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01.10.08

Becta, Its Microsoft Affairs, and OpenDocument Format

Posted in Europe, Formats, Microsoft, Open XML, OpenDocument at 11:56 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“The danger is that Microsoft is using strategic monopolistic pricing in the education market, with the government’s assistance, to turn our state university systems into private workforce training programs for Microsoft.”

Nathan Newman

Prior to discussing Microsoft's exclusionary deals with OEM we also discussed Microsoft exclusionary deal with British education. The gist of the story is that BECTA and Microsoft sign secret deals which more or less force all educational institutions to stick with Microsoft’s prepaid-for products (thereby excluding Free software).

“They have dual roles and conflicting interests, e.g. serving Microsoft investors and ‘serving’ British taxpayers at the same time.”At the time, such actions and deals resulted in some outrage. Those who understand the situation — as opposed to just assume that politicians serve their people with good cause in mind — have called for change. There is already too much ‘cheeky business’ like this in the United Kingdom. We recently discussed the BBC again. In fact, much more information is yet to arrive about other government establishments that become Microsoft hostages in the hands of former/current Microsoft employees. They have dual roles and conflicting interests, e.g. serving Microsoft investors and ‘serving’ British taxpayers at the same time.

More recently, BECTA has been a little more responsive. It actually listened. They say it’s the perception that you cannot live without Office which makes a mental barrier. With OOXML spreading around, this may actually become a technical barrier, so it's time to worry about BECTA and ODF (they made no clear statement on the issue for all we can tell).

Having made some inquires we learned that BECTA did write to BSI to tell them to vote “No” to OOXML as an ISO standard. They have also complained to the OFT about Microsoft’s lack of interoperability in office suites. “They really ought to use ODF for Web site downloads again,” I was told just days ago. After all, this is a government-associated establishment. A formal announcement of some sort ought to come from BECTA as it would be helpful. The ODF Alliance periodically compiles reports that serve as evidence of ODF growth and expansion.BECTA’s words can be used. Here is what ZDNet UK had to report on yesterday:

Becta, the organisation that implements government educational technology policy, has claimed Windows Vista and Office 2007 should not be deployed in schools because of potential compatibility issues with earlier versions of Microsoft’s software, as well as software produced by Microsoft’s rivals. This view was reiterated on Wednesday in an update to a Becta report released late last year.

Here is a more comprehensive analysis from Matt Aslett, which includes valuable quotes.

“We remain concerned about the approach taken to supporting ODF in Office 2007. While the product includes the functionality to read virtually every other relevant file format ‘out of the box’, the processes for dealing with ODF files are very cumbersome. We identified ten steps that users would need to take in order to locate and install the converter that gives Office 2007 the ability to access ODF files and note that the arrangements for opening and saving ODF files in Microsoft Office 2007 are not intuitive in that they deviate from the normal approach familiar to users. We believe that these arrangements present sufficient technical difficulties for the majority of users to make them disinclined to use competitor products and this may weaken competition.”

It is important that BECTA speaks out more loudly about ODF, especially as we now have a window of opportunity while schools are getting really hassled with kids bringing in OOXML-format material.

Stephen Walli once argued that Microsoft's support for ODF is inevitable. Microsoft should just support ODF as soon as possible if it wished to remain relevant in the market. According to one source which is close to the company, this will be done sooner or later. Why procrastinate the inevitable?

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