Becta takes Microsoft to the OFT

Becta takes Microsoft to the OFT

Summary: Open-source advocates say the government schools IT agency's complaint will only increase Microsoft's visibility

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Becta, the UK government's adviser on IT in schools, has taken Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading over anti-competitive practices — but open-source campaigners say Becta is still effectively promoting Microsoft.

"This is a mini-step in the right direction, but what Becta is actually doing is keeping Microsoft in front of the market to the exclusion of alternatives," said Mark Taylor of the Open Source Consortium pressure group. Becta's complaint is part of the process of negotiating a new contract for the use of Microsoft technology in schools and will therefore only add to the visibility of Microsoft in the market, Taylor suggested to ZDNet.co.uk on Friday.

In a statement, Becta said it was taking Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) because negotiations had stalled, with no movement on "the limitations Microsoft places on schools using its subscription licensing arrangements and the potential interoperability difficulties for schools, pupils and parents who wish to use alternatives to Microsoft's Office suite, including 'free-to-use' alternatives".

In January 2007, Becta issued an interim report that raised issues over choice, competition and value for money for schools and recommended that schools don't take on Microsoft's Schools Agreement subscription licence until these issues are resolved. Becta also recommended that schools delay any use of Windows Vista or Office 2007 until interoperability issues — particularly with the open-source ODF format — are ironed out. Becta's executive director of strategic technologies, Dr Stephen Lucey, discussed these issues with ZDNet.co.uk earlier this year. 

Despite its apparent frustration with Microsoft, Becta does not actively promote open source. "Open source is a separate issue, and schools can make their own decision," said a Becta spokesman on Friday. "We don't recommend specific technologies — we promote the use of technology per se."

"They're in danger of looking a bit silly, giving the market a non-recommendation and showing a lack of direction," said Taylor, who confronted Dr Lucey on Friday at a conference promoting open source in schools. The event, at Liverpool Digital, was run by the Open Schools Alliance, a campaign body supported by Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh, who has frequently criticised government support for Microsoft. The event had a keynote from Martin Dougiamas, the chief executive and founder of Moodle, an open-source learning environment which leads the market but is still not on any government lists of recommended software.

Becta hopes that Microsoft will "move promptly to address the issues raised" and suggests that schools using Microsoft software should buy it instead of subscribing until the OFT complaint is sorted out, its statement says.

Becta's final report on Microsoft's academic licensing programmes, which was scheduled for January 2008, will now be deferred until the OFT complaint is resolved. The final report on Vista and Office 2007 is also scheduled for January 2008.

A Microsoft spokesperson said: "We have not yet seen a copy of Becta's letter, so we are unable to make a specific comment at this stage. Every day, schools across the UK benefit through using our technology and participating in our academic programmes. We are in ongoing discussions with Becta on this matter."

Topic: Tech Industry

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16 comments
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  • Are we talking about the same Becta?

    "We don't recommend specific technologies
    dogStar100
  • Give us a serious alternative.

    If we were given an alternate OS to use in the education sector i would accept it and if it works effectively praise it. Untill then i feel all the anti Microsfoft has to be dumbed down.
    The point im going to make is say something like Ubuntu is a lovely OS in its own rights but would it work in the educational enviroment? My encounters with IT teachers in primary and secondary school have been diabolical bar one, infact i refused to take my Gsce in IT due to poor teaching ( I now hold several technical quailifications), and as a result i doubt that teaching staff would be able to cope with a change over as they have struggled with Microsoft OS's.
    If there was a clear answer i wouldn't mind articles such as this but until then it is getting really tired.
    chrishocking@...
  • Alternatives?

    The idea that a Linux-based network is too difficult for teachers to manage is both incorrect and patronising. Stop it.

    There are plenty of examples where schools have broken out of the Windows paradigm both in the UK and continental Europe.

    Use Google.
    dogStar100
  • Im talking Mainstream

    Im not being patronising just merely telling the truth. There are some excellent teachers out there. I myself have received excellent teachers for practical IT and networking in Richmond College and continue to do so at Kingston University.
    Im talking Mainstream covering the whole population, sure there will be cases where it has had success but were talking mainstream here. At one of my workshops before i had an IT teacher come in who had completely mucked up her OS trying to Install panda antivirus how would you expect people like her to cope with an alternative (just yet i add).
    People seem to forget that were involved in bringing technology to the mainstream here. I was disadvantaged at school by poor IT teaching (i had been in 5 schools) changing OS now would disadvantage thousands more.
    Note also i would like to see an alternative as i've mentioned but we have to be practical. Maybe using say ubuntu and a small school in the uk and progress it from there if it works would be excellent, but we cant overnight disregard Microsoft because they are producing the goods ( maybe with the exception of vista).
    chrishocking@...
  • Teachers are not Sysadmins

    I think part of the issue here is that we are all still talking Bill's language when it comes to IT in schools. Everyone seems to be saying "We don't like being nailed into using Bill's stuff, but the teachers are used to using it." by which we don't just mean "using" it, but also maintaining and upgrading it.

