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Open Source could slash schools IT bills says government.
Graeme Weardon report 9th May, 2005

The open source community will receive a major boost this week from the UK government's ICT agency, which has investigated the potential benefits of using free and non-proprietary software in education.

The research, carried out by the British Educational Communications and Technology Association (BECTA), concluded that primary schools could cut computer costs by nearly half if they stopped buying, operating and supporting products from software vendors such as Microsoft, according to the Times Educational Supplement.

Becta's report won't be officially released until 13 May, but its initial findings were presented to a workshop on 14 April. The panel of educational IT specialists heard that open source software offered lower support, hardware and software costs, and also discussed perceived barriers to open source take-up.

At present, Microsoft has an agreement with the Department of Education and Skills under which schools can receive sponsorship of up to 15,000. This has sparked claims that schools are cancelling open source projects to avoid upsetting Microsoft.

Open Source for your school.
What you can do.

When IBM released the Personal Computer (IBM PC) in August 1981, it followed its traditional practice of publishing a complete set of electronic drawings and copious software details in order to help engineers maintain machines. It also alowed any other supplier to "clone" their design and duplicate cheaper copies. .  Unintentionally they had produced a new de facto global standard that lead to the highly competitive PC market and very low prices we enjoy today.  Although IBM defended its ownership of the original design, many competitors developed a range of machines that came to form an "open" design outside the control of the hardware giant.  Today IBM plays only a small part in PC hardware and no single hardware supplier has a dominent and excessively profitable role in the market.

Conversely, software has produced huge profits for a few companies who find themselves as key suppliers to consumers 'locked into' their product.  One example is Microsoft (MS) with its operating systems (Windows 98, ME and XP) and applications (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) but perhaps this powerul position is coming to an end.  

More and more documents are stored on intranets or the Internet but many are not searchable because of the format used by Microsofts'  word processor - 'Word'. If a format - like HTML could be used then this would lead to hugh benefits when it comes to combining and analysising information. One such format is XML (Extensible Mark-up Language) which allows data to be saved with a structure. This allows users to combine data from many different sources very easily.

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The 'Open Document Format' employs XML and is an international standard developed by a consortium called OASIS. OASIS is a powerful alliance of international suppliers and users which is backed by many governments which is intent on breaking the straanglehold that Microsoft has on the way we decide to store and use information. An open standard would drastically reduce software and upgrade costs.

Open Office is a suite of programmes that are free to download and employs the OpenDoucument format. (The article above is BECTAs recommendation to the UK government that programmes like Open Office be used). We recommend that it is looked at too.

Microsoft is the only member of OASIS against the adoption of 'Open Document', (we fail to see why) and it has issued its own proprietory XML format that will become its base standard whenever Office 12 is released. Microsoft claims that they aren't supporting Open Document because there is 'no customer demand for it'. 

When the European Union evaluated both Open Document XML and Word XML they came down in favour of Open Document.  The state of Massachusetts recently declared it would only accept Open Document and pdf formats from 2007 and when Microsoft whined about the apparent discrimination, against them, they were told they would be considered once they had adopted the open standard - like everybody else. (Watch this space!). So make your move - upgrade to Open Office and remove the microsoft 'tax' on the software you use. Its the first step to a brighter furute.

Download Open Office here.
Oasis pages
Open Source explained

 


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