Microsoft pilot offers schools 'fairer' software deal

Under the Subscription Enrolment Schools Pilot, schools will not be required to pay licence fees for systems not being used for educational needs
Written by Tim Ferguson, Contributor

Some UK schools may now get better deals on Microsoft software, following the introduction of a new licensing pilot.

Previously, schools buying software from the company on a subscription basis had to do so under the Microsoft Schools Agreement (MSA). The agreement requires educational institutions to pay licence fees for all computers that can technically run Microsoft software — their "eligible ICT estate" — whether they do so or not. As a result, some schools ended up paying licences for software they did not use or need.

Under the new licensing pilot — the Subscription Enrolment Schools Pilot (SESP) — announced on Monday, schools will not be required to pay licence fees for systems not being used for educational needs — for example, administration systems; computers running non-Microsoft software, such as Mac OS X, Linux or OpenOffice; those incapable of running Vista; or those covered by other Microsoft licensing agreements.

In addition, the specification of devices Microsoft includes as part of a school's eligible ICT estate has been increased to allow them to avoid paying subscription fees on obsolete machines. The minimum device specification is now a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive.

Further options
The pilot, which is available only through Microsoft's education large account reseller partners, also allows schools to license Microsoft technology on a per-user — rather than per-device — basis. This option will mean pupils will also receive a copy of the relevant software for home use.

With the SESP, institutions can also choose to have a combination of a user-based and device-based subscription, an option not previously offered under the MSA.

A spokeswoman for UK government education tech body Becta said the SESP will mean a more equitable deal for schools. "We believe it's a much fairer system. It's going to address some of the issues we've raised with Microsoft in the past around licensing agreements for schools," she said.

Becta chief executive, Stephen Crowne, welcomed the pilot, saying it will bring greater competition and more opportunity for schools to get better value for money. "It will also make it easier for such schools to use a mix of proprietary and open source products as they see fit," he added in a statement.

Last year, Becta lodged a complaint about Microsoft with Office of Fair Trading due to concerns around competition, choice and value for money associated with the agreement. The OFT has since been working with Microsoft to produce the new licensing options.

Becta's spokeswoman said the organisation took the issue to the OFT as "we didn't feel it was something that could be progressed between [us and Microsoft]. One of our roles is to ensure value for money in terms of procurement — to be able to get the best deals for schools — and we felt that [the agreement] really wasn't allowing schools to get the best value for money."

While the SESP will mean schools will not have to pay for software they do not use, Becta said the new model may not necessarily lead to cost savings.

The price may not be right
According to Becta, the cost per device will increase if a subscription agreement is not institution-wide — for example, where schools use open-source software. Licensing agreements based on device numbers will see per-unit costs rise by 10 percent, while those based on user numbers will go up by 30 percent.

Where cost-cutting is a priority, schools will need to cut down a sufficient amount of Microsoft-equipped devices to justify the cost-per-device price increase, according to Becta.

Steve Beswick, senior director for education for Microsoft UK, said: "There's a balancing act between simplicity and cost. If you're not committing the whole estate, then there are price variations accordingly. If you're making more of a commitment to Microsoft, there'll be a better price and if you're making less of a commitment to Microsoft, there'll be an increased price."

According to Beswick, just 10 percent of UK schools Microsoft deals with use a subscription model, with the remainder using perpetual licensing — where they buy Microsoft software with their hardware.

He added that the agreement will continue to be offered alongside the SESP, as customers like its simplicity. "All you do is count up the PCs in your estate and there's a price for running Windows and Office and a few other licences from Microsoft, and you're kind of done," he said.

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