Microsoft licences too expensive, say schools

Microsoft licences too expensive, say schools

Summary: As Becta begins a review of Microsoft's pricing for schools and colleges, IT professionals working in the sector are adamant that they're paying too much

TOPICS: Tech Industry

Schools do not get good value for money from current Microsoft licensing agreements, IT professionals in the education sector claimed this week.

In a series of interviews with education professionals at the BETT educational technology show in London, ZDNet UK found broad consensus that Microsoft educational licensing agreements are too expensive.

"A lot of schools are looking at open source — budgets come into play here. Microsoft licensing takes a big chunk out of schools budgets. The biggest issue is cost, basically," said Michael Allen, ICT technician of Swanmore College of Technology.

Microsoft educational licensing agreements fall into two categories: perpetual agreements, where schools buy software outright; and schools agreements (also known as annuities), where schools buy and renew contracts.

The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) is currently reviewing whether Microsoft licensing agreements represent value for money for schools. Preliminary results are due in June.

"[Microsoft's licensing] is too expensive. It should be a damn sight cheaper," said Andrew Coates, IT technician at Fernhurst Junior School, Portsmouth. "After the Becta review, Microsoft might reassess pricing. There should be at least a 50 percent reduction in price, I think."

Darren Smith, network manager at Mayfield School, Portsmouth, feels similarly: "The schools agreement is cheaper for us [compared with buying individual upgrades], but it's still overpriced," he said "We're teaching the kids to use Microsoft software, so in effect we're doing Microsoft a favour. All of these kids are potential Microsoft customers — the pricing should reflect this."

An educational IT consultant, who did not wish to be named, believes that Becta's investigation is needed. "Does Microsoft licensing represent value for money? Well, everyone knows it's too expensive."

Ben Morgan, head of computer education for United World College in Singapore, explained that he doesn't use the school's agreements at all: "We tend to buy machines with Windows and Office pre-installed, as schools agreements don't represent value for money for us. The schools agreement is only economical in particular circumstances — you have to be pretty sure you run all of the upgrades. If you're not using an up-to-date version of Windows, it's not worth the cost. And if you choose to opt out of a schools agreement, you can't use the software," he said.

Microsoft denied that its licensing did not represent value for money.

"Good value? If you have a good product, and spend money on research and development, then costs reflect that. It's not an unreasonable price, and customers still have a choice. I think it's cracking value," said Stephen Uden, head of citizenship, programmes and relationships at Microsoft Education UK.

Uden said Microsoft 's business customers were already irked by the level of discount given to schools: "It's not charitable, but we do sell at a 75 percent discount compared with businesses. We get earache from commercial customers who buy in huge volumes," said Uden.

Uden also defended Microsoft in the light of the Becta review.

"The key thing is, we give people a choice. I disagree that schools agreements lock people in. You do have a choice — you can get a perpetual license if you don't want a schools agreement, or you can choose to buy a competitors' product," said Uden.

"Most of the big money is spent [by schools] on hardware, and it costs us money to develop software," Uden added.

A spokesman for Apple would not comment on whether Microsoft represented value for money, but said that Apple did.

"With iLife, schools can buy an up-to-date program and get upgrades at a very minimal cost. If you look at our philosophy, when you buy a Mac it comes fully loaded with iLife. Podcasting, video and music editing comes free, and it interoperates with Office for the rest of your life," said David Millar, UK corporate relations manager for Apple.

Another Apple employee added that schools can get good value for money from small software developers.

"Small software developers have some really fun programs coming out — and they have the same philosophy as Apple. People aren't there to be ripped off," he said.

Topic: Tech Industry

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • Micro$oft is too expensive. Wow - what a revelation!!

    This article doesn't even touch on the ROI factors, which include hiring folks for rebooting servers, apply weekly patches, crash analysis, not to mention the extra administration than would be necessary if the server side were NetWare and the desktops were Linux. Naturally, anything other than Windows is going to be more secure, reliable, and stable.

    Check out the "MS (In)Security" section of for updated news on examples as to how this is true.
  • I'm in agreement that MS products are priced far too high for either the home or educational environment.

    I also feel that schools shouldn't feel the need to teach purely on the MS or MAC platforms. The actual platform doesn't matter - the principles are pretty much the same.

    Having a curriculum based entirely on MS products can be compared with telling driving instructors that all new drivers must only learn to drive in a >2001 automatic Ford Focus, and that no other make, model or generation of car is to be used for lessons or the driving test. So what happens when the driver goes out to the "real world" and discovers that there are in fact other models out there? And that some might have (Shock horror) MANIUAL gearboxes?

    Now apply that same logic to MS and the IT industry... OMG! There's an Apple? There's Linux? There's OpenOffice? Shock Horror!
  • The way ahead is simple. Just adopt OpenOffice on windows, keeping this OS temporarily. Then you have freedom in terms of money and freedom (in terms of speech, since every pupil can have their own copy. You will be free from the pressure of a costly upgrade when the vendor deliberately changes the format to induce you to buy a new copy. Having cut the dependency on MS Office it will be easy to move tp Linux or Mac in the future. Its key that the curriculum should NOT require specifc product but spreadsheets and word processing in general terms.
  • To install software in schools that isnt used in industry for poltiical reasons would be criminal.

