Open Source in Education

The very limited use of FOSS in the UK’s education sector has long been a source of much puzzlement and even anger – from this side of the IT divide at least.

In the last year or so we have, happily, seen a rise in the background noise level, and more recently with BECTA’s activities and the award of the approved supplier status to Sirius IT as signs that things are finally changing.

This morning, I saw a post on the OOo marketing list from Ian Lynch publicising this new place of reference and support for the education sector: Open Source Schools:

Open Source Schools is an initiative to inform schools about Open Source Software (OSS). A number of schools are already realising the benefits of OSS within their ICT strategy. This project will work to share their experiences with the wider community of educational practitioners.

The project will support a community of practice that engages those who are currently using OSS and welcomes and supports new members. Our aim is to create an educationally focused project driven by the needs of the community – giving them the means to become confident users of OSS.

A great idea Ian and I hope it gets wide publicity. It was a very timely post considering a couple of conversations I had yesterday at the Woking Business Expo where we were exhibiting…

The first discussion was with a parent and school Governor who has really started to understand FOSS and the benefits it brings from several meetings we have had with him over the last few months on a more professional basis. He dropped by yesterday to say hi and was very keen to introduce the concepts and ideals of FOSS into his school and LEA. We will help him in this as much as possible. Dave, let’s arrange that beer!

The second, and far more worrying conversation, just shows what a total travesty it is that we continue to teach our children not how to use a computer as a tool, but instead teach our kids how to open and create a Microsoft Word or Excel document. Another visitor to our stand (and parent) was discussing the experience of a colleague whose child came home from school with some homework only to find he couldn’t open the files on his home PC as they were created in Office 2007! The family couldn’t afford to buy it – and why the hell should they frankly? This was obviously very distressing for the family and child concerned.

Our our schools now a sales channel for Microsoft I wonder?

The result of this kind of upgrade-treadmill that MS would love us all to live on permanently, is to create a two-tier system of education for our children: those whose parents can afford to buy expensive commercial software and those who cant.

The UK Government, even more so now they have just spanked £500bn propping up the banking system, must start to act and reduce the outrageous and completely wasteful expenditure on proprietary software. Why oh why don’t we just do a nation-wide roll out of to EVERY computer in the public sector and especially in Education? It would be a good start, and then we can get rid of that festering boil called Windows later.

  • No more extortionate upgrade costs,
  • no more public documents created in binary, patent encumbered formats,
  • an end to the single vendor lock-in and monopoly,
  • no more two-tier children…

We can always dream I guess.

UK Government Finally Sanctions Open Source! [Updated]


The Inquirer has broken the news that the UK Government, helped by BECTA, has finally approved at least two companies to be official suppliers of Open Source Software into our Education sector.

OPEN SOURCE companies have been granted official permission to supply software to the UK public sector for the first time in British history.

At least two Open Source software suppliers have been awarded places on the £80 million Software for Educational Institutions Framework, making them official suppliers to UK schools and scoring a victory in what has been a long and frustrating battle against favouritism shown to conventional commercial software companies in UK politics and procurement.

One of the suppliers is Sirius IT run by Mark Taylor.

Mark, here’s many congratulations from us at The Open Learning Centre. You have been a fantastic advocate for OSS for many years and this award to supply is thoroughly deserved. We wish your company every success.

Novell are apparently another “named” party to the supplier framework and having been long-time sponsors of the OSS eco-system also deserve congratulations. Now, if only they’d drop the deal-with-the-devil…

Novell didn’t make it; Becta have just announced and released the list of the 12 suppliers. And as Glyn Moody also considers, the “pact with the Devil” in which Novell sold its identity to Microsoft probably means that it isn’t such a bad thing in reality. By way of support, the article I wrote just 6 weeks ago “How to remove Mono from Ubuntu…” was, and remains, the most read piece on the whole blog. And almost all of the 50+ comments are in support of the objective. Clearly there isn’t much appetite for tainited code in FLOSS from the enlightened…

Microsoft’s Fixed Rate Tax approaches 100%

Yesterday, we decided that we needed to get a new laptop for our business.

Nothing particularly staggering about that you might think. And, on the face of it you’d be spot on. However, as you probably know, our company The Open Learning Centre is focused on delivering business solutions and services based on Open Source technology.

Consequently what I definitely DO NOT WANT is to be forced to buy any Operating System with my hardware. I would like to choose for myself. I might want Ubuntu, or SUSE or Mint or something else. Or, god-forbid (and this is purely for example’s sake) I could choose to install one of the many valid, and already paid for, copies of Windows 95, 98, ME or XP that I have lying around.

So after a great deal of Googling yesterday, I found a grand total of TWO companies here in the UK that publicly offered me the opportunity to buy a new laptop on-line without an operating system.

The only other way is to buy individual components and assemble your own computer. This can end up being more expensive and is certainly not a trivial task, especially with a laptop. I do build my own desktops but wouldn’t consider doing the same for a portable PC.

I did look at Dell’s Ubuntu offerings but the spec of the machines wasn’t quite what I needed and – to be honest – all the “Dell Recommends Windows Vista” and notices about “Beware! This Computer Doesn’t Run Windows” made me feel a bit patronised. I understand to a certain degree the problems Dell face and must address; support and an audience of not-so-techy customers so I am not going to denigrate what they are doing. I just hope in a year or two’s time, I will be able to choose NO operating system on any of their computers.

But to get back to the main thread of this. Just two companies here in the UK that could offer me a laptop which I could choose to have supplied without an Operating System. That is bloody scandalous. EVERY other laptop (apart from the 2 Dell machines and some Asus EEe PCs [Update: I was a bit brief here. There are few other vendors who supply Linux pre-installed. But they do not offer the choice of “no operating system”]) would be supplied with a Microsoft Operating System. I had little or no choice; I could always have bought a Mac but that’s a somewhat similar issue.

