back to article Becta asks EC to probe Microsoft school deals

Microsoft’s plans to get Office 2007 into British classrooms suffered a fresh blow yesterday when Becta confirmed that it has referred an interoperability complaint to the European Commission (EC). The latest move from the UK’s education technology agency follows its complaint to the Office of Fair Trading in October last year …


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  1. John

    Schools should use OpenOffice

    IT lessons at school should not be about teaching kids how to use Microsoft products. Kids should learn how to use word processing, spreadsheets etc ... but not Microsoft specific ones.

    It will save the schools a bundle of money that they could invest in something else, like teachers salaries.

    If anyone says that the business world uses Microsoft Office and therefore kids should be taught real world skills, then look at the rest of the curriculum

  2. Grant

    @ Schools should use OpenOffice

    I agree if only al of the goverment recommended school MIS systems supported it and didn't require Access, this means that all of our admin and teacher classroom PC's 'require' MS Access. We could use it on most class PC's but it creates confusion. Other than that we are primed and ready to go with OO 2.

  3. Dazed and Confused


    I'd agree schools should be looking at using OpenOffice.

    But it would be wrong to push them in this direction. It should be pointed out to them however than OpenOffice is available for a per license price of £0 and as such only tenders of an equal or lower price should be considered. This price should take into account that each pupil could equally freely take home a copy of the software, just for the price of the blank CD and install it on any PC they are allowed to use.

    If Microsoft wants to compete on that basis it would be wrong to stop them.

    Personally I'd go further and ban advertising in schools, and so stop them using a free version of their products as a form of advertising.

    If The Department for Education had any sense they'd be negociating with Microsoft along the lines of

    "If we teach all the children in the country to use your product, it will give you a great advantage in the market place. This advantage must be enormously valuable to you. So how much are you prepared to fund the education system for it to use your products?"

    As John says, schools would be much better off spending their (our) limited resources on teachers and text books than buying over priced software where there are better and cheaper alternative available.

    If schools are moving in the direction of Vista then just who is going to be paying the massive hardware upgrade costs involved? How many cubic KMs of landfill are going to be needed to hold all the systems that the schools are using now that are just not specced up to run Vista?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @@ Schools should use OpenOffice

    The major issue we have (at secondary level) is that consistency of tools used must be maintained during coursework, which means that there is a two year gap at least when introducing a new piece of software, from inception to phase out of the old version. There is also the issue of the students from Year 7 through to 9 will have been using Microsoft products almost exclusively throughout their education, and won't be so hot on having OOo2 forced on them at the beginning of their GCSE coursework.

    Running Office 2000 and 2007 side by side has been a nightmare for us, but as usual those who know of the issues were left out of the decision making process. Trust Management to screw the Techs with their "Oooooh SHINY!" PHB-style budget blowouts.

    Anon. for obvious reasons.

  5. Benjamin Ford
    Gates Horns


    As a School Network Manager, there are several problems faced when trying to move completly to Open Office:

    Crap Local Government Practices (As they all have Office). (although not as bad as it used to be)

    Staff Training and Preference (Although they should know better)

    Curriculums designed for Microsoft Products.

    Lack of control of Open Office (I want GPO's, not to have to fiddle with xml files just to stop kids changing settings).

    Lets be honest, Schools can pick up a licence for £32, hardly breaking the bank, and at any curriculum level you should be teaching children how to use word processors in general.

    I have both 2007 and OO2 on all of my systems, and try to get students using OO as much as possible.

    Good luck to Becta, lets hope that they can convice local government to drop Office too.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    schools shouldn't use computers

    Teach the blighters to read instead -- they can play games and download porn at home. Especially the teachers.

  7. Adam Trickett

    MS Office like Bic pens

    Forcing children to only use Microsoft Office is like only allowing one brand of pens to be used, it's lazy and insane.

    While Microsoft Office is pretty dominant today, it hasn't always been and will not always be. People need to learn flexible skills not irrelevant one vendor, one product, one version solutions.

