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Becta tells schools to review benefits of Windows upgrades

The government agency that recommends which technology schools and colleges should use has told them to review the benefits of adopting Windows Vista or Office 2007, because of interoperability and value for money issues.

Becta has published a key report on Microsoft Vista and Office 2007 and on document interoperability.

Becta recommends that schools and colleges review the findings of the report before considering any large-scale investment or deployment.

Stephen Lucey, Becta's executive director of strategic technologies, said, "Our objective is to make sure schools and colleges get the best possible value for money. Our advice is to be sure there is a strong business case before upgrading to these products, as the costs are significant and the benefits remain unclear."

Lucey said, "We also want to see easier access to competitor products enhancing innovation and choice."

The key recommendations of Becta's report:

* Upgrading existing ICT systems to Microsoft Vista or Office 2007 is not recommended, and mixed Windows-based operating environments should be avoided. However, Vista should be considered where new institution-wide ICT provision is being planned.

* No widespread deployment of Office 2007 should take place until schools and colleges are sure that they have in place mechanisms to deal with interoperability and potential digital divide issues set out in the report.

* To ensure widest compatibility of files between different applications, users of Office 2007 should not save in Microsoft's new Office format (OOXML).

* Owing to limitations in Microsoft's implementation of the Open Document Format (ODF) international standard, users should in the short term continue to save files in the more widely adopted .doc, .xls and .ppt formats.

* Pupils, teachers and parents should also be made aware of the wide range of free-to-use products currently available and on how to use and access them.

* The ICT industry should be facilitating easier access to free-to-use office productivity software.

Becta's report follows its interim report published in January 2007, which concluded the new features of Microsoft's Vista product added value but did not justify early deployment in the education sector.

It also stated that Office 2007 contained no "must have" features for schools and colleges and Microsoft should develop an underpinning business case to justify deployment in the education sector.


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