Indeed if the general ICT marketplace is anything to go by it will be an increasing role. So to the extent that Open Source companies want to compete, and Becta wants to promote competition, we have a shared agenda. Now I know you might not think that’s the case judging from some of the (not entirely accurate) blogging out there but I want to get beyond that level of debate. I want an ongoing professional and constructive dialogue with the open source community helping us to understand the issues and where possible put in place appropriate actions.
This should help make OSS products and related services a more compelling offering for educational institutions. And that helps competition. I believe that our frameworks do allow such competition, but it’s not really what I think that counts, it’s what suppliers that want to compete think. So we are having a careful look at our arrangements, talking to key users of our Frameworks like BSF. We will also be developing our dialogue with the wider industry and the OSS community about the uptake of OSS, looking to see how we can improve the overall competitive climate.
I know you are keen that more use of technology is made by teachers and students. Do you think that the emergence of the ultra-low cost notebooks such as RM's minibook and the Elonex One will help drive up the use of ICT?
SL: Yes I think that they have certainly a role to play in improving access and addressing digital divide issues. These devices have really captured the interest of the wider consumer market, not just the educational market and I expect to see further innovation in that space sooner rather than later. They bring together an interesting combination of a new form factor - a Linux based operating system, OpenOffice.org as the productivity suite and at an attractive price point. They are therefore likely to ensure more users experience an open source product that just “does what it says on the tin” and from a competition perspective that is good news.
But they also reinforce the importance of the issues we have referred to the competition regulator. This relates to circumstances where schools using Microsoft’s School Agreement licensing model, are required to pay Microsoft licensing fees for computers based on Linux, or using OpenOffice.org. Finding ourselves in a position whereby a school pays (say) £169 for a device only to be faced with for example a £30 per year after year payment to Microsoft, for a system that is not running any of their software would just not be acceptable to Becta. Indeed I don’t think many people would consider that fair.