    By the time an 11 year old enters the labour market Microsoft could have refreshed Office twice and Windows once making all the single vendor knowledge redundant.

    Learning how to use Abiword, OpenOffice, Microsoft Office, KOffice, on KDE, GNOME, Linux, Windows, Mac systems makes for flexible people able to adapt and understand principles and not be flummoxed by a slightly different menu layout.

  8. Grant

    @ Anonymous Coward

    One problem is that most of our feeder primaries use OO or Star Office so new students come here and find a different product to what they're used to. It's a pain to decide but Office is expensive and really needs driving down in price.

    Of course if OO and MS Office were compatible (both ways) we could run them side by side without issue.

  9. Mark


    These kids will have leant Office 2003 and will be using Office 2009 when they leave. Maybe even Office 2012. How similar will they be? Not very.

    However, it may be much more worthwhile teaching Abiword or something even less similar and even simpler so that they get taught how to use computers to write a letter. The more capable office suites will offer more options to them, but if they want to write a letter, that won't change too much and the more complicated programs will have had the complicated bits getting in the way of LEARNING.

    However, there should be no demand on the students to have a particular OS or particular application if they are to be expected to take work home. When that happens at work, work BUYS me a machine with the application and OS on it. Schools won't.

  10. Grant

    @ Adam Trickett

    "Learning how to use Abiword, OpenOffice, Microsoft Office, KOffice, on KDE, GNOME, Linux, Windows, Mac systems makes for flexible people able to adapt and understand principles and not be flummoxed by a slightly different menu layout"

    Err while i agree that knowledge of more than one platform and app would be desirable we could replace the entire curriculum with that list. Why insist on another vendor locked platform like a mac. As for Linux when it gets a uniform look we'll be getting somewhere, it's getting better but students need to spend time learning the curriculum not the location of menu features in two or three different FOSS gui's.

  11. Gulfie

    @Dazed and Confused

    Open Office is developed gratis by a community and the cost of the product reflects the level of financial renumeration that the community receives. There is nothing to stop individuals or companies selling OO deployment and support, the marketplace is essentially open, as is the code. The product also conforms to truly open standards - ODF - allowing anybody else to enter the marketplace with their own software capable of working with documents authored in OO.

    Microsoft do not develop products for free and should not be permitted to sell them at vastly under-cut prices - either to schools or direct to students. The price at the till should reflect the development and supply chain costs and margins, otherwise this is simply domination of the market through having bags of cash to spare. The fact is that MS Office is largely a closed source product implementing proprietory 'standards' and is likely to stay that way.

    This leads me on to two points.

    First, schools that take up Microsoft's licencing terms are helping to perpetuate the dominance of a closed product and that is not good, in the long term, for anybody except Microsoft. Without competition they will simply stop investing (MS did nothing significant with Internet Explorer for years until FireFox came along and started eating market share). Competition is healthy for the general public and for the companies involved.

    Second, allowing Microsoft to sell the same product at two vastly different prices distorts the market. Lets face it, the student version of Office contains the same code as, and cost no less to develop than, the full version, because the base code is the same in each. Yes there are some 'optional' components and no doubt some crippled ones too (anyone remember VB Learning Edition which knew about Access but not about ODBC?). But fundamentally there should be a small percentage difference in price representing the difference in functionality. Currently the list price for Office 2007 Standard is £360 while the student edition is £120.

    Doing this is a plain and simple subversion of the market in the "paid for and supported" marketplace that contributed to the death of competition such as WordPerfect Corporation.

    Only Microsoft gain from this kind of market manipulation and anyone who tells you differently has their eyes closed.

    And all this is aside from the fact that I don't think we should be teaching 7 year olds how to use office products in general. Yes, my 7 year old daughter came home one day to proudly tell me she now knew how to use PowerPoint. Use of office-type software should not be formally introduced until secondary school at the earliest and at that point there should be a teaching of general principles and an introduction to the products available. Given that OO is free, there is no reason why BOTH sets of tools cannot be loaded, allowing pupils to learn a bit about both and make their own informed choice over which they would like to use at home...

