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A US university has outraged its student rag by trying to charge $20 for Microsoft software access - even if students don't use it.

University of Maryland officials have proposed everyone pay the semester fee - even those who don't own a computer, who already have their own MS, or simply prefer to use another kind of software.

The campus will conduct an electronic survey when students sign up for the 2001 spring semester to see if they want the offer. According to the college's student online mag, Diamondback: "Most students will most likely vote against the plan if they have all the facts".

Twenty dollars may not sound like a lot in the dotcom climate, but to cash-strapped students it is an unnecessary extra expense. Diamondbackonline claims the proposed Microsoft program "wouldn't benefit the majority of students".

"Most of us with computers already have the software that the campus would offer, and those of us who are computerless would have no use for it," it says.

It is gunning for the proposal to be scrapped. "There's a lot $20 can buy, let's vote against the proposal and put the money toward something we actually need," it says.

According to Microsoft, the proposed scheme is part of its campus licensing agreement - which lets colleges and schools get cheaper licenses in volume from resellers.

"Students have legal access to a broad platform of products [through the scheme]," Marcia Kuszmaul, Microsoft Industrial Relations manager told The Register. The $20 fee includes access to Windows OS, Office, Web development tools and upgrades.

But when colleges sign up for the scheme they can't just buy the number of licences they need, they are forced to sign up every student - or they cannot get the budget prices.

This makes it difficult to let students volunteer to be in or out of the scheme - because the institution would end up shouldering the cost of the licenses not taken. So colleges try to incorporate it into the school semester fee.

"It's the only way to manage the programme...Because of administrative issues it's best to do it campus wide," according to Kuszmaul.

Colleges can choose to take the licences per department - but each department must have a minimum of 500 faculty and staff to qualify.

"There is a lot of illegal use of software on campuses. This lets schools ensure all of the software on their campuses is legal," Kuszmaul said

And what of the students who are lining the pockets of Microsoft, but don't want the software? "It's up to the individual school."

"$20 is an extremely affordable price to access hundreds of dollars of software," she said, adding that more than a hundred schools in the US currently offer the scheme - either for free, subsidised, or paid for by students.

However, maybe the Great Satan of Software's anti-piracy hit-squad is perturbed by one comment on the Maryland college magazine's site:

"Students with computers likely already have Microsoft Office...Even if the software doesn't come with the computer, most students would just borrow it from someone that already has it," it brazenly states. ®

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