Government still tech agnostic despite Vista concerns

The government wants people to have skills in both open-source and proprietary systems, but educational agency Becta has serious concerns over Vista
Written by Tom Espiner on

The government remains committed to technological agnosticism, despite concerns from the educational agency Becta over Microsoft technology.

Becta, the organisation that implements government educational technology policy, has claimed Windows Vista and Office 2007 should not be deployed in schools because of potential compatibility issues with earlier versions of Microsoft's software, as well as software produced by Microsoft's rivals. This view was reiterated on Wednesday in an update to a Becta report released late last year.

However, speaking to ZDNet.co.uk at the BETT educational technology conference in London, schools minister Jim Knight said opportunities for learning existed with both open-source and proprietary software.

"I think it's important we don't close down the opportunities offered by both open-source and [proprietary] software," said Knight on Wednesday.

While open source can offer "considerable cost benefits" for educational establishments, people may need skills in the use of multiple operating systems in the future, according to Knight, who said one of his main objectives was to equip people with those skills.

"There can be considerable cost benefits [with open source], and we're in the middle of negotiations around those issues," said Knight. "The outcomes I want [from the negotiations] are to see young people access all sorts of software [and] to feel confident with the use of open-source and proprietary software."

Knight said Becta was "working on negotiating procurement specifications with software suppliers to ensure an open market and maximise the benefits of software [use]".

Tony Richardson, Becta's executive director for strategy and policy, told ZDNet.co.uk on Wednesday that Becta's general principle was that educational technology should conform with specifications that enable learning, such as agreed standards of interoperability.

"We need to be clear what technology will achieve, and describe the functional specifications to do that," said Richardson. "Standards around interoperability are important — we want learners to be able to access personal information as they progress through learning for life, and be able to use a variety of different systems to do that."

A Becta report into Microsoft in schools, updated on Wednesday, recommended that schools do not deploy Microsoft Vista.

Brian Hardie, Becta's director of marketing and communications, told ZDNet.co.uk on Wednesday: "For those institutions upgrading ICT systems, we do not recommend implementing Vista, or the use of a mixed Windows environment."

Hardie also explained that Office 2007 is not recommended for schools as there are interoperability issues between Microsoft's latest file format, OOXML, and the open file format ODF, making it difficult for users to switch between platforms.


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