Government technology body Becta claims to have made "substantial progress" in talks with Microsoft over its complaint to the European Commission around interoperability and school licensing arrangements.
The software giant recently announced that it was to implement built-in support for Open Document Format (ODF) files in Office 2007. Becta has claimed it will be working closely with Microsoft to provide feedback on the developments and will then filter back guidance to the education sector.
After Becta's recent publication of its updated Harnessing Technology Strategy report, Microsoft began reviewing its school licensing arrangements. The company will now launch a pilot of a new licensing programme to all UK schools in six months' time.
The scheme will allow schools which do not use any Microsoft software and those which run open source products to avoid Microsoft licensing fees. These schools will now also be allowed to decline licensing for products such as Windows Vista, even on machines that are capable of running them. Schools can also now opt for licensing based on the amount of users, rather than the number of PCs, or a combination of both.
Stephen Crowne, chief executive of Becta said: "I welcome Microsoft's recent announcement of built-in support for ODF in Office 2007 and the very positive discussions we have had with them about their commitment to effective implementation. This will give schools and colleges additional flexibility to use a wider range of software.
"We will continue to work closely with Microsoft and the wider industry to maximise the benefit of ICT to our education institutions. I also welcome Microsoft's plans to pilot new licensing arrangements designed to give additional choice and flexibility to schools to meet the needs of their learners. These are very positive developments, responding to our concerns about the current arrangements."
Microsoft's international vice president of public sector Michel Van der Bel added: “We understand that the issue of interoperability was one of the key factors underpinning Becta’s October 2007 complaint to the Office of Fair Trading. I look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with Becta to ensure that, in implementing built-in support for ODF in Microsoft Office 2007, we meet the needs of the education sector.
"We have been reviewing our school licensing arrangements in the light of educational policy developments and the issues that have been raised by Becta. We will introduce new licensing arrangements designed to deliver the flexibility demanded by the refreshed Harnessing Technology strategy."
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