Becta refers Microsoft to the UK Office of Fair Trading

Oct 22, 2007

Becta, the UK government's education technology agency, has today made a complaint to the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for alleged anti-competitive practices by Microsoft in the schools software marketplace and in relation to Microsoft's approach to document interoperability.

An interim report published by Becta in January 2007 into Microsoft's Academic Licensing arrangements highlighted a number of fundamental concerns impacting on choice, competition in the marketplace and value for money for schools. Since the publication, Becta has been in discussions with Microsoft to secure the changes necessary to address the issues identified in both reports. Some progress has been made, though a number of fundamental issues remain unresolved. These centre around the limitations Microsoft places on schools using its subscription licensing arrangements and the potential interoperability difficulties for schools, pupils and parents who wish to use alternatives to Microsoft's Office suite, including 'free to use' alternatives.

Becta is determined to get the best deal it can for schools and for the wider educational system, and to make it as cost-effective and convenient as possible for educational customers to acquire the ICT products and services they choose. This demands an effective educational ICT marketplace and the avoidance of impediments to effective competition and choice.

As no agreement has been reached with Microsoft in a number of key areas, and after reviewing detailed legal advice, Becta has taken the decision to make a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading. It is hoped that by taking this step Microsoft will move promptly to address the issues raised.

In the interim, Becta's advice to schools considering moving to Microsoft's School Agreement subscription licensing model is that they should not do so. Schools must be legally licensed for all the software they are using, and if licensing Microsoft products is an imperative they should consider using a perpetual agreement such as 'Select' until such time as the OFT have responded to the complaint.

Microsoft is currently attempting to promote its proprietary OOXML format as an international document standard parallel to the free ODF standard. After failing to do so in the first round of voting by international standards organizations, Microsoft has until February to make changes (see the separate Linux Magazine news item here).

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