sad about the current situation is the way the MS system keeps you on the outside. I wonder how many potential talents have been lost, having just gotten bored with computing because they were only able to see it from the MS click, click perspective.

Remember their adverts :
"We see security" - Yeah, security problems everywhere.
"We have a vision" - Yup, to make more more more money whatever the consequences.

In the future, our generation of "everything is done for you, go watch TV" will be up against countries where progression is rapid. Where ours may say "I'm bored", the foreign children (who DO use open source) will have been growing and learning - and be much happier for it. Our lot will have no chance.

All we really learn is "Look up to the rich. It's good to be really rich and powerful. If you're really rich and powerful then you must be right." So off they go, not worrying about the best way to do things, but how to make as much money as possible out of anything that they do decide to do.

Thank goodness for open source.

Terry Hancock's picture

I have to agree with those who pointed out that OpenOffice has improved a lot from version 1 to version 2. Version 2 has much better compatibility.

One of the things I felt really suprized by was that OOo 1 did not support ODF format! (I had thought that ODF started life as OOo's native format, but if so, it didn't do it until after the version I was using).

This is still pretty relevant, because it was only very recently that the Debian distribution upgraded to OOo 2, so there are probably still a lot of systems out there with OOo 1 as the default.

My earlier experiences with OOo were pretty uninspiring, but I've found OOo 2 to be useful. OTOH, I don't really use it all that much -- primarily I just use it to convert MS Word documents into some useful format. So far, though, it always manages to do that pretty well (I actually use LyX for most of my word-processing needs).

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Ken Leyba's picture


Ken has been working in the IT field since the early 80's, first as a hardware tech whose oscilloscope was always by his side, and currently as a system administrator. Supporting both Windows and Linux, Windows keeps him consistently busy while Linux keeps his job fun.