Claims licensing agreements unfairly impact schools

Becta refers Microsoft to OFT

The UK government’s computer agency, Becta is advising schools to hold off from signing licensing agreement with Microsoft because of alleged anti-competitive practises related to the compatibility and interoperability of its software with rivals.

The agency, which is responsible for monitoring ICT spending by schools, has reported Microsoft to the office of fair trading with regards to the allegations.

Issues include ‘fundamental concerns’ about the licensing of academic software for Office 2007 and Vista. The limitations put in place by the agreement, such as subscription licensing and contract lengths are of particular concern according to Becta.

The organisation has said that schools should only upgrade to Office 2007 when its interoperability with alternative products is satisfactory."

The organisation, which states that is not pro-open source, has stated in the past that primary schools could save up to 50 per cent and secondary schools, 20 per cent of their ICT costs if they swapped to open source.

The organisation also said that by using Office in schools, it essentially forces students and parents to use it at home, saying that alternatives such as Open Office or Star Office, are being shunned, not because they are not as good, but because they were not compatible with Microsoft’s software.

"Becta is determined to get the best deal it can for schools and indeed for the wider educational system, and to make it as cost-effective and convenient as possible for educational customers to acquire the ICT products and services they choose," the agency said in a statement.

"Becta has referred Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading and at this early stage no indication has been given as to how this issue will progress," said a spokesperson for Microsoft.

"We want to reassure our customers, partners and the education sector that it is business as usual.

"This means we will continue working towards the same goal: enabling as many individuals and schools as possible to benefit from the transformative power of technology at the best possible price."

Microsoft, hardware vendors and retailers are also facing possible repercussions from a ruling in an Italian case, after a man was successful in gaining a refund on Microsoft software including XP and Works that he had not wanted installed. He refused to agree to the EULA (end-user licensing agreement) and it told him that he should seek a refund.

When HP, the vendor refused, he took them to court and the judge ruled that it would have to refund the 90 for Windows and 50 for Works. It is unclear if this ruling sets a precedent, but if it does, it could result in many more of these cases, especially with regards to Vista.

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