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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Boston Tea Party 2.0

Published: November 11, 2005
Section: Opinions

On September 1st of this year, the Massachusetts legislature enacted the second Boston Tea Party: dumping Microsoft Office off the hard drives of all the states computers. The basis for the decision was rooted in democracysupporting open standards guarantees that all Massachusetts citizens will have the ability to read electronic documents in the future. Brandeis should follow suit, not just for democratic reasons, but to ensure that all students are able to communicate with their professors using cost-free programs.

Open standards are specifications made available for free to anybody, allowing for royalty-free software development. The major benefit to these standards are that open-source software, such as Open-Office can be developed and maintained with volunteer labor for free. Additionally, open standards ensure that people can read and edit documents in the distant future, regardless if the program used to write the document is still available. A great fear of the governments is that in 8-10 years, documents of today will be unreadable by the software of the future. We as students should be extremely concerned, for similar reasons, that our work will be lost, even to ourselves, in the years ahead.

At Brandeis, professors do not accept files unless they are written on one of the most expensive pieces of software for the massesMicrosoft Office. It is absurd that students should be expected to shell out hundreds of dollars every few years for Office and its upgrades when there is free software available for download. While it is true free software can open and edit Microsoft Documents currently, its support is not 100% and professors and TAs have emailed me before saying that my paper formating was distorted and to fix it.

Additionally, the economic waste is substantial. There are approximately 3,500 students and faculty in the undergraduate program at Brandeis and assuming that all the students and faculty purchase the Office Student and Teacher Edition, we waste well over a half million dollars. The amount of money the University pays to outfit all the computers on campus with the program parallels in monetary waste.

It is time for the Brandeis community to stop spending needlessly and protect the accessibility of our work for the future. The reduced expenditure on software will help lift the burden on the cash-limited budget and ensure that the poorest students will not be handicapped by their inability to afford the latest Microsoft Office Suite. The appropriate decision-making bodies of Brandeis should discontinue their sponsorship of Microsoft Office and require all professors to accept papers written in open formats.