The government's advisory body on IT in education has outlined its reasons for instructing schools to shun Microsoft's latest operating system.
Becta, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, this week urged schools to avoid deploying Microsoft Vista.
"There are no must-have features in the product," Becta argued. "The technical, financial and organisational challenges associated with early deployment currently make this a high-risk strategy. Early deployment is strongly recommended against."
Becta has explained the reasons behind the unexpected criticism of Microsoft in a report released to coincide with this week's schools' IT event, BETT. In the report, Becta argues that:
- Many of the benefits of Vista are relevant to businesses but not to education, such as security tools including Bitlocker drive encryption
- Adding another operating system in a school will add complexity to its infrastructure and support and create extra costs
- A driver for Vista will be when education software providers support 64-bit technology: but this is still some considerable time away
Becta also voiced concerns over the processing power needed to run Vista. Becta said fewer than 6 percent of PCs currently in schools — and possibly none at all — could run Vista's graphical interface, Aero. It also estimated that only around 55 percent of PCs could run Vista with Aero turned off.
Becta said the costs of upgrading hardware that is incompatible with Vista would be one of the five main areas of expense in an upgrade. Schools should also take into account staff costs in upgrading the hardware and installing the software, costs of staff training and the software licence costs.
Totalling these costs, Becta said that if every school upgraded to Vista, it would cost a collective £160m. This would typically be £4,000 per primary school and £25,000 for each secondary school.
Becta also remained unconvinced of Vista's stability. It pointed out that it took three years from the launch of Windows XP to the release of Service Pack 2, which it said was the first time XP was stable.
Urging caution, Becta wrote: "If any institution has a need for early deployment, it should ensure that it has fully and carefully considered the issues... including technical, financial and organisational implications. It seems reasonable not to deploy Vista until it has a demonstrably stable and secure track record."
Becta says its report is an interim version, while it plans to release a "final" version by January 2008. The interim report can be seen on Becta's website.