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Becta, the schools IT agency, has signed a new licence with Microsoft that it said offers better value for money and does not hinder open source adoption.

Becta, the schools IT agency, has signed a new licence with Microsoft that it said offers better value for money and does not hinder open source adoption.

The new deal removes the requirement for schools with a Microsoft subscription to license the company’s products across their entire IT set-up.

Previously schools had to spend money licensing machines that run alternative operating systems such as Linux and Apple Mac OS, and licensing those that are already covered by a different agreement.

The new agreement introduces the option of “user-based licensing”, so that pupils can also use the systems at home.

Becta had complained to the Office of Fair Trading about interoperability of Microsoft Office 2007 and about software licensing arrangements for schools. But in September it announced it was close to signing a better deal.

It said the agreement marks “substantial progress” over the concerns relating to “competition, choice and value for money”. Exact terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Stephen Crowne, Becta chief executive, said the move offered savings and would also make it easier for schools “to use a mix of proprietary and open source products”.

Microsoft also provides support in Office 2007 for the Open Document Format (ODF) file format, a move that Becta has acknowledged.

In September, open source firm Sirius was among 12 firms chosen for Becta 's “Software for Educational Institutions Framework” agreement. The framework aimed to allow schools to purchase IT without having to conduct a full European Union procurement process.

The move does not guarantee that schools will deploy open source products. But John Spencer, head of education at Sirius, said it showed the company "has the resources" to support schools.