  12. Edward Rose

    @Using OOo

    As one chap has pointed out, 'securing' a lot of free software for use in schools is quite difficult.

    I'm currently setting up a Debian system with FF locked down so the kids can't go to any unwanted sites (white list only) and there is no way of altering the settings. I'm also trying to make sure they can't run any of their own software.

    This is NOT a trivial task. If people want free software in school the big projects should start taking a look at these issues.

    I will of course be releasing all my findings, and hopefully a remastered knoppix disk once I'm finished. But it is a time consuming task better suited to a mainstream distro, and the individual development groups. I'm sure they'll do a more efficient and thorough job than I.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Curriculums designed for Microsoft Products


    What well-backhanded lickspittle let this little gem slide by? Any curriculum that directed should have a MS label attached. And it should be clear that such a label denotes a lesser qualification.

  14. Jamie

    I always get a kick out of the people at my old job who talked about all the good that Bill Gates and MS do with donations to poor countries and giving cheap software to shools, libraries and government brnaches.

    Trust me they do not do that out of the goodness of thier hearts or for the sizable tax breaks for donations. They do it because they know if they can hook you when you start you will be dependent upon them when you leave. Then they have you by the balls and can charge rediculous prices for buggy software.

  15. Mark


    From the command line all UNIX variants are surprisingly close. Linux is (apart from root/admin files) identical.

    KDE looks the same across ANY hosting Linux distribution.

    And when I were a lad, we had at various kids homes:


    BBC micros

    Commodore 64

    and about a dozen more

    At school, we had BBC micros and IBM PET's.

    We learned how to use computers, not where to click. That doesn't work too well especially under windows: the damn thing keeps hiding the freaking buttons!

  16. Anonymous Coward

    This won't make any difference, sadly

    I speak as someone who has to provide support for our software to schools. Schools have been advised by a variety of clued-up bodies not to 'upgrade' to Vista because of all the problems it can cause with what they already have (educational software has a significantly longer shelf life than most other software)... and yet I get support queries from schools asking why they can't use the software we've provided on their shiny new Vista PCs. Schools don't listen, especially when a carrot is dangled under their noses (like Microsoft's normal behaviour) and an over-enthusiastic, under-clued-up teacher holds enough sway to convince a head teacher to sign away the school's soul for a new Vista/Office installation.

    Anonymous because it's work.

  17. Don Mitchell

    Politics before Children

    Give useful software to kids or promote open source ideology? I guess we know where most guys here stand.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    It's the cost of an M$ OS that's the real killer for education...

    As a Network Manager for a school, I've been thumbing through the latest Select pricing on offer. Whilst I would prefer not to pay the price they ask for an office suite, it's the cost of the OS that kills me/us...

    Microsoft offer an office suite at a fairly serious discount (_almost_ sensible), however a full OEM OS license is offered at essentially full commercial rates.

    Personally, I've decided that if I'm going to remain in the education sector, that M$ may not be the way to go. F/OSS continues to improve, and from what I understand of our school, we could very likely deliver ICT + other lessons with it. You wouldn't believe how basic most of the IT needs of a secondary school actually are!

    Odd that XP Pro OEM is now the same cost as Vista Business, and that the cost has somehow increased by roughly £15.00...

    You're not helping us Bill, and you're not helping our children.

    I've tried to find some hard costings for F/OSS migrations for the education sector, but have come up with nothing suitable. Shame. I'll damn well keep looking tho'!

    May I humbly suggest to Shuttleworth (and others), that we could actually be the long-term strategic market that you're looking for!

  19. Joe Stalin


    I think you'll find the PET was CBM not IBM, but then they were looking for just that type of confusion when the choose the name.

  20. John


    Has anyone here used/looked at the Edubuntu offering. I know Edward Rose above was speaking of a distribution specifically for schools so how does it compare?

