Microsoft €˜tax€™ on Linux in schools must end says Becta

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Ensuring effective interoperability is another important tool. So for example when we published our MIS and Value for Money report in 2005 we were clear that improved interoperability arrangements were crucial. We identified SIF, tailored to UK needs as the most likely way forward. Now encouragingly we were able to bring together a community of interest which was wide ranging, involving the dominant supplier, to agree a way forward on SIF that is acceptable. So in that instance we did not need to seek the intervention of the competition regulator.

Unfortunately that was not the case with document interoperability in the office productivity space, where despite considerable efforts, interoperability arrangements remain unacceptable. So in October 2007 when it became clear we were not making progress we moved to refer the issue to the UK Office of Fair Trading as part of a formal complaint.

In January 2008 the European Commission launched its own investigation into this issue, covering similar ground, and we have now intervened directly with the Commission to ensure that the interoperability matters we had initially referred to the OFT (including implications for the digital divide and mitigating against effective Home School links), are now addressed by the Commission's new investigation. But intervention via the competition authorities is not our preferred approach. Ideally we want to work in partnership with the industry and we are doing so in a range of ways. We welcome the recent formation of SALTIS (Suppliers Association for Learning Technology and Interoperability in Schools) and look forward to working with them.

Open source companies often complain long and loud about being shut out from the frameworks. Do you think they have some justification or do you feel frustration when you hear this and tend to feel that in fact with regard to trading with schools, Open Source companies can be their own worst enemies?

SL: Well I’m not sure I would go as far as frustration, but it’s obviously a disappointment when any category of potential suppliers feels that they are not able to compete effectively in the marketplace. Becta’s ambition is a vibrant and competitive marketplace that is providing high quality, innovative products and services that all learning providers value, can afford and can depend upon. At every layer of our National Digital Infrastructure (institutional infrastructure and home access, connectivity, data services and learning services) OSS solutions have a role to play and I am keen that they play it.

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