Microsoft has buckled under pressure from Becta to make its software licenses for schools less rigid but this may not automatically result in cost savings.
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Under the Subscription Enrolment Schools Pilot, the vendor has removed the requirement to use agreements that cover the entire "eligible" ICT estate and is providing options to price per user, per device or a mixture of both.
"The new flexibility will facilitate greater competition and choice in the marketplace and provides schools [that] wish to use Microsoft software with improved opportunities to achieve greater value for money," said Becta chief Stephen Crowe.
The pilot - a result of conversations between the software vendor and Becta over concerns about existing subscription licenses - will also make it easier for schools to deploy a mix of open source and proprietary product, he added.
Dr Nicola Hidson, Microsoft senior director for the UK public sector, said the pilot "may benefit schools whether they currently buy Microsoft subscription or perpetual licenses" and allow them to customise the agreements.
User based licensing options will allow teachers and students to access the software at home and at school, without the need for separate agreements.
Among other benefits, schools no longer need to pay for subscriptions to run software on ageing PCs that are not technically capable of running it, they can restrict licenses to a few machines and do not have to include Macs or PCs that run Linux.
Ed Ekins, software licensing specialist at Microsoft Gold partner European Electronique - which will have to partner an Ed LAR to use SESP - said the changes were generally positive.
"I think this is a fairly good idea, schools don't want to license their total number of machines with certain products as they may have been paying for something they did not use," he said.
However, Becta warned that schools buying licenses through SESP are "not necessarily" guaranteed cost savings.
"Under the SESP arrangements, Microsoft has determined that the per device unit costs for not licensing the school's entire ICT estate will be about 10% higher than those which apply if you are licensing the entire ICT estate," it said.
The increased cost under SESP of not licensing all users is in the region of 30% but if schools can reduce their Microsoft device licensing requirements by more than 10% they will save cash year on year.
"Schools will need to consider very carefully if such an option represents good value for money," Becta concluded.
Resellers will have to wait for the price list to come out before they can determine if the cost of individual subscriptions are cheaper under SESP or the old scheme.