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Becta reports Microsoft to OFT

The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) has complained to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) about Microsoft's alleged anti-competitive practices in the schools software marketplace.

The agency says schools that subscribe to the company's licensing arrangements are limiting those schools' ability to use Microsoft's Office alternatives, because of potential interoperability difficulties.

Two separate reports by Becta published this year have highlighted their concerns about choice, competition in the marketplace, value for money for schools, and interoperability.

Since the reports' publication, Becta has been in discussions with Microsoft to address the issues identified, but although they said some progress has been made, fundamental issues remain unsolved. Because of these, and after reviewing legal advice, Becta complained to the OFT.

A Becta spokesperson said, "Becta is determined to get the best deal it can for schools and the wider educational system, and to make it as cost-effective and convenient as possible for educational customers to acquire the ICT products and services they choose. This demands an effective educational ICT marketplace and the avoidance of impediments to effective competition and choice."

The agency is advising schools not to move to Microsoft's School Agreement subscription licensing model. If schools have already entered into a School Agreement licensing model, Becta said they should consider their renewal and their buyout options alongside any findings the OFT may make.

Becta also said schools and colleges should only deploy Office 2007 when its interoperability with alternative products is satisfactory. That would imply effective support by Microsoft of the internationally approved ODF file format.

It is not the first time Microsoft has been referred to the OFT. A Microsoft spokesperson said, "We have not yet seen a copy of Becta's letter so we are unable to make a specific comment at this stage. Everyday schools across the UK benefit through using our technology and participating in our academic programmes. We are in ongoing discussions with Becta on this matter."


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