British schools agency says no to Windows Vista

Jan 30, 2008

The British Education Communications and Technology Agency (Becta), the agency in charge of promoting the use of technology in Britain’s schools, has advised its partners in schools against migration to Windows Vista or Microsoft Office 2007.

In a recently published 40-page report, Becta states that neither the OS nor the office suite brought sufficient advantages to the table to justify the costs associated with migration.

According to the report, the conversion to Vista alone would cost an English elementary school around GBP 5000 (almost US$ 10,000), while a high school would be faced with a bill of GBP 24,000 (almost US$ 48,000). The cost of upgrading all the schools in England and Wales was estimated at GBP 175 m (some US$ 343.28 m). The agency views this as too expensive, considering only 66 percent of school machines are ‘Vista capable’. In fact, only 22 percent of the computers in schools actually meet the full specification for Microsoft Vista.

Becta also criticized the fact that interoperability with Microsoft Office could not be guaranteed. Among the concerns raised were the lacking or deficient native support for the OpenDocument Format (ODF), and the use of a new file format that only Microsoft supports (OOXML) and that would make it more difficult to move documents between computers in schools and those at home. Becta’s recommendation to schools is not to switch to Office 2007 until sufficient support can be guaranteed for ODF. Moreover, schools should ensure their office productivity software environments are configured in such a way as not to prevent students, teachers and parents using alternative products.

Becta also proposed that open-source software should be used in greater measure. IT suppliers should leave the choice of office productivity software up to the school, and should include open-source programs in the range of products they offer. Becta’s report also issued a reminder that there are now several alternatives in respect of the computer operating system, and the agency also named alternative office productivity suites, listing the online Google applications, Google Pack (which includes StarOffice) and IBM’s Lotus Symphony in addition to OpenOffice. Moreover, the report also noted the growing availability on the market of computers and mini-notebooks that are preinstalled with a version of Linux.

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