Microsoft yesterday announced Windows 10 S, a cut-down version of Windows 10 for the education market. They plan to make it available to PC makers to sell laptops with, for as little as US$ 200 a pop. “Like a Chromebook, then”, you say? Exactly, like a Chromebook.
Services as drugs for kids
This is the start of a new turf war for child mindshare. Like drug dealers, Microsoft and Google know that it’s best to get them early, get them young, make them depend on your products. Microsoft even helpfully supplies teaching aids.
The situation is extra dangerous because Microsoft, Google and Apple are turning into services companies. Microsoft hasn’t always been that way: Up until Windows 7, you bought the operating system as a product. Now you just get a service. And Windows 10 works best, in the eyes of MS, when it’s coupled with a Microsoft Acccount. Even better when you add an Office 365 subscription. They will hammer this fact home to children starting at first grade now.
So don’t be surprised when children, having used Office 365 in all their school work for a decade, end up forking over a monthly part of their income to Microsoft just to be able to still access their data and the applications they know. These kids have been put in jail, and now they will happily pay rent for their jail cell.
Microsoft is already changing their development process so that the juiciest features only become available once you pay a monthly fee, such as with Excel multi-user editing. They can easily extend this tactic to other products, and of course people conditioned to only these products will pay instead of learning to use other software.
You can witness this today with Microsoft Office. Older people who didn’t grow up with things like Google Docs or LibreOffice somehow hold a belief that they need Microsoft Office. They never question that belief. This is anecdotal, yes, but I know scores of people ages 35 – 55 that simply buy Microsoft Office because “you need it” and then barely use any of its features. These people would have been fine just using WordPad to write letters, but conditioning at work and at school taught them that MS Office is inevitable. Or they were so afraid to learn a different tool that they’d rather pay to stop that fear.
There’s also peer pressure created through file formats (“Gee, I can only open that document that Frank sent me if I buy Microsoft Office”). Microsoft needs this peer pressure and will not even shy away from manipulating standardization processes to keep this up, famously having stacked the ballot of dozens of international standards organizations in order to forcefully introduce their MS-OOXML format into ISO. Microsoft’s manipulations were so obvious that the majority of the Norwegian standards committee resigned over this.
This is the kind of company you’re dealing with. Not afraid to use dirty methods to get their way. And that’s who will be teaching technology to your children. Cuddly, eh?
MS can’t stop thinking about the children
Know that as these companies battle it out, improving the lives of children is not their first priority. It may be somewhere there on the list, but the more important parts are:
- Make children know your products at the earliest possible age. Make them recognize your products and prefer them over the competition.
- Use your total dominance of the operating system to technologically force children to use your products instead of the competition’s.
- Take childrens’ data as hostage. Offer access to this data only for a monthly fee once they’re out of school.
- Analyze behavioral data and build psychological profiles on all the children, stuff that can later be sold to marketing companies or used in AI training.
- Manipulate teachers into teaching only your own technology stack, so that when the children become adults, they will choose your technology for their companies instead of your competition’s. And they will offer resistance when their employer evaluates something else (“But this doesn’t look like Microsoft OneNote! I want Microsoft OneNote!” or “But I know C#, I learned it with Minecraft! I don’t want to program in Python!”)
Psychology is on Microsoft’s side, since beliefs ingrained at an early age are harder to change later in life. Religions also make use of this effect.
I think I’m not the only one who has complained that schools need to teach concepts and not products in IT. Knowing what makes a word processor different from a text editor, knowing what options you have when picking software and hardware, is much more useful than knowing where to click to change the font in Microsoft Word. Knowing the building blocks of programming is applicable to any programming language: a free and open one like Python as well as one dominated by a single for-profit entity with other priorities, like C#.
What you can do
Proprietary software vendors have been in this manipulation game for a long time, and they’re good at it, so schools now teach products instead of ideas and skills. If you want to do something against this, be active, talk to your school, ask tough questions.
- Why is the school actively endorsing one product and not mentioning others?
- Why are they not including free and open source software?
- Why are they not teaching vendor-independent skills?
- What are the details of the school’s deal with Microsoft or Google, and how can parents have a say in it?
- What happens to your childrens’ data when changing or leaving school?
- Did anyone even show you the licensing agreement and privacy conditions, did you and your child agree to them?
Expose your kids to the full range of available software at home, from all vendors and including FOSS, and teach them that it is not required to rent software as a service, no matter what the Microsoft leaflet from school says.
You are just one parent or hopefully two, so you’re not likely to succeed against the huge marketing budgets that MS and Google blow on child manipulation. But it’s important to try.
Dennis Forbes, who claims to have a good track record when predicting technology shifts, also commented on Microsoft’s new products but reaches a different conclusion. He says that Windows is already dead. I wonder if enterprise customers notice this before I’m retired 🙂