Becta has announced that discussions with Microsoft regarding its complaint about school licensing agreements and interoperability have shown significant progress.

The government agency, which leads the national drive to ensure the innovative and efficient use of technology throughout learning, had launched a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading on October 2007. Since then it has been in talks with Microsoft to understand how the problems in its Office 2007 product will be addressed.

Microsoft, which has more than 91,000 employees worldwide, recently revealed its intention to provide built-in support in Office 2007 for the Open Document file format. This means colleges and other educational institutions are set to gain from further flexibility to use a wider range of software.

Michel Van der Bel, Vice-President, Public Sector International, Microsoft, said: "We understand that the issue of interoperability was one of the key factors underpinning Becta’s October 2007 complaint to the OFT. I look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with Becta to ensure that in implementing built-in support for ODF in Microsoft Office 2007 we meet the needs of the education sector."

Becta has welcomed Microsoft's determination to bring effective interoperability, and its plan to introduce a pilot licensing programme.

Mr Van der Bel added: "We have been reviewing our school licensing arrangements in the light of educational policy developments and the issues that have been raised by Becta. We will introduce new licensing arrangements designed to deliver the flexibility demanded by the refreshed Harnessing Technology Strategy."

The chief executive of Becta, Stephen Crowne, commented: “I welcome Microsoft's recent announcement of built-in support for ODF in Office 2007, and the very positive discussions we have had with them about their commitment to effective implementation. This will give schools and colleges additional flexibility to use a wider range of software. We will continue to work closely with Microsoft and the wider industry to maximise the benefit of ICT to our education institutions.

"I also welcome Microsoft's plans to pilot new licensing arrangements designed to give additional choice and flexibility to schools to meet the needs of their learners.

"These are very positive developments, responding to our concerns about the current arrangements.

"The approach that Microsoft is taking overall supports the broad aims we set out in the refreshed Harnessing Technology strategy."

The Harnessing Technology report aims to set out a system-wide strategy for technology in education and skills, and was originally published by the Government in 2005. Three years later, the renewed strategy takes into account the changes in the education and skills system, and in ways learners of all ages use technology.

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