the software giant: Microsoft Student
by Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First published in CUE BC Newsletter
have long had a love/hate relationship with
software giant Microsoft. Many schools use Microsoft Windows on their
computers, and whether PC or Mac-using, many have Microsoft Works or
Office installed for word processing, spreadsheets, and more.
benefit from discounted educational pricing for
Microsoft software, schools have also felt the chill wind from the
company’s war on software piracy—especially since schools are often
unsure of the legality of software that arrives installed on donated
computers. (Note: if your school gets donated PCs, it should register
with Microsoft’s Fresh Start for Education program- http://www.microsoft.com/education/freshstart/freshstart.asp,
registered schools with a license to install their
choice of Windows 98SE or Windows 2000 on donated computers).
And over the years,
Microsoft hasn’t been clear whether it wanted to
produce software with educational content or not. In the mid-1990s, for
instance, the company had a Microsoft Home division that produced a
large number of high-quality educationally usable CDs, titles such as
Microsoft Ocean, or 500 Nations (about First Nations peoples). By the
end of the decade, the MS Home division was gone and the CDs (with the
exception of the Encarta CD-ROM encyclopedia and some Magic School Bus
titles) were collectors’ items.
This year, Microsoft made
a move back into the home and school realm
with the release of Microsoft Student 2006 (CDN$120 list). Unlike last
decade’s home products, this isn’t a CD filled with educational
content. Instead, it’s an add-on for Microsoft Office aiming at helping
students with homework and assignments.
It’s built around a
browser-like interface that the company calls
Learning Essentials for Students, which adds tutorials and templates to
Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Tutorials include guidelines to get
students started on essays, book reports, art projects, creative
writing, and more. Foreign language tools in French, German, Italian,
and Spanish offer spell checking, verb conjugation, common phrases, and
subscription to the online MSN Encarta Premium includes
Online Math Homework Help. Many major publishers’ textbooks are
available online, along with step-by-step help at solving common basic
math, algebra, and geometry problems. A customizable graphical
calculator is included. (Microsoft also makes a free Power Calculator
available for download (Windows XP only) at: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/powertoys/xppowertoys.mspx)
Knowing that web searches
for school topics can often result in a
lot of wasted time, MS Student includes a long list of ‘trusted’
Encarta reference sites on a wide range of topics.
requires recent PC versions of Windows and Office:
it’s compatible only with Office XP and 2003 versions. Mac-users, even
with a recent version of Microsoft Office installed, need not apply.
Still, teachers in grades 5 through 11 may find this a useful to
resource to have in their classroom or to suggest to students or to
parents looking for products to help their children get more
educational use out of their home computers.