I've been a pretty harsh critic of Becta in the past. But I have to say, that as time goes on, Becta seems to be getting better and better in its understanding of open source and the role it can play in education. Here's its latest move:
In October 2007 Becta complained to the UK competition regulator – the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) - alleging:
anti-competitive licensing practices by Microsoft in the schools software marketplace
the existence of impediments to effective interoperability in relation to Microsoft's Office 2007 product.
In January 2008 the European Commission announced that it was initiating a formal investigation in relation to Microsoft's approach to interoperability across a number of areas, including:
" .. whether Microsoft's new file format Office Open XML, as implemented in MS Office, is sufficiently interoperable with competitors' products."
Following discussions with the OFT, Becta has now referred its interoperability complaint and related evidence to the European Commission in support of the Commission's wider investigation. At a recent meeting with the Commission Becta set out its key areas of concern and their impact on the UK education system.
Becta's focus on interoperability is particularly welcome because it acts as a counterpoise to Microsoft's own interpretation of what that particular meme means. Moreover, it comes from a body that once was decidedly pro-Microsoft, which adds to the credibility of its charges.
Let's hope that the European Commission starts to get the message that far from representing an opening up by Microsoft, the nominal ISO standardisation of OOXML will actually make interoperability even harder, thanks to small but important discrepancies between the de jure and de facto standards.