    I know from school that my IT 'education' was simply laughable, we spent 95% of the time learning microsoft products, and the teachers generally knew less than the teachers. If they taught people how to use software, as in how to learn to use programs in general, rather than a specific one, then the education would be great.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle


    What's wrong with MS offering educational discounts? The amount of software we have to buy (not just MS stuff, lots of educational stuff too) would price lots of schools out of providing quality software for the students if educational discounts were not allowed. If MS get penalised for educational discounting, just watch all the other vendors ramp their prices up claiming they are not allowed to offer the discounts they currently do. Every year I look at the latest FOSS products and OS and they still require far too much configuration and management to make it a suitable replacement for everything. I use lots of FOSS stuff, but only if I have tested it and found that it is stable and is good at what it does but network and desktop management is still overly complex and time consuming. Most schools have only a small department for the entire site, sometimes it's only one person. To expect them to take a couple of hours out at a time to do something that can only take a couple of clicks is not acceptable. Too many other things would get left undone and the kids would run riot around the network. It isn't like a business where employees do not deliberately try and destroy the network, you have hundreds of the little sods all trying to find weaknesses constantly with the sole aim of taking the network down or destroying work just for a laugh and sometimes its hard work trying to stay one step ahead.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Don't think it will get anywhere

    How is this any different than when we petitioned the government to stop companies charging 1$=£1 prices to which we got the response ' We cannot interfere with the pricing policies of private companies. In a free market each company can charge what it likes to who it likes for their products'?

  23. Leo Maxwell
    Jobs Horns

    try Karoshi

    Used in more than one school.

    Let's face it, Computer education these days is mainly Microsoft education.

    We no longer teach children how to use computers, we teach them how to use Windows and Office.

    Unfortunately, when they leave school those skills will be out of date already, if office 2007 is a guide.

    I have tried Linux on kids, and they are actually more resistant to change than many adults.

    "Why is the taskbar at the top? it should be at the bottom!"


    "Because that's where it is in Windows!"

    "This isn't Windows."

    "Then it is rubbish."

    Sad but true..

    It took a week for him to explore and get excited about Ubuntu...

  24. Matt
    Thumb Down

    @Don Mitchell - Profits before children

    Give useful software to kids or promote our profit margin ideology? I guess we know where Don Mitchell stands.

    Seriously: Microsoft produce no software, in the education sphere, that could not be easily replaced by other competing products, except (and here's the rub) the operating system, and only there because of the legacy of educational software produced by specialist developers for the uk curriculum. and there they can't even compete fairly within themselves, since hardly any of it runs on vista.

    So Don: MS are trying hard to move the uk educational sector to buy expensive software to run on a platform it can't use. Or we could save a bit of money, for useful educational spend, and find some alternatives that do the job just as well (even if the alternative is to just keep what we've already got).

    Oh... and your fallacious strawman statement has reduced my respect for you (no, really).

    @It's the cost of an M$ OS that's the real killer for education...

    I don't know if Edubuntu meets your needs (and I know very little about it other than it exists), but it might be worth a look.

    Thumbs down because Don Mitchell has no clue.

  25. Jeffrey Nonken

    @Don Mitchell

    "Give useful software to kids or promote open source ideology? I guess we know where most guys here stand."

    Erm. Are those the only choices? Are they necessarily mutually exclusive?

    Typical all-or-nothing thinking.

  26. SpitefulGOD
    Gates Halo


    Am I reading this right OK first.. cut funding... increase class sizes...... reduce discipline... and now remove office and replace it with some flaky feels like a soggy leaf software, what a fucking joke this government is.

    If open office ever gets into schools then that generation will be screwed, what other outcome is there when people are installed with such low expectations.

    My kids will be going private becuase I want them to have a future, thanks alot you stupid hippy gits

  27. James

    @Don Mitchell

    <quote>Give useful software to kids or promote open source ideology?</quote>

    Speaking as someone who was forced to use MS Office 2003 recently instead of my preferred, I was forcibly reminded of just how intensely dysfunctional and annoying MS Office is to use after Detractors of say it's too simple. I would counter that it just works and never tries to second guess me.