Irrespective of the fact that I wouldn’t use their crappy and expensive software anyway, I have plenty of old discs with Microsoft’s operating systems on them that I have legitimately paid for and are not installed on any of my other computers. I’m sure there are many millions more like them. So why must I pay for another copy? This is completely unfair and should be (if it isn’t already) illegal.

The Globalisation Institute submitted a report to the EU commission last September saying just that:

Computers in the European Union should be sold without a bundled operating system, according to this submission to the European Commission. It says that the bundling of Microsoft Windows with computers is not in the public interest, and prevents meaningful competition in the operating system market.

The current situation basically means that for almost every single PC sold around the world, I believe we (you) are paying a TAX to Microsoft. We have already seen how they have done this with our schools. And we have seen Becta’s responses here and here.

I suggest that interested readers write to their MP or MEP, explain about this grievance and ask what the EU is doing about the report above.

On a positive note however, the two companies that did enable me to buy OS free computers deserve to be properly applauded, mentioned here, and please pay them a visit when you are looking for new hardware.

The first is a highly customisable offering from ( You can build desktops, towers, cubes and laptops to your own specifications and choose your Operating System or not as you wish. Removing the OS saves you anything from about £60 to £120 depending on your other choices.

The second is a more “mainstream” computer business. And was where we decided to buy from in the end as the price/spec was just a bit better for my particular requirements. That company is Novatech ( Yes, Novatech. It looks as though you can choose your operating system (or not as you wish) for any of their PCs. Be they laptops, servers or desktops. They have a good range and probably the best value we found anywhere. Choosing no OS saves you anything between approx. £50 and £300 depending on your choice of hardware.

Up to £300 quid Microsoft TAX… And it’s a fixed penalty too. Your hardware could cost £250 or £2500 – it doesn’t matter to them. Next time you are equipping your business or home with new computers please think about this first. You can have Ubuntu Linux Desktop Edition and/or Server Edition for free. You can copy, re-use, install on as many machines as you wish and they will provide much better performance with no usage restrictions either…

Microsoft reported to the OFT by Becta

Remember this article (Would you buy software licenses you can’t use?) I wrote a little while ago? Well it seems as though Becta have had enough trying to negotiate with Microsoft and have referred them to the Office of Fair Trading for alleged anti-competitive practices in the schools software market.

Hooray. This is good news. According to the original article:

The agency’s main concerns surround 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 software, including “free to use” alternatives.

They missed an opportunity here when they could have suggested that Schools deploy instead.:

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 our complaint.

But they make up for that slip up a bit by saying here:

Becta’s advice to schools in relation to the deployment of Office 2007 remains that schools and colleges should only deploy Office 2007 when its interoperability with alternative products is satisfactory. That would necessarily imply effective support by Microsoft of the internationally approved ODF file format.

About time too. Next time you talk to your childrens’ teacher tell them about Open Source software and in particular. Perhaps we could save the country a few Million quid and get some more teachers/books/hardware/sports equipment or anything else that would be more useful and valuable than a piece of paper from Microsoft; that’s all you get in reality…

Would you buy software licenses that you can’t use?

I don’t often get surprised or shocked by stuff – events and such normally just strike me as one of those things or simply inevitable. Today however, I learned that our schools and further education establishments are being screwed!

If that doesn’t make sense, here it is in English…

Here in the UK, the government commissioned a report into Microsoft’s academic licensing programmes. The research and report publication is by Becta. [WHO?] “Becta is the Government’s lead partner in the strategic development and delivery of ICT for the schools and the learning and skills sectors.”

The interim findings are nothing short of scandalous and I am surprised that this hasn’t received more coverage. Here are some key quotes from the report:

Microsoft’s subscription licensing agreements are all or nothing: in other words, if a school wants to cover any of its ICT estate using a subscription agreement, it must cover all its ‘eligible PCs’. Microsoft has set the definition of an eligible PC as any computer with a specification of a PII processor or higher (the PII was launched in 1997). The eligible PC definition also includes Apple Macintosh computers (G3 or higher). This approach results in over-licensing, double licensing and other anomalies.

So basically some of our schools (and I don’t know how many) are paying Microsoft licenses on each and every PC they acquire. This includes machines which may be too old or unsuitable to run the standard application/OS package that their license provides.

Schools subscription pricing is on the basis of eligible PCs, where licensing for Microsoft products is based on the number of computers in the school estate irrespective of whether the Microsoft product is installed, required or used on all of these computers.

That’s nice 🙁 – NOT.

A further anomaly arises in that a school which uses a mix of Microsoft-based and Apple computers can find itself paying Microsoft a licence fee for software which cannot run on its Apple machines.

Get the idea now? And finally here’s a nice conclusion:

Becta’s advice to institutions that are not currently using a Microsoft subscription licensing agreement is that they should consider carefully whether, in the absence of the changes Becta is recommending, they should enter into such agreements.

You can download the whole report – it’s about 20 pages so not that long – from here:

There is more in this report too – about the way that certain licenses used for schools mean they pay over-the-odds pricing AND that they get tied-in for long-term subscriptions which are so calculated that the cost to cancel or stop becomes prohibitive!

Now, like I said, I’m not usually surprised or shocked by much, but that fact the we (all UK taxpayers) are paying for unnecessary, potentially useless, and duplicated Microsoft software licenses does offend me.

The final blog which led me to this report came from here: where the author describes how, in Norway, they have managed to stop this scandalous activity. Why can’t we do the same?

I have forwarded my findings to the Conservative MP and Shadow Chancellor, George Osbourne, who regularly promotes Open Source initiatives.

If you think this important, please contact your local MP and ask for them to explain why we are paying tax on software that our kids will never use?

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