News that an open source company has become an accredited IT services supplier for schools and colleges across the UK broke on Monday. As has been widely noted, this is an important step forward for free software, albeit a rather belated one.
Given the culture of risk-avoidance in UK government and educational circles, the absence of any such accreditation has been a major obstacle to the uptake of open source in schools. Of course, there is no guarantee that there will be a stampede to adopt free software now, but we can be sure that Sirius will be trying its damnedest to convince people to give it a go.
There are two other aspects of the official announcement that are worth remarking upon. First, is the fact that Novell, contrary to some earlier reports, was not included on BECTA's list of the chosen few. At one level, that's a pity, since it would have been good to have had more than open source supplier. On the other hand, many – including myself – have their doubts about Novell's commitment to the principles of free software, however much it may be happy to make money from it.
Novell's agreement with Microsoft, and its pushing of technologies that are encumbered with patents is extremely dangerous: there is a real risk that the open source world will wake up one day to find that a large segment of its user base has deployed code fatally tainted by intellectual monopolies.
Against this background, then, Novell's absence from the list is probably a good thing. What Sirius may lack in terms of clout or brand recognition compared to Novell, it more than makes up for through its adherence to the core principles of free software.
The other thing worth noting about the BECTA list is that it was created in “collaboration” with OGCbuying.solutions. I'd not come across this specific outfit before, but here's what it says on their Web site:
OGCbuying.solutions is an Executive Agency of the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) in the Treasury.
We provide a professional procurement service to the public sector to enable organisations to deliver improved value for money in their commercial activities and provide professional support when it matters, advising on technical issues, energy saving and environmental improvements.
The hope, then, is that having approved an open source vendor for UK schools, OGCbuying.solutions might now view free software in a more positive light for the rest of government computing.
Well, I can dream, can't I?