Microsoft ready for open source in schools fight

Open source companies can't match us for application support, claims Microsoft, amid reports that schools can make big savings by choosing non-proprietary software

Microsoft is ready to fight competitors entering the IT education market, it said on Monday, after a leaked government report highlighted the benefits of open source software for schools.

In an email to ZDNet UK, the software company said that competition was welcome but that it offered more supported applications than rival open source providers.

"Competition in the software market is good for customers because it ensures that they get a good deal as it drives choice and innovation," wrote Stephen Uden, group manager of education relations for Microsoft. "There are some 5,000 third party applications available to run on Microsoft Windows operating system but only a handful of applications supported by the open source community. We offer free support and training materials to help teachers and students make the most of their technology."

The UK government's ICT agency, the British Educational Communications and Technology Association (BECTA), is poised to publish a study that found primary schools could halve computer costs if they stopped buying, operating and supporting products from companies such as Microsoft, according to the Times Educational Supplement.

SchoolForge, an organisation that is pushing for open source software in schools, said that there are massive benefits for schools to use free applications.

"The experience of schools involved in deploying Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) is that there is a huge range of resources and software available that will work alongside [it]," said Richard Rothwell, chairman for Schoolforge UK.

"Using FLOSS solutions, a school could install a class suite of computers with Web browsing software and an office suite for a few thousand pounds and then have next to no maintenance costs in its ten year life. Simply deploying FLOSS servers can offer huge savings for a school."

BECTA's report is officially released on 13 May, but as ZDNet UK reported last month, its initial findings were presented to a workshop on 14 April. The panel of educational IT specialists heard that open source software offered lower support, hardware and software costs, and also discussed perceived barriers to open source take-up.

ZDNet UK's Ingrid Marson contributed to this report.