Officially sanctioned open source and free-to-use software could be in use across the UK education system within months after government education agency Becta issued a tender for a four-year framework agreement.
Becta is looking for up to 10 software suppliers to participate in the £80m framework that will launch in October. This will replace its software licensing framework, in place since April 2005.
The contract notice says: “We are particularly seeking suppliers which can provide a comprehensive choice of software solutions including appropriate open source and free-to-use alternatives and advise users on best-value licensing.”
Solutions should be cost-effective, but provide freedom of choice, said a Becta spokeswoman.
“We’re providing guidance on the educational elements and looking for suppliers that can provide comprehensive choice,” she said.
Ian Lynch, a member of the Open Schools Alliance, said: “Canonical with Ubuntu, perhaps Mandriva, Sun Microsystems or Novell/Suse might bid, as all have integrated open source software solutions that could satisfy the framework requirements.
“Too many people are listening to ‘experts’ with a vested interest in a particular commercial software model. It’s not just the operating system, it’s OpenOffice and all the supporting applications. All you pay for is genuine support and even a lot of that is free through the community groups. The emperor has no clothes, it’s as simple as that and Becta now realises it.”
Sean Doherty, a consultant and school governor, said: “If they’re looking at open source, how are they going to guarantee upgrades? That’s been their argument against it in the past,” he said.
Framework bidders should offer commercial off-the-shelf software and licences, and not aim to supply software such as national curriculum content or learning environments that are specifically designed to deliver the curriculum in education.
Microsoft, which last week extended its licensing deal with Becta, declined to comment.