back to article Microsoft makes another play for UK schools

Microsoft yesterday made a strategic move to draw a line under a fiery spat with the UK's education technology agency over the software multinational's attempts to get Office 2007 into British classrooms. In May Becta confirmed it had referred an interoperability complaint to the European Commission. It claimed that Microsoft' …


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  1. Mark


    Does this mean that children in homes that cannot afford the software will be able to get free equivalents because the shareware/FSF licensed works can use this licensed stuff?


    So how does it help the education of the children?

  2. Avi

    MS looking forward to working out a suitable product

    Surely implies that currently they're not suitable? So alternatives that work now should be worked out, and at the next review, if they're suitable, they get considered?

    I know, I know, logic in government...

  3. Steve Woods
    Gates Horns


    "while offering Microsoft products with a reduced price tag to the public sector might be viewed by some as a move in the right direction"

    Anyone with half a brain would view it as something else: bribery and unfair competition.

  4. John

    Get the schools on OpenOffice

    All kids do is learn word processing and do some simple spreadsheets. Go OpenOffice and save a big wodge of cash that can then go into teachers salaries.

    Give it a few more years ad when all those XP machines look like they need upgrading, move them over to Ubuntu - saving even more money which can go into teachers salaries.


  5. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    How will resellers make any money from Microsoft

    ""a new way for public sector organisations to purchase software from Microsoft resellers" who will sell MS products at a discounted rate."

    So already squeezed resellers are expected to give even more competitive rates to schools? What's the point of selling Microsoft's wares anymore if you can't make a margin on it?

    Or should resellers just focus on the BSF programme as a way of making the tax payer pay for unnecessary 'software refreshes'.

  6. paul
    Gates Horns


    Bill gates and UK schools sitting in a tree. K.I.S.S.I.N.G

    All UK kids will turn out to be drones for the multi national corporations without the ability to think for themselves.

  7. David

    public sector organisations, not just schools?

    "The company said the OLP offered "a new way for public sector organisations to purchase software from Microsoft resellers" who will sell MS products at a discounted rate."

    Hmm, so these discounts may not just be restricted to Educational establishments, but all of LG?

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Open Office?

    Why are they even entertaining Microsoft when open source products are available? Even with paid for support this would be a fraction of the cost of Microsoft's.

  9. Ron Eve
    Gates Horns

    Oh yeah!

    "Embrace and Extend" wasn't it? MS absorbs new technology, modifies it, makes it proprietary and hey! now it's incompatible with anything else.

    I can't believe that BECTA (or anyone else for that matter) can fall for that old chestnut. Make no mistake they're up to their old tricks and absolutely desperate to contain that market. Luckily a lot of people are realising there are other options, Open Source software is one (and I don't have an axe to grind with that). It's just going to take a while to reach critical mass whereby IT buyers/management accept those options and work to supporting them.

    Bit like how garages deal with all those varieties of cars...

    Bring on the competition!

    (And El Reg: please please get rid of the new 'pony' comment icons)

  10. Uwe Dippel
    Gates Halo

    The first few seconds ...

    ... did I read

    "Microsoft makes another ploy for UK schools"


  11. Rob

    Blimey it gets worse

    Not exactly disagreeing with Becta, but it's very rare they have a clue what's going on.

    If you ditch MS think about ditching the muppets called Becta, they have been holding back ICT in education for years.

  12. Rob D.

    And schools want to pay for this because ...

    There's a good enough office suite in OpenOffice and that doesn't require licensing. Though maybe the largest cost to the education system would be the retraining required to use any new version. In practice, although there will be some staff who may need specific solutions, the basic requirements for education are pretty static. Specifically, pupils who learn how to use a particular package now would need retraining in a number of years time anyway. There's a balance to strike between basic concepts/awareness and specific vocational knowledge. For a variety of reasons, I tend to think Taylor is right and avoiding the commercial vendor lock-in gives long term freedom in this case. That said, popularity of one package and the ability for the education system to churn out enough worker drones might work to the benefit of Microsoft's commercial ambitions.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Office 2007 for £35 on an Academic Licence

    I think this is reasonable, and it was from an official MS Partner. All we had to do was to register and put our childs school down.

    They are also knocking out Expression Studio with VS 2005 for £50.

    Problem is no-one bothers to tell the parents, we only found this through chance. Do the Schools even know it exists.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Open office is crap.

    Have any of you actually tried to use it for anything important?

    Didn't think so.

    Besides, how is MS giving cheap software to education a BAD THING? Or, at least a worse thing that indoctrinating them with OSS/Linux instead?

  15. Anonymous Coward

    @Open Office?

    How much to re-train the teachers.

