OutSMARTed

computer with a dunce cap

I just got a letter (dated June 14) from the folks at SMART, makers of SMARTboards, etc.  I’ve included the full text of the letter below, in case the link doesn’t work.  It wasn’t sent to me personally, but rather sent out to licensed users of their products.

As I have mentioned before, I really like SMART hardware, but SMARTboards are expensive and not very portable.  I’ve also documented a $50 DIY alternative, based on the Nintendo Wii controller, which has fewer features but can fit in a large pocket.  The SMART software is also very good, but there are several alternatives and workarounds that can accomplish many of the same things.

This puts SMART in a difficult position.  They have been selling their hardware and giving away their software for “free”.  (It’s free the way a drink is free at Taco Bell if you buy a taco.)  Unfortunately for SMART, edupunks who have access to an LCD projector can build the equivalent hardware for $50.  I’ve been told from other people who have built their own interactive whiteboards that the best possible combination is the “free” SMART software on the more portable DIY hardware, which works with any LCD projector.  So, now SMART is trying to clarify that their software is only “free” if you buy or use their hardware.

This seems like a losing battle for SMART.  The RIAA’s approach to penalize consumers who copied music did not make sense but offering reasonably priced songs on sites like iTunes did.  Hollywood was heading the same direction by threatening uploaders of copyrighted material until a compromise was reached that gives the copyright holder a share of revenue generated by ads next to their videos.  Now that is smart.

What is the solution for SMART?  Well, they could start by being clearer about the price of software — it isn’t free.  They could also be clearer about how to purchase SMART software to use on other hardware (so called “Restricted Products,” below).  They seem to be doing this in this letter, but is that it?  I understand SMART’s desire to protect the products they have developed, but treating customers and users of SMART products as scofflaws does not engender much good will.

Our college just got a SMARTboard and two other interactive whiteboards made by SMART’s competitors and put them in the same room so that they can be evaluated head-to-head-to-head.  I’ve suggested setting up a $50 Wii-based version as well.  May the best interactive whiteboard win.

June 14, 2010

To all SMART customers:

SMART Technologies has been investing in SMART Notebook™ collaborative learning software for 15 years. We update and improve our software regularly based on feedback from our users, and we are currently developing version 11. Soon we will release a service pack for version 10 that will be accompanied by a revised licensing agreement, which addresses in more detail the permitted use of SMART Notebook software.

It has come to our attention that misleading or incorrect information about the use of SMART Notebook software is being provided. In advance of the software update, we are writing to confirm the permitted use of SMART Notebook software to help you make informed choices.

When you purchase any of the following eligible “Licensed Product,”
· SMART Board™ interactive whiteboard
· SMART Board interactive display
· SMART Response™ interactive response system
· SMART Podium™ interactive pen display
· SMART Document Camera

a SMART Notebook license is included with the product and you are permitted to use the software on any computer connected to these Licensed Products. SMART Notebook software may also be used on a reasonable number of computers associated with your district or school that are not connected to a pen or touch-enabled devices. This permits teachers to use the software at home to create lessons for use on their Licensed Products in the classroom.

The license agreement does not, however, normally permit the use of SMART Notebook software when a computer is connected to a restricted pen- or touch-enabled device (“Restricted Product”). Restricted Products include, but are not limited to, any touch-enabled or pen-enabled devices that are not on the Licensed Products list above, including the following:
· Interactive whiteboards
· Interactive projector systems
· Display screens
· Screen digitizing devices or slates

To provide options for our customers and enable access to .notebook files by anyone, anywhere, on any device, including Restricted Products, we offer the SMART Notebook Express™ web application, found at express.smarttech.com.

If you have any questions regarding or wish to inquire about use of SMART Notebook software with Restricted Products, please contact SMART at 1.866.518.6791 and follow the voice prompt to press 7 for SMART Notebook license. You can also send us an e-mail at info@smarttech.com with “SMART Notebook license” in the subject line.

Yours truly,
Patric Nagel
Vice President, Sales – Americas

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5 Comments

Filed under Projects

5 responses to “OutSMARTed

  1. Aaron S

    Have you used the Epson Brightlink short throw projectors? Based on the letter you’ve posted, they seem to be the competition that SMART is afraid of. They mention ‘interactive projector’ systems, which basically explains the Brightlink in a nutshell. We have one down here at OU and we’re likely to get more.

    • I’m not familiar with those, Aaron. Is that just the projector, or is there also some kind of touchscreen component as well? Short throw projectors are great because they have special lenses that allow them to be mounted just above the screen they are projecting on. I’ve used one that projected onto a SMARTboard and it really reduced the number of shadows cast by the user.

      I read the letter as a defense against the $50 Interactive Whiteboard, but clearly it is also intended to cover the use of SMART software on all non-SMART technologies. I’d like to check out your setup next time I’m down your way.

  2. Have you checked out Microsoft’s Mouse Mischief yet? It too is a great alternative. I’ll send you an email with more info.

    Great blog!

    -Eric

  3. Pingback: 2010 in review | ESL Technology.com

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