Freedom of Information Act: Microsoft Rules O.K.
One of my favourite commentators on the Open Source phenomenon is Glyn Moody. And today he has clarified something I had been struggling with for a couple of days now.
The story in question, from The Inquirer, is basically this:
Becta refused to satisfy a Freedom of Information request made by the INQUIRER for details of the latest Microsoft schools megadeal, “after consultation with Microsoft.”
Which is pretty bad really. We are talking about Taxpayers’ (that’s you and me friend) money here. Why should we not be allowed to know what our beloved Government is spending with a US Software company on our children’s behalf? And don’t forget that it’s a company that has been convicted of monopolistic and anti-competitive practices, so it should be even more important we know what we are giving them. Shouldn’t it?
Well, on the face of it I bought the argument from Becta that goes:
If Becta, a UK government quango, published details of schools’ Microsoft spending, it “could give rise to an actionable breach of confidence by Microsoft against us,” it said. This was a “considerable risk”, it added.
And further, plausibly stated:
Becta said there could also be repercussions in disclosure for itself: “We have concluded that disclosure of any part of the MOU would prejudice the commercial interests of Becta and of schools throughout the UK because the significant savings achieved under the MOU would be put at risk,” it said. “We believe that our future negotiating position with Microsoft would be weakened and we would not be confident of our continuing ability to obtain the best deal possible for those UK schools that choose to purchase Microsoft products,” it added.
If we ignore the fact that the Microsoft products are pretty crap, and they aren’t really the right thing for education to be using in the first place, I can sort of understand the bit about their negotiating position – if they know no better.
But I wasn’t totally convinced… Something was niggling at the back of my mind as to why this is really bad…
I do realise that it’s too much to hope that Becta will take open source seriously, but I wonder if it has ever crossed Becta’s chosen minds that putting themselves in this position of snivelling dependence on Microsoft isn’t actually the optimum way to get the best deal for UK schools – even for those benighted enough to want to bathe their charges in the delicate glow of BSODs. Has it ever occurred to them that if they started negotiating from a position of dignity and strength, rather than abject, supine servitude, they might just possibly do their job a teensy-weensy bit better?
Microsoft is scared witless by the prospect of open source getting a foothold in schools, and would agree to any deal rather than let the UK education system discover the power and value of free software. Becta is actually in an incredibly strong position, and yet somehow manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The idea that “our future negotiating position with Microsoft would be weakened” if it dared to cross Masher Microsoft, as it has claimed to The Inquirer, is simply risible, and shows how desperately out of touch it is with the realities of the marketplace. The sooner this particular quango is abolished, and decisions are made locally, the better.
Thanks for clearing that up Glyn