    OK, primary school teachers don't stretch word, (in fact, some kids call Word "the big W" and Excel "the big X") but in Secondary School they are doing graphing and stats in Excel. Teachers will be reluctant to have to understand how to use Open Office - remember, they are "teachers" and expected to be experts on everything in life (in kids' and parents' eyes).

    Unless this adopted country wide, it'll cost more to have 2 offerings. If exclusively Open Office then there is a good business case. Remember, these decisions are not taken in isolation - Microsoft may mention that if the government use Open Office, there is little point having a Microsoft R&D facility in the UK and therefore some jobs could go...

  16. Roger Greenwood
    Thumb Down

    Q. "Why are they even entertaining Microsoft?"

    A. Because the resellers bundle it all up into a deal so complicated even Mr Rubik has no way of working it out. Schools have little enough time as it is - they ask for a quote, and place an order. Sorted. Get rid of the bundling and you might make an impact. I started an e-petition here so get voting :-

    p.s. My local high school just got upgraded - lots of lovely vista stickers. Most of the new machines still only run XP though!!

    p.p.s. They also learn databases (by that I mean which button to press in access).

  17. Nomen Publicus
    IT Angle

    Teach a man to fish.

    It really is quite simple, it is not the job of schools to train people to use Microsoft products. It is the job of schools to teach students so when they are faced with some random computer application they have a clue what to do.

    This same argument has gone on for 30 years. I remember when RM wrote to all the computer magazines complaining that schools were buying Acorn computers and students wouldn't be learning how to use Word Perfect!!!

  18. Mark

    re:Open Office (two AC's)

    AC #1. MS Office is crap. Worse, it is EXPENSIVE crap. Have you tried to do anything important in Word? Assembling a document from multiple contributors IS NOT POSSIBLE in Word. You have to re-draft and to some extent give up on getting Windows to put things together in a professional looking form.

    OOo isn't any good at it either, but you don't see people trying to shoehorn it into a DTP package.

    AC#2. How much retraining is needed for Office 2007? Lots. Graphs, stats and so on in Excel are exactly the same as they are in Calc. In secondary school, they should be taught how to do what they want not how to use an application. The latter goal is for college and on-the-job training. NOT SCHOOLS.

  19. Adair Silver badge

    @Open office is crap.

    >Have any of you actually tried to use it for anything important?

    Yes, as a matter of fact: a long DTP effort including pics and tables, etc.; glossy publication---there's a couple of copies hanging out in the National Library now. OpenOffice was fine, no problems.

    > Didn't think so.

    Just shows how much you know, AC, ;-)

    > Besides, how is MS giving cheap software to education a BAD THING? Or, at least a worse thing that indoctrinating them with OSS/Linux instead?

    It's got nothing to do with 'indoctrinating them with OSS/Linux instead'---indoctrination is MS' game---it's simply about freedom to work and live without being enslaved by corporate vampires.

  20. James Pickett
    Gates Horns


    >the term 'clear commitment' should be read 'dragged kicking and screaming'

    Couldn't have put it better myself. I'm intrigued that they now offer ODF compatibility (i.e. it will work with Open/Star Office's own established and ISO-approved format) so who now needs OOXML?

    In any case, schools should be teaching principles, not how to use a particular suite of software. Who's going to be using any of the current versions of MS Office in ten years' time? With a bit of luck, few people will be using MS anything!

  21. Tom

    What has office software got to do with IT?

    The whole point of office software is to shield you from thinking. There are thousands of companies out there with office software - what good has it done them.

    Teach them IT and they wont want or need office software.

    Microsoft - the red flag walking very very slowly in front of your computer.

  22. The Fuzzy Wotnot

    Open Office is the way

    For a cash strapped "organisation" like the education system in the UK, OO is the way forward, That money wasted, yes wasted on software licenses could be pumped make the education system work better as a whole, more equipment, better paid teachers.

    What the hell do you need a bloated mess like MS Office 2007 in schools classrooms, not admin or offices in general, just the classroom? Kids simply need to understand the purpose of an office suite, WP, SS and Pres. I am not normally a big pusher of Foss but in this case it has real financial benefits, with no real loss of facilties for the target audience.

    Take a step further, scrap Windows and go Ubuntu or whatever. I'll go you one further, vitualise. Make the PC a dumb X display and bounce the users set up from a server. If the "machine" screws up, the local school admin with limite tech knowledge, simply jumps on a browser inetrface, says wipe machine x34 with a new set up. No need to maintain dozens of seperate bits of kit, no risk of nasty viruses getting in from USB sticks that kids brought in as the virii won't propagate on a foreign system.

    Sorry, but who the f**k is running the IT stratergy in this country? Oh sorry, of course all those fatcat labourites with positions on MS board or VARs with a big fat contract to sell on MS and other proprietry software!

