back to article Becta excludes Vista, Office - again

Microsoft’s hopes of getting Vista into British classrooms have been held back at least another year after Becta issued a scathing report on the operating system and its equally fresh-faced twin, Office 2007. The UK's education technology agency concluded there are very few situations where it is worthwhile for schools and …

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All I want for christmas are my 2 front teeth...

Was that the chorus we could hear at Becta leading up to Christmas? Clearly it worked, they finally have a set (of teeth).

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some good points

I can see the reasoning behind this. VISTA is a resource hog and you can't even use custom adm templates for group policy without a windows 2008 server which isn't even out yet.

Personally though I like office 2007 as things seem easier to get to from a users point of view. Our whole school now uses it and we haven't really had any problems other than making sure some stuff is saved in the older format which can be set as default using group policy.

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Go

The end of the road?

Microsoft have clearly had it too good for too long, despite the flaws, they could previously count on Windows and office sales no matter what the rest of the company has done... Did we witness in 2007 the point where the curve finely turns against MS?

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Stop

We already have O2K7

And it's shocking.

Working in Support for a school in the UK, I can safely state that Office 2007 is a COMPLETE ball-ache. Interoperability? Try running Access 2000 (previous version we have licensed) and 2007 at the same time. Switchboards, Buttons, and Wizards all crap themselves as soon as 2007 is installed, and only way to repair is to go through the lengthy "Detect and Repair..." process every time one of the students opens up Access 2007. This THEN causes Access 2007 to re-rape the system when it starts to "Configure settings" or some other crap. Ad Infinitum.

We don't have a choice in the matter, as coursework guidelines state that you must have consistency in the applications used to complete coirsework assignments. So, while Years 7, 8, and 9 learn with Access 2007 (As that's "the future"), Years 10 and 11 need to use Access 2000. The Sixth Form have it worse... Their coursework is far more complex.

I'm not even touching on staff retraining... All in all, it's shit. Just shit.

(Post anonymously; my boss might read El Reg, and he made the decision!)

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s

Schools running up to date operating systems?

When I was in secondary school we were lucky to have machines capable of running OS's a few versions old let alone the newest...

In fact for the first 3 years half the computers in the room were older than I was (and came complete with brass plaques for each one say who had donated the cash to buy and when...)

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Anonymous Coward

non MS OS

I saw the line about non-MS operating systems and thought "surely not" so I checked on the becta site and found this bit

"If a school is using some Apple computers that are not running any Microsoft software they must still pay Microsoft annual licence fees for those computers, even thought they are running software supplied by Microsoft's competitor."

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Alert

free-to-use products

Open office works very well on windows.

Kids and parents do have a lot of choices other than to get a mac or better: linux.

In the same way that corporate buying needs to be informed, so too should kids be informed that there are other products out there, otherwise when they get into work they will only think there are MS stuff. This is plain wrong, nieve and ultimately very bad for the country... why is this allowed to continue?

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Anonymous Coward

Why would you want 'em?

XP and 2003 work fantastically on the domain here, the thought of migrating 1000 computers to Vista and 2007 is the last thing on our minds... just patch 2003 to be able to open 2007 documents, tell all your kiddies to only save in the older format (non of this docx rubbish) and leave it the hell alone...

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Gates Horns

All well and good

but how many heads actually know about BECTA and it's recommendations? (Genuine question)

Otherwise they'll just go with what they know e.g. Microsoft.

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Gates Horns

'Up to date operating systems'

Erm, how about running a mixture of new-ish and ancient machines at my local Primary school - none of which have the processing power or memory to run Vista.

There is also the added gem of running through RM Window Box (going soon) that has issues with older rehashed Win 3.11 and W95 software.

New laptops were fortunately sourced pre-Vista and although they weren't set up for some time it does mean that they are a hell of a lot quicker than f they'd got Vista.

I'm starting to introduce the concept that free software can be damn good, having installed Scratch from M.I.T. on 30 machines. Not easy in an environment where some the kids have a better idea than the staff but we're getting there.

With a wide mixture of software on the machines life is easier without 'upgrading' and tying up financial resources with the legitimised pirates.

