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Becta green lights open source software in schools, at last

'We almost fell off our chairs', say openistas

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Updated Open source providers have scored a significant and timely victory to get their software into UK schools with an official government blessing.

The Sirius Corporation revealed yesterday that it was among 12 software suppliers to have been awarded places on the £80m Software for Educational Institutions Framework (SEIF) agreement.

Becta, Blighty’s education technology agency, is expected to announce the full line-up of software providers it has tendered under the three-year procurement deal later today.

Mark Taylor, who is president of the Sirius Corporation, founder of the Open Source Consortium and a noisy critic of Becta’s reluctance in the past to adopt open source software in favour of proprietary beasts such as Microsoft's offerings, was stunned by the decision.

“We almost fell off our chairs when we heard”, he told The Register. Becta informed Sirius that it was on the list of 12 providers in the SEIF deal last week, but has kept a lid on making any announcement until today.

Taylor said that the move represented a “significant breakthrough” for open source software in the UK public sector.

When asked if being awarded official status might be seen as a political motive by Becta to appease openistas, Taylor said: “Whether it’s a bone thrown to us or not, it’s still a good thing.”

The decision by the organisation that advises the UK government on IT policy in education also represented an “acknowledgement of the way the market is going and Becta simply can’t ignore it any more,” he added.

Novell is also understood to be on the coveted list and will be providing SUSE Linux to British schools, according to Taylor. Becta said it will tell us about the other 10 software companies to have won accreditation on the SEIF agreement later today.

Many will see Becta's decision to open its arms to some open source fanciers as a timely move in light of the European Union's ongoing probe of Microsoft's business practices, which some have claimed continue to stifle the European software market.

Meanwhile in recent months Becta has also somewhat distanced itself from MS. In January it issued a scathing report on the firm's Vista operating system and its equally fresh-faced twin Office 2007 because of concerns over “interopability and potential digital divide issues". ®

Update

The Office of Government Commerce has now released the full list of accredited companies. Here's the rundown in full (NB: Novell does not appear to have made the final cut, afterall).

Academia Ltd, Civica Services Ltd, European Electronique, Insight Direct (UK) Ltd, Joskos Solutions Ltd, Pugh Computers Ltd, Ramesys (e-business services) Ltd, RM plc, SCC, Sirius Corporation, Trustmarque Solutions and Viglen Limited.

So no real surprises there other than the inclusion of Sirius, of course. Becta has more about the framework, which launches next month, here.

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