Better access to rival products called for
A review has been launched to examine the value for money and risks of lock-in involved with the use of Microsoft software by schools and colleges.
Becta, the agency which oversees use of IT in education, said it will review the 'value for money' of Microsoft's educational licensing programmes in the UK, including the range, scope and cost of academic licensing models available, and whether they meet the needs of UK schools and colleges.
The agency said its review will pay "particular attention" to Microsoft's subscription licensing models and the "risks associated with non-perpetual licences".
It will examine the total costs of exiting those licence agreements and the corresponding risks of "lock-in".
Becta said: "If risks are found, the report will seek to identify mechanisms whereby schools and colleges could mitigate those risks and protect their investment."
The agency said it wants to be sure that if a school or college opts for a subscription licensing deal, that terms of it "do not expose them to unacceptable risks such as unforeseen price rises or effectively lock them into a relationship with that licensor".
The review will consider the "educational advantages" of investing in products - including the forthcoming Vista operating system and Office 12 suite - compared to using existing software. It will also look at how often schools should renew these types of software.
Becta will also investigate how schools and colleges can get better access to alternatives to Microsoft products.
The agency said it is important that schools and colleges have access to a range of products - and where a single supplier is dominant, "particular vigilance" is needed to make sure schools aren't locked in by a licensing mechanism.
Becta chief executive Owen Lynch said in a statement: "I am particularly keen to ensure that where there are alternative products to those available from a dominant supplier, schools have easy access to them. We will explore with the industry whether in the case of products which are 'free' to the education sector it makes sense to reduce barriers to uptake by 'pre-loading' such offerings."
Microsoft said it will fully co-operate with Becta's review. Writing in a statement to silicon.com, the company's UK director of education David Burrows said: "Microsoft is confident that our products and solutions continue to deliver value for money and meet educational need. The licensing options offered to education customers were designed after close consultation with schools, colleges and universities."
The interim report is expected by June 2006.
Read the silicon.com leader on this subject here