    The missing part here is that with a Unix-like system, like Linux, the machines in the classroom would be data-less clones, built and updated by automated, hands off systems like yum and apt. The teachers would not need to touch the OS. They would just have to get the hang of the alternative open source packages like Open Office, Firefox and Thunderbird. They would no longer spend their days stalking the corridors with a bag full of CDs ready to do battle. They could actually get on with teaching.

    Once a Unix-like system has been set up and is in steady state, it will generally just keep on running until the hardware pops.

    We also need to get away from the modern phase for teaching GCSEs in "How to use MS Word version x.y.z" and get back to actually teaching how to use computers.
    Andrew Meredith
  • Very True

    Very well said i totally agree, especially with Gcse's. The only thing i would say with other applications when teaching is how widely they are used in the standard work place if that could also be overcome along with finding a stable OS it has the potential to start being implemented.
    chrishocking@...
  • Teaching is for the future

    Another thing that seems to have slipped off here is that students in early school have 10 or even 15 more years to go before they enter the workplace. Teaching them today, what businesses are using today does little or nothing to equip them for when they finally hit their work desks.

    Of course, there is nothing we can do to accurately predict what will be being used in 10 or 15 years time, but teaching to specific versions of a proprietary application that changes almost beyond recognition every 3 or 4 years is not going to help in the slightest.

    Mind you, going by the trends and the fact that market share for Open Source desktop machines is rising fast and, for example, exceeded the use of Macs on the desktop by 50% a little whole ago now; students might very well be better off learning about Open Source operating systems and applications anyway.
    Andrew Meredith
  • Shocking reality

    I think Mr. Hocking is falling into a number of FUD traps here.

    #1 Technology does not mean only the desktop. For example, 250,000 Yorkshire school kids use web content filtering based on Open Source. I think the same goes for Oxfordshire. Welsh counties, in particular, have deployed large web-based services on Open Source stacks. Also what about Moodle? It's the market leading VLE but isn't recommended by Becta.

    #2 The old 'preparing them for the workplace' chest nut... if this were true not a single school should contemplate installing Vista because, guess what, businesses aren't installing it and won't do for the foreseeable future. Educating kids about all things ICT is about developing transferable skills *not* conditioning them into thinking the world outside Microsoft is a really scary place. In fact its quite the opposite.

    #3 If you want examples of large-scale *desktop* deployments of Linux have a look at what Canonical (Ubuntu) have been up to in Extremadura or Andalucia. There are a number of reasons why this isn't replicated in the UK and one of them is Becta.
    dogStar100
  • Read Previous Posts

    IF you had read my previous comments i quite clearly wrote except vista. Also what is really annoying with people is they read what they want and entirely miss the point. Business on their client desktops use Microsoft apart from instances where other OS's work to specific needs. Some people like to turn these posts into slanging matches when i was simply conveying an opinion, infact im crying out for an alternative to Microsoft but can still acknowledge why it is so widely used, if people fail to be able to do this aswell it is a problem with you not me. I refuse to get involved in slanging matches and i'd prefer it if you didn't address me as Mr. Hocking in the future.
    chrishocking@...
  • FUD Trap know what your talking about

    I take it from this 1000193068 you have tried to make a remark you beleive you know what you are talking about, this is very far from the truth. I am in fact a Mac user prodomanantly and also have machines running Suse and Xp so before you believe the comments i make are due to fear first know they are not. 1000193068 what are u a robot use your real name.
    chrishocking@...
  • "I am not a number!"

    Not that I want to get too involved in this debate, but I thought I ought to point out that a lot of our members' usernames are numbers, and this is because they were signed up to our newsletters or whatever before we launched the community-friendly Web 2.0-esque version of ourselves last year. So those identifiers stuck.

    Although I do rather like the idea of us being read by somewhat more sentient robots than those operated by Google!
    David Meyer
  • Latest on this issue

    Looks like this issue has attracted some interesting debate - we have just posted a leader summing up ZDNet's collective thoughts on the issue which you can find <a href="http://resources.zdnet.co.uk/articles/comment/0,1000002985,39290249,00.htm">here</a>
    Andrew Donoghue
  • Cheers David

    Cheers for letting me know that lol (could have told me before).
    chrishocking@...
  • For your information ...

    My full name is *Mr.* 1000193068
    dogStar100
  • RE: Becta takes Microsoft to the OFT

    I read the story as one where Becta wants Microsoft, but at a price, then silence will rain down on the matter.
    I also read the Steven Timms article, lots of non-specifics, probably meaning more Windows skills.
    sboyce@...
  • Serious alternative

    Instead of spending 400 million on curriculum on-line entrenching desktop paradigms of yesterday, invest it in developing web based apps. The vast majority of educational software could be web based, and a lot is not that useful anyway. So you then have a situation where the local operating system is irrelevant and those that want to save money by migrating to eg Linux thin clients can. The money spent on COL is equivalent to approx.
    INGOTIAN