    Schools should do just want the NHS did mention open source to Microsoft and then get Microsoft to drop costs. They managed to get a 1.3 million 10 year licence at a bargain rate by doing this.

    School is no place for geekware
  • MS file formats are the landmine buried for the kids here. MS has had worked hard to maintain an egregious track record in interoperability, especially when it comes to providing documentation for it's APIs and formats to its competitors, even when the courts so order it.

    The new formats in the pipeline, like MOOX, show even less promise. That one in particular is just a skeletal framework with the real activity *still* occuring only through MS' undocumented, patented, proprietary extensions.

    MS has also a history of poor support for its older formats and to use minor incompatibilities in new formats to drive new purchases.That means that the kids' and the schools' files become obsolete and eventually unreadable over time, even if the physical media survives. The way around that is to only sign with vendors which do support open international formats
    that *are* documented.
  • I don't know whether the Competition beaurocrat in Brussells would accept it as anything other than unfairness, but I am of the opinion that if Microsoft (or any other OS supplier) provided schools with their OS at a cost only price there would in a very few years be a new adult generation who really only knew that OS.
    But here the question of piracy would really need to be technically solved for schools systems first - I am sure that there are many in the education services using pirated applications.
    I do, of course, feel that Microsoft and many others do charge far too much for their mass usage software.
  • Vista already has virus patches and it isn't even released yet.

    What a laugh Windoze is!
  • Jon,
    My college stuff on Works 3.1 Stopped being able to (easily) read this a few years ago, can't remember which version of Office this happened. I am given to believe that OpenOffice will read it straight off though....

    Why should the world only need to be able to read data less than 10 years old? Our Public Liability period is 12 years to satart with.
    Why shouldn't my children be able to read any thing written by the previous generation?
  • I agree. Macs are a much less costly option. Of course, many IT people would be out of work, but the Mac IT person could be a teacher and do IT in his/her spare time.
  • Name a older Microsoft format that cant be read by a new version of Microsoft software,

    If you mean will you current word processor be able to read a file created in 10 years time, not a chance thats called progess. Its like asking your VHS player to read a DVD
  • Agree with the comment above about geekware - I would seriously consider educating my own children if I hear my local school was teaching kids using open source software when the simple fact fo the matter is that a huge majority of corporate business uses Microsoft products.

    On a similar note, from personal experience it is very difficult for a business to preempt a customers requirements without initial feedback - Microsoft have already changed their pricing structure for certain organisations when they grumbled , and I would be surprised if they didn't respond positively to this request either.

    Quite how MS get *such* a bad rap with regards to their income when Gates is so philanthtopic is v puzzling to me....
  • Microsoft got rich by a combination of concentrating on what really matters to your average user (ease of use) not security and some shrewd business decisions.

    People waffle on about security but the most insecure piece of technology people use everyday isnt a PC its a credit card.

    Nothing could be less secure than your VISA card didnt stop it replacing a large % of money transations

    Microsoft will not lose big school contracts even if it has to sell its software at a loss, its not stupid
  • I agree with the opendocument approach and as such advise all clients to seriously consider adopting a office software that supports this.
    MS Office does not (and most likely will not) support this as they have developed their own, proprietry format. Hence I'm very pro

    I agree that MS as the desktop OS is still the only real choice (other than macs), but hopefully in the next 5 years, Linux will mature even more and be a serious viable alternative.

    As far as servers go, unless the application demands MS, mine all run Linux...
  • Kingsoft Office Replaces Micrsoft Office, simply

    We had 400+ PC's all needing an office application.
    Kingsoft Research's KSO09 product, after installation needed no retraining as the layout, compatibility and functions we're the same. Students and staff we able to continue where they left off after a simple network installation.

    We had the additional bonus of being able to use some of our ( we were told) out-dated systems. Which now are using the software without any noticeable problems.

    It cost less than 2k for a license to cover an unlimited amount of pc's on campus using a novel licensing concept. The argument about whether suitable alternatives exist allowing an opt-out of high license fees is an old one that can be resolved by a little searching.
    This was simple to resolve. We did, and moved on...
  • Microsoft licences too expensive, say schools

    How about the Microsoft Works file formats. Not even properly supported between it's own versions, let alone to and from MS Office.
  • Kingsoft Office

    I just discovered Kingsoft Office today. I've installed it on WinXP and Win7, on a 100 day trial basis.

    First impressions are very encouraging. It looks better on Win7 (and presumably Vista) than it does on WinXP. Either way, it's easy to use and quick.

    Until the end of the month, Software 602 have an introductory offer on this software, since their own Office Suite has been discontinued, for circa
    The Former Moley