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Microsoft Assimilation and Government Contracts

"I am convinced we have to use Windows – this is the one thing they don’t have. We have to be competitive with features, but we need something more — Windows integration."

--Jim Allchin, Microsoft



The previous post showed just what Microsoft has to gain by announcing ODF support Some Time in The Future۩ 20xx.

Here you have the exceptional news which follows BECTA's complaint to the European Commission. Remember that BECTA, just like the rest of the UK [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8], is quite a large 'Microsoft Shop', so this is surprising.

MICROSOFT has suffered further set-backs in the UK education sector this week after Becta, the government procurement quango, reformed its purchasing regime to break the software giant's hold on education, and launched a programme to get schools to adopt open source software.

At least three open source software suppliers submitted tenders to Becta yesterday for the €£270,000 Schools Open Source Project. The winner will spend two years building a community of schools which uses and develops its own open source alternatives to Microsoft software.

Becta has also specifically called on open source companies to join its €£80 million framework list of certified suppliers of software to schools, contracts for which will be awarded in June. The last framework list consisted entirely of Microsoft suppliers and drew Becta widespread criticism for favouring the convicted monopolist over cheaper, homegrown alternatives.


This is a bizarre turn of events, so Glyn Moody sheds some more light, arguing only that "the story continues." He is cautiously optimistic at best.

If Becta means business over this – and it's a big "if" given the roller-coaster ride we've had from them so far – this is potentially huge. I've long maintained that Microsoft's stranglehold on the British education sector is (a) a total scandal and (b) one of the root causes of this country's poor showings in just about every survey of open source usage. Here's hoping....


Further to this, some hours ago a reader sent us the following thoughts:

"Microsoft Office 2007's failure to deliver native OpenDocument support has gotten it into trouble in the UK.

"The new, proprietary format used instead will impede the UK's educational initiatives, which require instead an open format. It also puts it at odds with the EU and even the WTO, both of which also require open formats.

"Several leading competitors, among others Koffice and OpenOffice.org have offered full native OpenDocument support for a long time already."

“...Microsoft was more bothered about the requirement for FOSS, not ODF.”This hopefully sheds light on Microsoft's latest decision, having it realised that OOXML could fool nobody, not even with an expensive ISO rubber stamp that'll cost Microsoft some more money (heavy fines for abuse are likely on their way).

While the recommended applications are Free software, there are quite a few players in this area whose products are proprietary. That includes Microsoft Office. In South Africa, Microsoft was more bothered about the requirement for FOSS, not ODF. We saw proof of this just days ago. And then there's the WordPerfect lawsuit, which is led by Novell.

We last wrote about Corel about a month ago, referring to previous summaries of the situation over there (regarding direction and supported formats in particular). Why doesn't Corel try to compete by opening up its source code and enabling itself to comply with stricter government needs? It would also receive more code (legitimate reuse and contribution from the outside), which makes development a lot more rapid and long-term survival a given, i.e. reduced actual and perceived risk. Fernando Cassia at The Inquirer has asked out loud exactly that question:

In a nutshell, StarOffice and OpenOffice.org give users freedom. Both run on almost every modern popular OS the user might choose to run. Corel's Wordperfect Office? "Windows!", "as expensive as Microsoft's Office", "no freedom, same kind of vendor lock-in, only with a different owner at the end of the dog collar".

In short: Wordperfect Office has a niche, and will continue to have one. It won't get very far into the 21st century if Corel doesn't open its code. They could sell support and an enhanced version, just like Sun does with StarOffice - and it embraces mutiple operating systems - as the OS is increasingly irrelevant, as Linux-based tablets and Ubuntu pre-loaded Dell machines show.


An article from yesterday insinuated that "Open Source [is] Threatening the Status Quo." It's a case of evolve or perish. Microsoft too needs to realise this, but it's trying very hard to change the meaning of "open source" to suit its own financial needs.

This and only this, namely the way "free/open source software" is redefined, has become one of the greatest dangers at the moment (dilution and contamination versus added value, visibility versus freedom), which is something that must be watched and scrutinixed as much as software patents. Hasn't Microsoft already 'taken care of' SourceForge, the cathedral (or bazaar) of Free software? Microsoft got plans.

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