    So while kids in other countries are being exposed to lots of ways to use a PC, our lot are being dumped on again by a short sighted, greedy government!

    Flame away!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Open office is crap.

    Yes, I have tried it, thanks - and for important stuff, too, such as a large manual with an index, an outline of multi-level headings and loads of images. Word kept screwing up image position and other things whilst OO had no problems.

    So, in my opinion, it works far better than the overblown cash-cow from MS.

  24. Hugh_Pym

    Licence woes

    Last I heard the 'Special licence' that BECTA complained about meant that any computer on the school's network had to pay a MS licence even if it used no MS software. e.g the Design and Media dept Apple Macs still profit MS.

    I can see that if you are teaching the current crop of kids about Word processing then MS Word skills are what they would need but that doesn't mean all the software should be tied in to MS. that is what the current model seeks to do. My kids school showed them Web design on Front Page and Graphic design on Publisher for f**ks sake.

    Teach the next generation about what they might use not what's Cheap.

  25. Nic Brough


    >Open office is crap.

    >Have any of you actually tried to use it for anything important?

    Yes, and it's a damn sight better than MS Office for my needs (caveat - I only need word processing and spreadsheet functionality). I'm not some low-end letter writer either - I need to write technical documentation and juggle complex (mostly) financial data.

  26. Phil the Geek

    @ open office is crap

    I beg to differ. We have an 8MB spreadsheet that is central to our operations. It was developed on Excel and has lots of vlookups, links, hyperlinks and in total 90,000 formulae. Our newer machines run Open Office, and if anything was going to cause trouble, it was this spreadsheet. But we've had no problems at all, it appears to be completely compatible, totally consistent and entirely interoperable. The autosave is slow compared to Excel, but that's our only criticism.

  27. Robert Harrison

    @Open office is crap.

    "Have any of you actually tried to use it for anything important?"

    Ok ok I'm feeding the MS troll but here goes. Actually yes I have used OpenOffice, I use it on a regular basis to produce newsletters with complex formatting. And yes, it works just fine thank you. I guess you're anon because you're an MS employee right? 'Get the facts' *snurk*

    "Besides, how is MS giving cheap software to education a BAD THING? Or, at least a worse thing that indoctrinating them with OSS/Linux instead?"

    *sigh*. So will you still be parroting this shite years down the line when the MS Office 97-2003 doc format is obsolete and no longer supported, but unfortunately for all the users they still have thousands of documents stored in this format? Ironically, I suspect that at that time the only software capable of reading the obsolete documents will be OpenOffice.

    Repeat argument ad infinitum

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Install Ubuntu (heck, us Edbuntu!)

    Install OpenOffice (not that you need to - it's bundled)

    Install FireFox (not that you need to - it's bundled)

    Install GIMP (not that you need to - it's bundled)

    And bang, pow, wizzo, zoom. You have an educational client and no need to pay M$ squat.

    Now, if only I could get Ubuntu to do VPN; that'd be great (the last Linux hole I need to plug....)

    Anyone any idea how to connect to a CheckPoint VPN? *sigh*

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Open office is crap

    "Have any of you actually tried to use it for anything important?"

    Yes I use it everyday in my work as a Technical Manager for a major food company and have done so for the last 5 years, and guess what no one here can tell the diff between a presentation in powerpoint or Impress nor a spreadsheet nor a doc.

    So I'm guessing you're just a mouthy knob who hasn't ever seriously tried it

  30. Steve Woods

    @AC: Open Office is not crap

    "Have any of you actually tried to use it for anything important?"

    Yes, probably unlike you.

    I've worked as a freelance translator for nearly 20 years. For the last few of those I've been using Open Office daily to turn do my work - and not a single complaint from a client about the quality of the finished product.

  31. andy gibson

    Microsoft obviously don't understand teachers

    They hate ANY change, especially to do with computers. I moved a few shortcuts around over the Summer and tidied up the shared desktops and they kicked up a fuss about that. Imagine given a completely new office interface to have to learn and teach.

  32. Andrew Kirkpatrick

    @Open office is crap.

    "Besides, how is MS giving cheap software to education a BAD THING? Or, at least a worse thing that indoctrinating them with OSS/Linux instead?"

    Because it keeps their monopolisation of the market in check, which means less change and less chance for competitors to get a foot in.

    If curricular education were as receptive to change as higher education we might start to get somewhere. Just because they know how Microsoft Office works (and I use "know" loosely) is not a reason to keep using it, it just means they might have to retrain a little (oooh, controversial...)

    I don't use OpenOffice, but then I don't really use Microsoft Office either, but in the interests of not paying a fortune I'd bloody learn!

    Little x Many still equals Lots

  33. Anonymous Coward

    @AC Install this install that

    Sorry but this is something that really annoys me.