Not only that but we can't wait all day for Vista to go through its "Are you sure you want to run this?" " Are you really sure?" " Are you really, really, really sure?"

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Microsoft

To be honest I'm a bit sick of the UK government acting as the PR department for Microsoft.

Course work should be devised so it's achievable via Linux, Apple or Microsoft. I teach IT courses and we always produce versions for at least Linux and Microsoft so it's achievable and not to difficult.

As for using Access, I'm lost for words. Why not use MySQL (if price is a problem) or Sybase, DB2 or Oracle with Java or C++. These are real world products, Access is rarely used by the IT department.

Last week my nephew told me he's been taught at school that MS Excel is a database...........

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My Dissertation

I am currently working on my final year dissertation which is based on the negative impacts of a Microsoft centric public sector from many angles including education, industry and innovation, cost and sociological issues.

This news from Becta is a good thing and there reference to the digital divide is totally valid (and a surprise to see). Let's hope BECTAs future decisions are similarly sane.

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Happy

We were lucky

Never had any issues with Microsoft.

1500 pupil school, each pupil had 30 minutes (total, not per week, term or year) on the single teletype connected a system (not sure what) at Surrey Uni...

Mind you it was 1980, showing my age again

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Anonymous Coward

Databases

"Why not use MySQL (if price is a problem) or Sybase, DB2 or Oracle with Java or C++. These are real world products, Access is rarely used by the IT department."

Because schools do not exist for the sole purpose of turning out IT wallahs. Access *is* used widely *outside* the IT department, which is where by far the larger proportion of the school leavers will be working.

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re: My Dissertation

And you're even more pleased that you have something else to cut and paste, sorry, 'reference' into your novel :)

Let's hope it has a grammar checker.

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Coat

Re: My Dissertation

I suggest you learn the difference between "their" and "there" before submitting your dissertation. Not sure what subject you're studying, but I can only assume that getting this wrong would reduce your marks.

coat. gone.

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Re how many heads have heard of becta

a fair few, I'd say. And the head of a complex organisation rarely, in my experience, gives a tinkers cuss about Microsoft or Linux. They have a budget and a requirement and a IT Co-Ordinator. And most of these co-ordinators have heard of Becta.

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Unhappy

An authority in the West...

I work for an authority in the West that covers some 75 primary schools and their admin networks. I think we have only one school with Office 2007 on their Office systems. Any equipment the schools buy that come with Vista, we downgrade immediately before they're joined to the admin network. There is just no advantage to Vista from our point of view. All our application rollout packs will need to be remade for starters.

One site were keen to keep Vista on their 20 new curriculum laptops. It took 30 minutes for each to load up and configure their initial boot rubbish. Lots of problems mapping printers shared off a 2003 server. Waste of time and resources.

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Bloated

The purpose of the exercise for school ICT departments is to train the little bastards for the kind of things they're going to use computers for when they leave school and get a job. As a result, they shouldn't have any need to use O2k7 - because they'll probably never see the beast it in the wild. They should all be using Office XP because that's what they'll most likely use 'in the real world'.

I like the new interface, but by christ it's a bloated piece of crap - I've just opened a Word document and Task Manager is telling me that WINWORD is using 80Mb of memory - this for a one page document with no images and exactly 110 words.... That's 724Kb per word! An interesting anti-compression technique...

And that's the real reason most schools won't be using 2007 or Vista anytime soon - they've already invested heavily in new hardware over the last couple of years, which now won't have the horsepower to work well enough. School governors aren't about to throw all that money away just because MS say so.

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free-to-use products

We definitely need to be educating more teachers and parents about free software. A girl at work asked me the other day if I knew anything about downloading software. Igave her a brief rundown of how BitTorrent worked then asked if there was anything specific she needed.

All she wanted to do was to open some of her old .doc files from university, but there was no way she could afford to buy Word and the Mac she has came without anything useful installed.

She had to pick her jaw up off the floor when I told her about Open Office. She'd been so ingrained with MS throughout school and university that she had to check a couple of times to make sure she hadn't misunderstood as the concept of something being free was so alien.

