Frustrations With Commercial Educational Software


I recently became a computer teacher for junior kindergarten to grade 8, and have learned that dealing with for profit software can be quite a headache. A lot of that commercial software is quite good, and there is certainly a lot of choice compared to the open source world, but it does present some interesting challenges.

No software EULA's here

In one case, I cannot legally use the retail version of the software on classroom computers. Rather, I have to purchase the nearly identical education version that costs over 30% more in small quantities and about 5% less on a volume license.

Presumably the logic behind this is that more people will be using the software, and it will be in service for much longer. Thus they have to charge schools more in order to maintain profitability. Still, it does impact what I can do in the classroom since a $1,000 license for 20 computers is non-trivial. And that only covers one application that is a small part of the educational program being offered.

Another angle that many end-users aren't familiar with is buying software on subscription. Simply put, you pay for the rights to use the software on an annual basis. If you stop paying, you have to stop using it. Nope, you cannot even continue using the old version.

In addition to the financial burden is the support burden. Even the most trivial things are time consuming when you multiply it by 20. For profit entities want to protect their intellectual property rights, and they will do so by physical and quasi-legalistic mean.

A physical protection may require the CD being inserted into the drive when the program is run, which doesn't work well with some classroom management software and certainly doesn't work well with some children (who like ejecting CDs). A quasi-legalistic protection may involve presenting the EULA each and every time a program is run. Not only will the 4 to 6 year old, that the software was designed for, not be confused by it; but it wouldn't even be binding upon them.

Sugar and FLOSS does a few things right. Since Free software is free in both senses of the word, it is not a financial burden upon the classroom. Reducing the financial burden also reduces the bureaucratic burden, since you no longer have to get administrative approval for expenses.

Sugar also makes things like software installation easier, which is important if you want to try new stuff with your students. No multistep installers that are basically there to present the EULA. No license keys to transcribe many times over. No verifying that you have adequate rights to install that copy.

Now if only they offered more of the software that I need to teach.

Jordan originally submitted this article as a comment on OLPC News

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It seems as though you consider both the libre and gratis aspects of free software essential for your purposes. I sympathize, but really expecting something necessary for your job for absolutely nothing is naive.


Almost all software I need for my job is available for free, and I am a software developer.

A public school teacher in a properly functioning school system (read -- not one you have in US) should expect all materials that he needs to be commissioned by the government anyway -- why would it be a public school system otherwise? Since educational software has no practical purpose outside of being used for education, and education is available to everyone, why would that software (or textbooks) be proprietary in the first place? Are there people that are not supposed to be using it?

Oh, of course, in US everything related to public education is turned upside down.

> Now if only they offered more of the software that I need to teach.

The Sugar community welcomes your feedback about what is important for you. Please consider joining and propose new activities and features.

Hi Jordan,

Can you please send me a list of the software you are teaching with that is not available for Sugar already?

We've been working to fill these holes, for example:

My contact info is available at

Wade Brainerd
SL ActivityTeam coordinator

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