    Ohh look at all that bundled software. Is that giving the user freedom? Choice? No it's not, a normal user will use what they are given.

    Why if Microsoft tries to bundle anything do people get in a tiswaz yet it is okay for Apple (okay they get around it with crafty licensing that I think should be illegal) and OSS OS's? (yes you get to not tick the box but how many normal users will do that?)

    Okay rant over.

    I use both Microsoft and OSS. I use what is right for the job. What I think is right for the education sector is OSS. It has come on leaps and bounds and in the end they should be learning about how to do things not the application used to do it (at least that's how I was taught). It will cost nothing in the end.

    The excuse of "they have to learn a new application and so will cost loads" does not hold true. If it does then it is because even the teachers are not using their noggins. A couple of the numerous teacher training days should be enough for it to be trained in, heck add a few more in for it, make it some thing to learn in the next summer holiday.

  34. roy

    The Only Thing This Achieves

    The only thing that this will achieve is making sure that all our children come out of schools and colleges knowing only one office/productivity suite of applications. Thus ensuring the continued need for all businesses to continue buying M$ Office at full whack!

    You can't fault their logic though - its like drug dealers giving away their wares to youngsters, knowing that they'll be back in a few years (when they're hooked) to pay top dollar!

    Or am I just a cynic?

  35. paulc

    re Apple and bundling

    Apple are not convicted Monopolists abusing a monopoly position to stifle competition.

    Pirate cos its "Talk Like A Pirate Day" coming up pretty soon me young hearties...

  36. This post has been deleted by its author

  37. John O'Hare

    @Open office is crap.

    > Have any of you actually tried to use it for anything important?

    > Didn't think so.


    Use it all the time. Especially for technical documentation. Used to use Word for that, but actually spend more time getting the document formatting consistent all over the document, than actually writing document content.

    Using OpenOffice Writer now and all formatting headaches are a thing of the past. Good thing is that even exporting the doc to Office format retains the formatting I intended the document to have, something that doesn't appear to work with Word.

    Apart from that, I can export customer viewable documents in PDF format without having to resort to a very expensive third party tool.

    > Besides, how is MS giving cheap software to education a BAD THING? Or, at least a worse > thing that indoctrinating them with OSS/Linux instead?

    How is giving FREE (as in free beer) software to education a worse thing than selling it for cheap?! Part of FOSS is about learning people to think for themselves, not what others want to force feed them, that's what the 'F' in FOSS is for. Doesn't stand for 'free' (as in free beer), it stands for 'free' as in 'FREEDOM'.

  38. David Pollard

    A third way?

    Whether OO is functionally better or worse than MS is not the point. Both are over-complex.

    What seems to be needed for educational use (and for many other folk's needs too) is a word processor and a spreadsheet that are: inexpensive or free, easy to use, robust, don't have too many bells and whistles, and which use formats that allow interchange and are future-proof.

    Were appropriate open-source tools available this would level the playing field between families with different incomes. And appropriately minimal functionality would mean that those who don't get on well with computers wouldn't be as disadvantaged as they are presently.

    Why can't appropriate open source software be developed and maintained as part of higher education courses? Or have the computer science departments all been outsourced too?

    (Yes, I know a bit about the way that government works. But aside from that?)

  39. Mark

    re: A third way?


    Got it.


  40. Mark

    "Why if Microsoft tries to bundle anything do people get in a tiswaz"

    Assuming you meant tizzy, because MS have the power to move the market. Add $40Bn to a government granted monopoly and you have ample opportunity for abuse and plenty of reason to abuse the power.

    And most of those complaining about MS's abuses also complain about Apple's abuses. Shit, think of the storm on El Reg when Apple was selling at 89p/99c, making a huge rip-off for the UK customer! Apple get shit when they deserve it. You can't see that because you concentrate on defending your precious microsoft.

  41. Chika
    Gates Horns

    I really have to laugh...

    I knew this would happen all those years ago when the various governors insisted on putting PCs into schools rather than whatever they had before because they thought that it would provide them with the most relevant start in their careers, ignoring the teacher's pleas to leave things be. You see, teachers don't necessarily use a PC for teaching about computers - they use it for all sorts of things. I knew that as soon as the government let M$ loose on our classrooms, it would all turn into a drive to fleece our education budgets.

    As for OpenOffice being bad, my response is not to knock it until you have used it in anger. OK, I'll never want to replace my DTP kit* with it but for the basic necessities of an office system, it is no worse than the M$ offering. In some ways, indeed, I prefer it (I haven't been totally happy with M$ Office since Office 2000). And that's using both Windows and Linux versions.

    * Even a blind pig stumbles over an Acorn now and then!

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