In a series of interviews with education professionals at the BETT educational technology show in London, there was 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 licence 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.
ZDNet UK's Tom Espiner reported from London. For more coverage from ZDNet UK, click here.