Becta files Microsoft complaint with competition watchdog

Becta, the government's education IT agency, has filed a complaint against Microsoft with the UK’s competition watchdog, alleging anti-competitive practices in the schools software market.

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Becta, the government's education IT agency, has filed a complaint against Microsoft with the UK’s competition watchdog, alleging anti-competitive practices in the schools software market.

A interim report of a Becta investigation of Microsoft’s academic licensing arrangements, published in January, raised concerns about choice, competition in the marketplace and value for money for schools. A separate report on the Windows Vista operating system and Microsoft’s Office 2007 productivity suite highlighted worries about interoperability.

The move to refer Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) follows discussions between Becta and the software giant.

The education IT agency said some progress has been made in talks but fundamental issues remained unresolved, including the limitations Microsoft placed on schools using its subscription licensing arrangements and potential interoperability difficulties problems for schools, pupils and parents who wanted to use alternatives to Office, including free software such as the open source OpenOffice suite.

Becta hopes the OFT complaint will push Microsoft towards a shift in its position.

In the meantime, the agency has advised schools not to adopt the Microsoft's School Agreement subscription licensing model. Those schools already signed up to the agreement should “consider their renewal and their buyout options” – along with any recommendations the OFT might make, Becta said.

Schools should not deploy Office 2007 until its interoperability with alternative products is satisfactory, implying “effective support by Microsoft of the internationally approved ODF file format”, the agency added.

Becta has previously been criticised by MPs for issuing “outdated purchasing frameworks” that deter schools from using open source software.

Earlier this month, the government handed out nearly £840m to boost IT in schools following the pre-budget report and comprehensive spending review settlement.

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