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Don't rush into Vista, schools told

Becta counsels caution

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A leading government advisory body has advised schools in Britain not to deploy Microsoft's latest operating system, Vista, for at least 12 months.

The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta), which is the British government's key partner in the strategic development and delivery of information communications technology and e-learning, published an interim report on Wednesday setting out recommendations in relation to the adoption of Vista and Office 2007.

A spokesperson for the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE), which is the Irish equivalent of Becta, told ENN that it hadn't received any queries from schools or colleges regarding guidance on deploying any of Microsoft's latest products.

The Becta report concluded that Vista has no "must have" features in the product that would justify early deployment in schools and colleges. Moreover, it said the technical, financial and organisational challenges associated with early deployment of the operating system currently make it a "high risk strategy" and should therefore be avoided.

The report recommends that Microsoft should facilitate a small number of pilot activities to clarify what the benefits of deploying Vista in schools and colleges would be, and how much the roll-out would cost.

Becta believes costs of a widespread deployment of Vista are currently estimated to be around £160m while the benefits are unclear. The agency calculated that it would cost in the region of £4,000 for a typical primary school to deploy Vista and as much as £25,000 for a secondary school.

Vista was made available to business customers in November and will hit the shelves for consumers later this month. It comes with a number of key innovations including a new user interface and graphics engine, improved search and a new media player, as well as tighter security and eco-friendly power management features.

Nonetheless, Becta seemed to be decidedly unimpressed with the product. While it did acknowledge that Vista has enhancements that add value, these aren't considered significant enough to lead schools to upgrade, particularly when stability is taken into the account.

"The version of Windows XP generally agreed to be the most stable became available with the release of Service Pack 2 in August 2004 -- almost three years after the launch of the product. Windows XP was developed from an existing operating system whereas Vista is a wholly new operating system. It seems reasonable therefore not to deploy Vista until it has a demonstrably stable and secure track record," the report said.

Office 2007, Microsoft's latest productivity suite, was better received. However, as with Vista, Becta could find no compelling reasons why schools should consider upgrading, and it reasoned none of the 176 new features found in the product were 'must have'. It also noted that most of the new features are aimed at business users.

"Becta has not yet been able to identify any realistic justification for the early adoption of Office 2007 across the educational ICT estate. Recognising that many educational institutions already have perfectly adequate office productivity solutions, we believe that there would need to be a strong case to justify the necessary investment," the report added.

The report comes shortly after Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of the non-profit One Laptop per Child association - which recently launched a low-cost portable PC for use in developing countries - said that the current set-up whereby school children are trained using office productivity applications such as Word, Excel, etc was "criminal". Instead, he said, they should be using technology to communicate, explore and share.

Copyright © 2007, ENN

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