    I've lost track of how much time I've spent swearing at MS Office for automatically re-arranging my layout, second guessing me for font sizes or countless other aggravations. doesn't piss me off to use.

    I recently found that I had to convert some old Office 95 .doc files to a current format and I tried in both MS Office and did far better, shooting down MS's claims of backward compatibility.

    You want to give kids useful software? Give them and let them see just how bad MS Office is when they try it. Promote open source ideology? Proof is in the pudding. is an example of open source really working, if giving kids this useful software means they get an object lesson in why vendor lock-in is bad, all the good I say.


  28. Grant

    @ Mark

    Spectrum, BBC micros, Commodore 64. I owned and loved them all.

    "From the command line all UNIX variants are surprisingly close"

    I know i use Linux but i try to ignore CLI when talking about the end user experience.

    "KDE looks the same across ANY hosting Linux distribution"

    Again i know and so does GNOME, Xfce, Fluxbox ... oh dear. I feel there needs to be a more consistent look if Linux is going to take off in the consumer arena.

    Anyway we are deviating from the article here.

    @ John Edubuntu

    Yes edubuntu looks good but the problem I’ve come across is that almost no education software supports anything other than Windows you’re lucky if you get Mac support.

    We are having a play with Ubuntu Studio at the moment which looks interesting. I hope we can make the jump at some point as we’ve decided to postpone Vista as XP support has been extended.

  29. John Miles
    Thumb Down

    Schools force students to use MS Office at home as well

    An unstated consequence of the use of MS Office at school is that the parents implicitly have to provide it at home

    One of our children is doing the GCSE IT Course (i.e. MS studies) at school with homework at home. We use Open Office at home, but it is not provided at school. Therefore she is expected to convert all homework files when she wants to take them to school (and to learn two different systems). If she accidentally saves in ODF format, or there is a conversion limitation, she is stuffed and cannot submit her homework.

    In other words, there is an implicit requirement that the parents should provide MS software for homework (yes, we can afford to do so, but do not see why we should be forced to pay MS for our child's education).

    The school would never be allowed to announce "In order for your child to work effectively and have equal opportunities to their peers you must purchase MS Office software for use at home, if you fail to do this there is a chance that you will disadvantage your child".

    But that is implicitly exactly what is being required. This is wrong !!!

    (Fortunately not every school is like that. our other child's school takes a much more open approach and even provides Open Office downloads from its students website - but I suspect they are unusual).

  30. David Shaw
    Gates Halo

    Mac Office for 35 quid

    this BECTA fuss might explain my surprise at discovering the latest M$ Office for Mac on sale at thirty-five pounds via a link on the OU website. The dvd arrived in minimal packing (a jiffy bag) and seems to work on a Macbook Pro just as slowly as Open Office does, high marks for compatibility there!

    My kids are being taught ubuntu @ home and Windows @ school, we currently prefer Pages for creating stuff, and I suppose may drift in the direction of Google Apps eventually

    oh, did I forget the OU link..? it ended-up at

    and I had to register with my daughter's school's name & postcode, then collected my 80% discount! I have , of course, no connection to M$ or the above 'real but dodgy priced ' software bunch, but I did notify the EC competition branch about how unhappy I was with OOXML

    quote :

    Date: 14 April 2008 16:06:07 GMT+02:00


    Dear David,

    Thanks for your email. We can inform you that in the course of the ongoing investigation into the interoperability issues related to Microsoft's products the Commission made enquiries with the EU's and EFTA's national standardisation organisations about possible irregularities in the OOXML standardisation process.

    You will understand that as this is an ongoing investigation on which the Commission has not yet drawn any conclusions we cannot comment any further.

    Best regards,


    -----Original Message-----

    From: David [mailto:xxxx]

    Sent: Wednesday, April 02, 2008 12:22 AM


  31. Goat Jam

    @Edward Rose

    Uh, Edward, why are you trying to lock down FF? Why don't you just use a proxy and put your white list on that?