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Paris Hilton

This doesn't go far enough

BECTA's mandate should extent to the entire government, and conclude that there are very few situations where it is worthwhile for any department to use any Microsoft product. Since 'by 2010 ' seems populay with NuLabore when asked for a timetable, I suggest ' The use of Microsoft products will be discontinued by all government departments by 2010, faliure to comply will be punished by having your computers confiscated without notice '

would Paris fall for the Vista spin ?

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Becta is slowly changing.....

IMHO, from the sound of it. Becta is changing from being just a marketing department of Microsoft into something different.

The reason why I say this is because in the past (a few years ago, after Acorn computers such as the A300 and the A3000when I was at high school), Becta only allowed MS Windows and Office, if a school wanted to use say StarOffice, they would get a good mouthful from Becta.

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Re: My Dissertation

Richard et al. obviously I pay a great more attention to grammar and spelling in a formal academic paper than I do posting a comment on the web. Which is why I am heading for a 1st class BSc. in Informations Systems and Applied Sociology (joint majors). The dissertation is for my Applied Sociology side of the course.

As for the chap who suggested I would plagiarise my paper through the use of copy and paste, that was nothing less than a mindless insult. I actually have a deep interest in what I am doing which is why I left a highly profitable 5 figure salary and 15 years work in the IT industry to go back to Uni. My work has included papers on the Digital Divide, Biometric Fingerprinting of School Children, Privacy in the 21st Century, DRM and the US TeenScreen scandal to name just a few.

My plan is to go on and do a PhD based around the sociological issues with technology and the relationship between technology and society. I actually have a clue about the stuff I am doing as opposed to just doing it because it might seem fashionable at the time.

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Boffin

@Anonymous Coward(s)

@Lucky Anonymous Coward - you had teletype ??? When I were a lad, we had to make do with punched cards.....

@Database Anonymous Coward - ...and where the nightmare for the support staff comes from when the users screw up their Access applications. That's also what causes data security auditors to wear brown trousers when they do an audit !!

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Paris Hilton

Re: Databases

Um, if you're not an IT wallah why do you need to know about databases?

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Some fair points needed but...

was there any need to shout about it and make it so scathing, about a more balanced view. And what is it that BECTA actually do? Nothing much I suspect, and influence on individual school policy? None.

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Paris Hilton

WTF?

"If a school is using some Apple computers that are not running any Microsoft software they must still pay Microsoft annual licence fees for those computers, even thought they are running software supplied by Microsoft's competitor."

Not in IT so may be stupid, but how does that work. We have thousands of cars in our fleet, does that mean I have to pay Vauxhall for all even if some are Fords?

Anyhow I am reassured that some public bodies are still at the stage of thinking about upgrading to XP - they won't get to Vista until MS has probably gone bust! Gates is gone, look at Apple when Jobs left (oh, god Gates might come back!)

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bill gates

He has nothing to do with the day to day operations of MS for 3 years. He has practically been a figure head. Difference is bill gates didn't demand absolute control like Steve jobs

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Gates Horns

about time

Having just had to yet again try to diagnose and attempt to fix a problem in Vista, I can categorically say that the system really isn't ready for deployment.

Resource hog doesn't begin to describe it. Their supposed "security" is a sick joke. Also mentioning the blatant attempts to screw more money out of people (for instance, not allowing Vista versions bought in Japan to display English menus, unless you get "Vista Premium Super-Dooper Give-Us-Your-Wallet Ultimate" version. Hell, even that toy MacOSX manages to get THAT right.)

Fuck Vista. Fuck Microsoft. They should be outlawed from any publicly funded project until they start following established, documented and above all open and unencumbered standards (so even if OOXML gets rammed up ISO's arse it does not qualify) for data storage and transfer, amongst other things.

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@Jason

>They should all be using Office XP because that's what they'll most likely use 'in the real world'.

That's the usual argument, but it doesn't really stand up. For many pupils, they won't be in the 'real world' for another decade, by which time all bets will be off. Whatever it's using, it won't be XP or Office 2007!

