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Becta reviews UK schools for Microsoft 'lock-in'

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The government agency leading implementation of the Department for Education and Skills' e-strategy has launched two reviews of schools' use of ICT.

The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) last week announced a value for money review of Microsoft's educational licensing programme, and a second looking at ways of improving home ICT access for school pupils.

The first review will examine the impact of Microsoft's dominance of the UK education market and whether it represents value for money.

Becta said the review would pay particular attention to Microsoft's subscription licensing models and the risks associated with non-perpetual licences.

It will examine the total costs of exiting those licence agreements and the corresponding risks of 'lock-in'. If risks are found, the report will seek to identify mechanisms whereby schools and colleges could mitigate those risks and protect their investment.

Becta chief executive Owen Lynch said: "Becta has always recognised the importance of ensuring schools and colleges have access to a range of products and services which represent good value for money.

"In areas where a single supplier is dominant particular vigilance is necessary to guarantee that this happens and that schools do not find themselves inadvertently 'locked in' to a particular supplier via for example a licensing mechanism. Thus we have initiated a review."

The interim report is expected to be published in June 2006.

The agency's second review will look at software licensing and document interoperability issues in relation to home and school computer use.

It will analyse ways in which both pupils and parents can acquire the applications and licences necessary when working on the same document on either a home or school computer.

It will also address compatibility issues when a home computer runs different programmes to those used at school.

Lynch said: "This [review] is particularly important both in the context of addressing the digital divide and in the increasing number of circumstances where pupils and parents access information and resources online from schools."

The second review forms part of the DfES' e-strategy, under which it aims to open up school internet systems to pupils when they are working at home.

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