The battle over the deployment of open source technology in the public sector grew more intense yesterday with the announcement that Microsoft and Becta , the schools technology organisation, are close to a deal.
Becta had complained about Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) about interoperability of Office 2007 and about software licensing arrangements for schools.
This week, however, it welcomed “substantial progress in discussions with Microsoft”.
Becta praised Microsoft’s plans to provide built-in support in Office 2007 for the Open Document Format (ODF) file format. “This will give schools and colleges additional flexibility to use a wider range of software, the schools technology body said.
Microsoft is also reviewing its school licensing arrangements in the light of the refreshed Harnessing Technology strategy which Becta published in July.
Microsoft has pledged to trial a new licensing programme to run alongside the current School Agreement arrangements. “Becta will continue to work collaboratively with Microsoft to secure the intended benefits of the new programme and ensure effective implementation,” the organisation added.
Steve Beswick, Director of Education, Microsoft UK, said, “Microsoft is pleased Becta has announced positive developments in response to its concerns about Microsoft’s schools licensing agreement and interoperability of our Office products.
“The new licensing programme enables them (schools) to expand their user base with fewer up front cost. Consistent with our Interoperability Principles, today’s announcement also demonstrates how we are offering customers greater choice and more flexibility among document formats in Office.
Meanwhile, open source advocates have secured another foothold with the decision by Oldham Council to deploy an open source-based schools internet project.
A high speed web delivery and filtering eill deliver content to Oldham's 112 primary and secondary schools through a 56Mbs connection.
The Oldham system used the open source web proxy Squid, MySQL database and Linux in combination with Websense web filtering technology.
David Honeywell, Programme Manager, of the Unity Partnership, which delivered the system said, said: “We like MySQL because it's free and simple to use if you have a background in Microsoft databases. Squid is also the basis of large web-filtering solutions deployed to schools elsewhere in the UK.”
Sirius Corporation , a leading open source services group, were chosen by Agilisys, the IT partner of the Unity Partnership, to assist in the development of system.
Sirius has rolled out similar projects for Carmarthenshire County Council and the Yorkshire & Humberside Grid for Learning.
Hinting at battles to come , Mark Taylor, CEO, Sirius Corporation said: “Despite the lack of political will within central government, more and more local councils are using Open Source software because it costs less and reduces the risks associated with technology lock-in.”