UK schools make headway on Microsoft licences

Built-in support for Office 2007 praised

The battle over the deployment of open source technology in the UK public sector grew more intense this month with the announcement that Microsoft and Becta , the schools technology organisation, are close to a deal.

Becta had complained to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) about the interoperability of Office 2007 and about software licensing arrangements for schools.

This week, however, it welcomed "substantial progress in discussions with Microsoft".

Becta praised Microsoft's plans to provide built-in support in Office 2007 for the Open Document Format (ODF) file format. "This will give schools and colleges additional flexibility to use a wider range of software", the schools technology body said.

Microsoft is also reviewing its school licensing arrangements in the light of the refreshed Harnessing Technology strategy which Becta published in July.

Microsoft has pledged to trial a new licensing program to run alongside the current School Agreement arrangements.

"Becta will continue to work collaboratively with Microsoft to secure the intended benefits of the new program and ensure effective implementation," the organisation added.

Steve Beswick, Director of Education, Microsoft UK, said, "Microsoft is pleased Becta has announced positive developments in response to its concerns about Microsoft's schools licensing agreement and interoperability of our Office products."

Meanwhile, open source advocates have secured another foothold with the decision by Oldham Council to deploy an open source-based schools internet project. High speed web delivery and filtering will deliver content to Oldham's 112 primary and secondary schools through a 56Mbit/s connection.

The Oldham system used the open source web proxy Squid, MySQL database and Linux in combination with Websense web filtering technology.

Hinting at battles to come , Mark Taylor, CEO, of open source service group Sirius Corporation, which helped deliver the project, said: "Despite the lack of political will within central government, more and more local councils are using Open Source software because it costs less and reduces the risks associated with technology lock-in."

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