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Personally I Blame RM

    Working in primary sector, and virtually every school of decent size has been installed with CC3 on 2003 servers, its not just microsoft thats the problem it companies like this who push it down LEA's and Schools gullets more and more, councils arnt interesnted in inovation or even saving money, they just want to pass the blame if anything goes wrong, so they buy from which ever vendor gives the best discount/back hander (jaded me?) and once they have their foot in the door they just spread. I have tried to promote FOSS gimp oo, etc till im blue in the face, and just get met with shrugs, we arnt allowed to set policy, thos who havent a clue do and we are just expected to make it work and get shouted at when it dosnt.

    /dead bird coz thats what my job is turning into. no more solving issues or helping, just towing the management line, and dieing inside as my role dimimishes into chaning tapes, adding users and swapping toner ( yes i do want to change just dont know which way to jump)

    anon of course

  33. Grant

    @ John Miles

    "If she accidentally saves in ODF format, or there is a conversion limitation, she is stuffed and cannot submit her homework."

    We have that issue here but should remedy it soon but TBH on the odd occasion that this is an issue i convert the doc and they hand it in.


    @ Roger de Laborde

    "No schools should teach MS Access"

    I fully agree, unfortunatly they almost all do.

  34. Mark


    This is you, this is:

    "Psckckckskckck pwckckckk pwckk krckk krk psccc"

    That's you talking your best.

  35. Mark

    @Roger de Laborde

    I'd have to check, but I believe that OOo has a front-end that is agnostic to a large extent of the backend. I'm pretty sure it supports MySQL and Postgres.

    So you can teach the database and then show how the database *can* be used in an office application to automate processes. While ensuring they find out what the TERMS mean in a database without learning "what buttons do I push".

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "students need to spend time learning the curriculum"

    "students need to spend time learning the curriculum not the location of menu features in two or three different <deleted> gui's."

    Quite so.

    Office 97 vs Office 2007 (and those in between) are totally different. Windows 2000 vs Windows Vista (and those in between) are totally different.

    WinXP/Office2000 moving to Vista/Office 2007 is not greatly easier for the students than moving to Linux/OpenOffice, so why not pick the lower cost one?

    Your point is as valid when used anti-Microsoft-incompatibilities as it is when anti-FOSS-incompatibilities, no??

  37. M Neligan

    Re Ms Access

    If there is anyone out there who feels they can, without using Ms Access, successfully teach the A2 Edexcel ICT unit that is assessed by means of a ten-hour practical exam based on developing a database application, I would like to hear from them.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    @M Neligan

    As it's probably been written around Microsoft products then no it would be difficult to teach it without Microsoft products. Therefore don't use Heinmenn teachings aids. Doesn't the information in the following link cover most everything that's in the Edexel unit ?. The basic information is here so why doesn't some enterprising teacher put together a teaching package around linux, postgresql (database), openoffice (writer, impress, calc etc) hasn't UK Education sector put something together themselves. All these open source programs are well documented to degree level & beyond. There's many, many good books on all this software.

    However having said that maybe there is a lack of simple teaching aids for secondary schools that involve mainly linux, although as with most things somebody somewhere has already done it if you look hard enough.

  39. Telic

    @ Edward Rose: Desktop Lockdown

    "I'm also trying to make sure they can't run any of their own software."

    I've read how schools use KDE kiosk mode, and a kiosk lock-down extension for Firefox. See the article, "Flipping the Linux switch: Control freaks, meet KDE Kiosk"...

    KDE kiosk is used at Westall Secondary School, for example...


  40. Charlie


    All really good ideas. Schools should stick to OO to maintain interoperability as well as low cost. After all, for the most part K-12 are learning basic ed. There not being taught to build space ships. And where would competition and tech advancement be if for example automobiles were required to have interchangeable parts, for just one example the doors of a Malibu having to be interchangeable with those of a Mustang? The only reason the Human species survives and advances so greatly in technology is our ability to adjust to an ever changing environment both natural and man made.

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