Vermont schools cash in on Microsoft settlement

A total of 135 Vermont schools will share $4.7 million in computers and equipment in a settlement of a class-action lawsuit between Vermont consumers and Microsoft Corp. The state was expected to start distributing vouchers to the eligible public schools in mid-July.

“I’m very pleased to have funding go to our schools,” Education Commissioner Richard Cate said July 10. “In Vermont, $4.7 million is a pretty good amount of money.” Vermont is at least the third state–Montana and Minnesota are among the others–whose schools have begun to collect on a series of high-profile antitrust settlements with Microsoft. In total, 15 states and the District of Columbia entered into settlements with the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. The settlements end a series of class-action lawsuits in which U.S. customers and businesses claimed Microsoft was violating antitrust laws by overcharging for its Windows operating system and its Excel and Word software programs. Microsoft denied the allegations, saying the prices on its products had dropped.

As part of these agreements, customers were to receive vouchers from the company that would allow them to purchase new software and hardware products of their choice from any vendor. Though each state has a slightly different agreement, the consensus was that a large portion of any unclaimed vouchers–as much as two-thirds in some places–would be distributed to schools to upgrade aging technology components. The rest would be returned to Microsoft.

Under the terms of Vermont’s 2004 settlement, consumers and businesses that purchased certain Microsoft products between March 31, 1995, and Dec. 31, 2002, could apply for a reimbursement voucher to buy computer hardware and software and other technology from any manufacturer. Microsoft agreed to pay as much as $9.7 million in vouchers to consumers and schools across the state.

The vouchers are available to Vermont schools in which at least 40 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. The value of the vouchers is based on enrollment and ranges from $1,500 for the Granville school to $168,000 for Brattleboro Union High School.

Good news for Linux users in court battle

A U.S. magistrate has struck down many of the SCO Group Inc.’s claims against IBM Corp., saying SCO failed to show its intellectual property was misappropriated when Big Blue donated software code to the freely distributed Linux operating system.

Magistrate Brooke Wells dismissed 182 of SCO’s 294 claims, dealing a major setback to SCO’s $5 billion lawsuit. That’s good news for schools and other users of Linux software, which face the possibility of having to pay licensing fees to SCO if a decision ultimately favors the Utah company.

The suit, filed in 2003, accused IBM of donating SCO’s Unix code to Linux software developers (see story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=4426), but Wells ruled SCO had produced virtually no proof of the allegation.

She said SCO had “willfully failed to comply” with court orders to show IBM which of millions of lines of code in Linux were supposedly misappropriated. SCO argued that was IBM’s job.

Wells likened SCO’s stance to a security guard who accuses a shopper of stealing merchandise–and demands the shopper show proof of the theft.

“It would be absurd for an officer to tell the accused that ‘you know what you stole; I’m not telling,'” Wells wrote in a 39-page decision signed June 28.

The magistrate said that if there was any merit to SCO’s claims, they were likely to produce only nominal damages instead of billions of dollars.

SCO acknowledged that the ruling was a setback, but spokesman Blake Stowell said the company would continue to press its case. He said the magistrate dismissed general claims but kept several major ones that assert lines of Unix code were dumped into Linux.

Any appeal would go to U.S. District Judge David Kimball, who has already upheld an evidence-related ruling by Wells that SCO had appealed.

IBM spokesman John Charlson said the company doesn’t comment on litigation, but that Wells’ ruling “says it all.”

SCO doesn’t have enough evidence “to shake a stick at,” said Pamela Jones, creator and editor of Groklaw.net, a web site devoted to open-source software legal issues. “Linux is booming, and everyone knows now that the code has been examined every which way, and it’s clean as code can be,” she said.

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