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TCU 360

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All TCU. All the time.

TCU 360

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TCU should make standard software available

TCU should make standard software available

These days, Microsoft Office is essential. As much as I hate to give any credit to the world’s largest software manufacturer, without Word, Excel and PowerPoint, it is incredibly difficult to be productive.And professors know it.

They require group presentations in PowerPoint. They distribute syllabi in Word. They send grade updates in Excel.

To a computer guy like me, the free exchange of raw file formats is amazing. In a group project atmosphere, it’s great to be able to send editable versions of presentations or spreadsheets so each group member can make suggestions.

But then there’s that guy who doesn’t have Office. Instead, he uses Corel WordPerfect or Lotus SmartSuite or even Microsoft Works. Yeah, these applications work just fine, but they’re not the same. They may be cheaper, or possibly better, but they’re not the industry standard.

There are two fundamental problems with software: It’s expensive and it’s confusing. For novice computer users, software can be intimidating.

Many users use what came with their machines (usually Microsoft Works). Some install old versions of Office simply because they obtain them freely from parents or friends. Still others resort to blatant software piracy because it would take too long to explain to Mom and Dad why they need to spend yet another few hundred dollars on software for an already-expensive new computer.

Officials at the University of Texas at Arlington have found a way to fix this problem. Randy Ebeling, associate vice president and chief operating officer at UTA, said every student is required to pay an information technology fee. That fee, $12.29 a semester hour, is then applied to, among other things, software costs. The university then supplies students with a litany of titles for their free, and legal, use.

Included in this list are Microsoft Office Professional, all upgrades to Macintosh and Windows operating systems and a suite of applications called “BevoWare,” which includes anti-virus, anti-spam and security applications, as well as other utilities.

In addition, University of Texas at Austin’s information technology department also supplies students, faculty and staff with a list of other applications they can purchase through its Campus Computer Store at reduced prices, Ebeling said. Often these applications, such as Adobe or Macromedia products, are geared more toward certain departments or majors.

This system is perfect for students, and it easily tackles the two problems I presented earlier. Rather than explain the reasons why, I’ll let Ebeling do it in his own words.

“By providing a common suite of tools in the desktop arena we can make it easier for people to communicate and to connect, secure and protect their systems,” he said in an e-mail. “Faculty can rely on knowing what the students have readily available and not spend time converting from one format to another. Students do not worry about a high or surprise cost of obtaining a basic package in order to do an assignment.

“The packages also help protect/secure the systems from viruses, spam and other problems, and being kept current in both (operating systems) and Office also brings increased protection,” he added.

Brilliant! And to top it all off, students can legally keep the software they receive even after they graduate.

So why hasn’t TCU started such a program? I asked Dave Edmondson, assistant provost for information services, what it would take to do that here. He said it would take a cooperative effort between Information Services and the TCU Bookstore. In addition, he said there would be complex licensing issues with software manufacturers.

I think it would be worth the effort. Sure, the logistics would be hell. Any type of deployment on that scale would take a huge amount of resources and personnel. But, as explained by Ebeling, the benefits would be extensive.

If TCU is going to be a cutting-edge school, its officials need to guarantee access to the best technology, using more than just computer labs. Students should be equipped with and trained in industry-standard software so they can be prepared for entry into the real world.

Brian Wooddell is a senior news-editorial journalism major from The Woodlands.

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