In any case, they're supposed to be learning *about* computers as well as how to use them, so a mix of applications (and OS's) should be mandatory.

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IT Angle

Welcome to the real world . . .

Complete load of crap tbh.

It's all very well for BECTA to have a go at MS with comments that criticise Vista and Office 2K7 and suggest that schools use free open source alternatives, but they seriously need to wake up and smell some coffee beans.

Whilst the majority of businesses are using £300 machines from PC World with XP Home/Vista Home Basic and a hooky copy of Office 2000 that doesn't need activation - what is the point in teaching kids how to use anything else because it will only hinder them in years to come when they need to use these skills.

Kid: "Hi, give me a job I know how to use Ubuntu and Open Office"

Employer: "WTF are you on about?"

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Gates Horns

Using Open Source

I think that the schools should seriously look into using things like OpenOffice. They could use it on the school machines and even sell copies on CD to the school kids. It was done by Wilmslow High School (see here http://marketing.openoffice.org/education/schools/case_study_wilmslow.html).

Not only would the school save a packet (assuming they're not locked into some restrictive MS licensing scheme that means they have to buy an MS licence for each computer), they could also make a bit of money for the school by selling these CDs.

My kids school are always having mufty days and fetes to raise money, for a small outlay for some CDs they could make a decent amount back (buy 100 CDs for a tenner, sell the discs at 50p each).

Rob

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re: re: databases

"Um, if you're not an IT wallah why do you need to know about databases?"

Databases are becoming more common in a lot of areas. Even none "wallahs" are making use of them in some way nearly every day. Checking a bank balance, taking out a book at the library, making a reservation at a restaurant, buying almost anything online or in a supermarket. Hell, the missus has a copy of MySQL server running just to stream some songs using SAM broadcaster.

Compare that with how often you've run up against say a spreadsheet. I use them less than once a year, and I'm a techy.

They teach sin/tan/cos in maths, and the average joe is not likely to make use of that unless they deal with trigonometry in their day job, why not teach databases in IT/IS lessons?

I really wish they would teach anything other than M$ Windows/Access though. A friend of mine recently hired a designer for a new site to go on a LAMP server. The kid figured that delivering a few ASP files and an access database after a few months and hundreds of pounds was acceptable. He was completely incapable of understanding that most people don't run ASP on linux, or that MySQL does not read Access files.

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o2k7

Well, as a Microsoft partner, i got 10 free licenses for o2k7 as part of the action pack..

I made the mistake of installing it . I HATE IT!

There are some good points, but it is just infuriatingly rubbish, slow, awkward, bloat..

Just dumped it after 2 weeks of trying to use it.

I use Openoffice a lot, and now returned to office XP ( for ODBC only).

P.S. I feel the same about Vista, which I also have 10 free (unused) licenses for....

Oh and still trying to get lock files to work properly on W2K3R2.....

Why do I persist with this rubbish when my Linux servers just work after 3 years with no problems (tempting fate I know).

One word "management" which keeps on buying windows software....

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Unhappy

Why?

Why should schools even consider using windows when there is a cheaper, even free alternative? I'm not even a linux user, but i stil have to wonder about this.

When i was in secondary school the entire IT department was a network of 30 or so acorns (primary school it was all bbc's, i did get to use the shiny new Amiga too. for a few weeks anyway, before it was stolen!). Did anybody actually own an acorn outside of a school? No (nobody really had pc's either), but did that cripple my IT skills? As a software developer i'd have to say, probably not.

The whole purpose of a school IT department is to teach kids IT, if you're teaching IT anyway, then why do you need to do something the kids have done before (if you can find me a class of secondary school kids where more than 10-15% don't know how to use word on a windows pc i'd be impressed). The 'people use windows in businesses' argument doesn't hold water either.

