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Becta schools deal stuns British open-istas

UK tech quango's 'posturings...a sham'

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The open source community is up in arms today following Becta’s decision to award its open source schools project to a little-known consultancy firm.

Becta, the UK's education technology agency, yesterday stunned UK open source fanciers when it handed a £270,000 contract to AlphaPlus Consultancy to set up and run an open source community in the schools sector over the next two years.

Open Source Consortium’s president Mark Taylor, who today sent an open letter to Becta, lambasted the move.

He claimed that the decision to snub bidders that included Red Hat-backed Sirius and Canonical-backed The Learning Machine exposed Becta’s open source “posturings” as a “sham”.

Becta, which in recent months has been a vocal critic of Microsoft’s monopolistic stranglehold on software, invited bidders to tender for its “Open Source Schools” project in May.

At the time it said: “Becta wishes to ensure that schools are aware of and can access the wide variety of open source software in the marketplace. To achieve this it recognises that they must be supported in its awareness, adoption, deployment, use and ongoing development.”

The endgame for the organisation that advises the UK gov on IT policy in education was to support a “sutainable and significant community of schools who use and develop open source products by 2010”.

But Taylor, whose consultancy Sirius bid for the work, bitterly attacked Becta’s decision to award the contract to a company that he claimed has “no open source credentials or capabilities”.

“Being Becta insiders is what matters, insiders who have no track record in open source, do not even give it a passing mention on their website, and until yesterday were completely unknown to anyone in either the industry or community,” he claimed. “Becta's friends are now responsible for the direction open source takes in British schools, entirely removed from the UK open source community and industry.”

However, AlphaPlus director John Winkley today insisted that the firm plans to work closely with the open source community to foster a relationship that will benefit the schools project.

He told The Register: “We’re delighted to have won the contract, although the big issue for us right now is we’re less than 24 hours in… We will work hard to see what the open source community wants from the project.”

Winkley said the service will go live on 1 September 2008 and over the coming days the firm plans to issue further statements.

In January Becta issued a scathing report on Microsoft's Vista operating system and its equally fresh-faced twin, Office 2007.

The UK's education technology agency concluded there were very few situations where it was worthwhile for schools and colleges to install the products, which actually hit the market at the tail end of 2006.

Just last month Becta referred an interoperability complaint, first lodged with the UK's Office of Fair Trading, to the European Commission over Microsoft’s alleged anti-competitive practices in the schools software market.

We requested comment from Becta but it is yet to provide a response at time of writing. ®

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