Microsoft seals U.K. schools deal

The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) has done a deal with Microsoft Corp. that means U.K. schools may save up to 37 per cent when they choose to buy equipment from that company.

The deal begins on January 1. It was agreed at the request of the U.K. Secretary of State, who asked BECTA to: “Maintain a dialogue with the private sector to ensure that best value for money is achieved in the procurement of quality equipment and services as supplied to the education system.”

A BECTA spokesperson explained the move, telling Macworld: “Becta was charged by the Secretary of State when issuing its new remit earlier this year to continue to develop its high-level strategic relationships with national and international organizations.”

The organization declined to state if it is working to secure a similar deal with Apple – which already offers steep discounts on its BETT-award-winning equipment to U.K. educators.

“We are not able to confirm if we are currently negotiating with any particular organization. All such negotiations are confidential to all parties,” it said.

BECTA claims the new agreement: “Does not change schools’ current purchasing procedures, and advantages all schools who choose to license Microsoft software but does not diminish their freedom to choose alternative solutions.”

However, industry-watchers fear the move may mean U.K. education becomes perpetually tied to Microsoft’s proprietary solutions.

David Burrows, Microsoft’s director of education called the deal, “good news for schools,” and said: “We recognize that resources in education are limited and, together with BECTA, we are working towards the mutual goal of using ICT to improve attainment and the overall learning experience of children in U.K. schools.”

FAT fees

A related piece of news reflects the potential danger in relying on proprietary software. Microsoft this week announced it will charge a license fee to manufacturers using its FAT (File System technology) in their products. First developed in 1976, FAT has become widely used in a variety of devices, including flash memory devices, still and video cameras, audio recorders, video game systems, scanners, printers and operating systems.

Microsoft intends charging a US$0.25 per unit fee up to a maximum $250,000 per manufacturer, now that its technology has become prevalent.

Speaking to Macworld in September, Apple Computer Inc.’s QuickTime marketing director Frank Casanova warned that content producers faced the risk that they had no control over Microsoft’s future plans with its Windows Media Player. This is because it is proprietary software that is not based on open standards, and the company could choose to change the product’s features or the licensing arrangements – and costs – for Windows Media at any time, he said.

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