If you're teaching IT principles then separating them from any one implementation is a good thing, IT principles are not operating system, or application, specific so it shouldn't matter what system you are taught on. the kids should be taught the difference between ASCII and UNICODE, how memory and disk storage work, etc, even teaching the difference between .doc and .odt is a good thing. but you don't actually need to touch a computer to do any of these, nevermind use a specific OS or office suite

If you're just teaching basic computing skills, ie word processing or spreadsheets, there is no difference whatsoever between openoffice and ms office. How to select and apply formatting is the same, how to save and load, insert pictures, and so on. In fact you'd be far better off teaching people how to find the option they need rather than the tick list approach that was used when i was in school

(as an example, make text superscript)

to change the appearance of a piece of text, you need to find the text formatting options. on the system we are using these are here. Some systems allow you to set up shortcuts to this sort of formatting, for example Microsoft word has a quick icon for making text superscript at the top of the screen that you can just click on.

rather than just, select the text you want and click on the superscript button at the top of the screen.

It just boggles the mind that the, universally tight fisted, education department would even consider windows/office over any number of free/cheaper alternatives, when not only is there no appreciable difference, but actually exposing kids to something they've never used before might do them some good.

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IT Angle

RE: Welcome to the real world...

@ Anonymous Coward:

"...what is the point in teaching kids how to use anything else because it will only hinder them in years to come when they need to use these skills."

Actually the converse is the biggest problem for industry and big business - many probably do want to switch away from the MS teat of financial death, but because their employees don't know how to use anything else (and are not in the mindset that anything else exists), they hesitate to do so due to retraining costs. By teaching kids from the get go that there are many ways to crack a nut in computing you not only better prepare them for real life and leave them with an open and better prepared mind as to how to achieve things, but you also cut the costs to the economy faced by businesses constantly having to retrain staff in the bleeding obvious when they do switch to software that doesn't work the way it used to (like XP to Vista, Office 2003 to 2007).

By only training them in the "one true way" you aren't preparing kids for anything other than doing things that "one true way". It's the computing equivalent of learning by rote.

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In-school use may not be the most important point

The Guardian says more than a million kids in the UK don't have access to a computer at home.

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/uklatest/story/0,,-7210652,00.html)

The supported use of FOSS software could make a radical difference. Recycled hardware running free operating systems and applications could reduce the cost of student PCs to almost zero, and truly put computing within the reach of every child.

I have several computers at home that my children use for school-related activities. TOTAL cost of each (hardware, OS, office suite, image manipulation) is that of the monitor. These boxes are absolutely legal, fit for purpose, and would otherwise be landfill.

My children regard computing at home as a commodity, which funnily enough, it is, if you step outside the wierd monopolistic force-bubble that is our educational computing practice.

The only excuse for the situation in our schools, the only reasoning that could possibly hold water, is 'They should use what they'll use at work'. This is short, snappy, and is accepted easily by those only peripherally involved in the question. I don't think it bears examination though. Some thoughts:

A trite one:

I don't believe any otherwise suitable candidate has ever been passed over for a job because they were trained on the wrong spreadsheet. If they were, they should count themselves lucky to have escaped. They are more likely to have been passed over if they didn't do well on the coursework because their parents couldn't afford to give them access to a PC.

A less trite one:

Office 2007's new UI, if it achieves the any sort of foothold on corporate desktops, will render all experience of word processing at schools until now totally obsolete. Or will it? No of course not - conversion courses will help the latest intake drive the latest software.

If this change can be handled between versions of the same product, then exactly the same case can be made for conversion between products. So (for example):

Train on OpenOffice (or other product if it's free at least for educational and domestic use, and runs on a free operating system.) With the money you save on buying no Microsoft Office or Windows licences build and deploy short conversion courses for people about to leave school, getting them up to speed on the current commercial favourites. This would spit out kids with more up-to-date experience of the commercial softwarescape than the current policy.

The benefits of this approach come from breaking the lock-in: commoditisation spreading children's access to computing in a way that otherwise only massive subsidy could (fail to) achieve; our children, their teachers and parents able to take advantage of the freely-given, high-quality work of a global community, while ending their education better educated in the latest greatest commercial software than they are today.

John

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Pirate

@ Welcome to the real world . . .

< Whilst the majority of businesses are using £300 machines from PC World with XP Home/Vista Home Basic and a hooky copy of Office 2000 that doesn't need activation >

Didn't realise you worked for my employer! