|FROM ||From: "Ray C."
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] Morality and MS
Morality and Microsoft Software
Is it wrong to buy the $149 Student and Teacher Edition of Office, thus saving
November 14, 2003: 3:42 PM EST
By Peter Lewis, Fortune Magazine
NEW YORK (Fortune) - In my review of Microsoft's new Office 2003 software, I
noted that "Standard Edition" Office and "Student and Teacher Edition" Office
were essentially identical, but that the Standard version cost $399 and the
Student-Teacher version cost $149.
To qualify for the $149 edition, according to Microsoft, someone in the
purchaser's household must be a student or a teacher. But -- and here's where
today's conundrum arises -- I also pointed out (wink wink, nudge nudge, say
no more ) that neither Microsoft nor any retailer I visited had any intention
of checking customer identification to verify the buyer's student or teacher
Reader Mike Massa of Coral Springs, Florida, was upset.
"You have embarrassed FORTUNE and should issue an apology to Microsoft to say
the least!" Mr. Massa wrote via e-mail. "Are you advocating that if you are
not a student or a teacher, not to worry about buying a copy since no one
checks if you are or not? If FORTUNE sold your article to another magazine,
and they knew you wouldn't check, would you be so easy to mouth off? Do you
steal stuff from a store if you know they won't check to see if you are as
you leave the store?"
I asked Mr. Massa to elaborate. He wrote back: "Just because Microsoft has
been declared a monopoly does NOT allow their rights to be ignored ..." He
said he doubted that I would advocate falsely pretending to be a student or
teacher in other situations in order to obtain discounts. "Yes, Peter, this
is a high moral ground, but ... it's what you do when the cameras are not
viewing you that makes you a moral person or not."
So now I find myself in the paradoxical situation of asking Microsoft for
Is it morally wrong, I asked Microsoft, to buy the $149 Student and Teacher
Edition of Office-thus saving $250 on the cost of the Standard Edition but
forfeiting the right to purchase upgrades in the future?
Dan Leach is Lead Product Manager, Microsoft Office System. Here's what he
wrote via e-mail:
"Microsoft's goal with the Student and Teacher Edition of Office is to make
our best productivity software tools available to students and teachers, and
make it as easy as possible for them to acquire those licenses. Mr. Lewis's
review accurately points out twice that the purchaser must qualify for this
non-commercial license. By accepting the licensing agreement, customers are
confirming they are eligible and agree to follow the terms of the license.
Mr. Lewis's review is also correct in stating that neither Microsoft nor its
retail partners check student or teacher ID cards at the retail point of
purchase. That is because we trust our customers, and they are confirming
they qualify when they go through the license acceptance procedure on
Here's a link where you can see the qualifications needed to avoid moral
Ignoring Mr. Massa's admonition that I have embarrassed FORTUNE by revealing
my moral deficiencies -- hell, I'm a journalist, for crying out loud -- the
question is whether I owe Microsoft an apology for suggesting that people who
are not officially students or teachers can save $250 by buying the Student
and Teacher Edition of Office, which is identical to the Standard Edition of
Office except for two main things: It cannot be upgraded, and it can be
installed on as many as three PCs in the home.
Here's what I think is really going on: Microsoft officials do not want the
Student and Teacher Edition of Office to be used in commercial situations
(i.e., in small businesses or home offices that can afford the $399 Standard
Edition price). But the last thing it needs is a public relations black eye
for busting widows, orphans, nuns, community volunteers, and other honorable
but humble customers who want to use the industry standard Office software
but who cannot afford the full cost of Standard Office.
A growing number of such potential customers are sniffing around at cheaper
alternatives like Corel's WordPerfect Productivity Pack, and indeed a number
of PC companies like Dell and Gateway are sending budget-class computers out
the door with the WordPerfect suite installed instead of the Office suite. By
offering a less expensive version of Office to families with young children,
Microsoft is cultivating customers who are likely to continue using Microsoft
Office software as they grow older.
Microsoft, being an honorable company, would never dream of gradually locking
in these users through the use of proprietary file formats, meaning that
documents created using Microsoft Office would not be readable (at least in
their formatted form) except by people who also own Microsoft Office. (The
last time I checked, Office had a 94 percent share of the office suite
market, and Microsoft wants to keep it that way.)
But I digress. The issue at hand is whether I owe Microsoft an apology for
noting how easy it is to purchase Microsoft Student and Teacher Edition under
false pretenses, assuming one is not a student or teacher.
If I'm not mistaken, Mr. Leach's letter suggests that my column may have been
dishonorable but fell somewhat short of being morally repugnant.
Still, in this era of moral absolutism, reprehensible acts demand some sort of
punishment or retribution. Accordingly, I hereby apologize to Microsoft for
pointing out to readers that they can buy a fully functional copy of the
Student and Teacher Edition of Microsoft Office 2003 for a mere $150, plus a
small slice of their souls for violating Microsoft's trust.
As penance, I vow to use a Windows-based PC for at least an hour this week.
At times the discrepency between institutions and technology becomes an
incompatibility, and then one or the other must give way.
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