Government demands Office competition in schools

Government demands Office competition in schools

Summary: Six competing Office packages should be offered in education, says government advisor, in another blow to Microsoft

TOPICS: Tech Industry

There are now six credible alternatives to Microsoft Office in schools, according to the government's advisor on IT in education.

Open Office, Corel WordPerfect Office, Star Office, Lotus SmartSuite, Sun's One SE and EasyOffice all offer the functionality that schoolchildren and teachers need, said Becta, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, in a report issued this month.

All six packages were found to offer at least half of the functionality of Microsoft Office 2007, providing all the essential features for the education sector.

"We looked at nine alternatives to Office. Six had at least 50 percent of the functionality, offering the basic functions that you need," Tom McMullan, a Becta consultant, told ZDNet UK.

But Becta also found three popular Office application suites which it said were too poor to be used in schools. The blacklist was led by Microsoft's own Works package, a simplified version of Office. Also discouraged is the use of Ability Office, sold by supermarket chain Tesco, as well as Google's online applications.

Becta called for a selection of the six commended alternatives to be offered to schools as well as Microsoft's software. Becta executive director Stephen Lucey said: "We want to see easier access to competitor products so that schools and colleges can exercise real choice."

Becta said there were 176 more features in Office 2007 than in Office 2003, but said that most of the advancements were appropriate only for the private sector. There were no "must-haves" for schools. "Becta has not yet been able to identify any realistic justification for the early adoption of Office 2007 across the educational ICT estate," it wrote in a report which evaluated both Office 2007 and Vista, Microsoft's latest operating system.

Microsoft, though, dismissed Becta's findings. Steve Beswick, its director of education for the UK, said, "Teachers are pushing Office 2003 hard. We haven't seen many schools switch to open source and there are lots of new features in Office 2007."

Refuting the suggestion that it was difficult to argue with an organisation as powerful as Becta, Beswick told ZDNet UK: "An even bigger force to argue with is the customer. They should evaluate it and test it."

Mark Taylor, the founder of the Open Source Consortium, a UK-based group of open source suppliers, said schools should consider whether the extra features in Office 2007 were worth the cost. "Open Office hasn't got as many features as Office 2007. The question is whether it is worth those extra features for the price tag. Do people use all the features in Office 2007?" he said.

Taylor added that migration from a Microsoft package to Open Office was no more complicated than migrating between Microsoft packages.

As reported last week, Becta also suggested that schools should not yet deploy Vista. It said that costs were high and that, as with Office, there are no must-have features for schools in the new operating system.

Microsoft is offering a free 60-day trial to encourage schools and businesses to try out Office 2007.

Topic: Tech Industry

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  • At last! The emperor

    Sounds like a long overdue breath of fresh air and good sense. I've noticed that the water available for schoolchildren to drink in schools lacks 126 of the features that are present in Coke and Pepsi. I don't notice the DfES cravenly removing taps from schools and replacing them exclusively with vending machines. How nice to think that schools might be able to offer books to all their pupils!
  • Free unlimited day trial of OpenOffice

    The Open Source Industry in the UK, Europe, and Worldwide is offering a free infinite-day trial to encourage schools and businesses to try out OpenOffice.

    No DRM
    No bizarre, dysfunctional product 'activation'
    No closed file formats
    No cost (hidden or otherwise)

    If you get your copy at, er, any point you can have as many additional free extra copies as you'd like.

    If you are familiar with the look and feel of Microsoft Office 95, 97, 2000, etc. you will be familiar with the look and feel of OpenOffice - it's certainly much closer to these products than Office 20007 is! Plus you get the reassurance of an existing international document standard.

    Support and Training is available... well, pretty much everywhere. You can try any of the companies who are members of the Open Source Consortium for starters.
  • I

    I wonder what effect this will have in making people realise that MS office isn't the only product available?
  • Compatibility?

    I think the main problem would be if you do decide to try open-office and save it in the open document format, then try to open it with MS Office, they wont be able to open it, you have to save it in a MS office standard. The issue is compatibility, which is something slightly lacking this time in MS Office. If a school does decide to do this, they might just have to hand out copies on CD or something so that the students would not have this problem at home.

    Unfortunately Microsoft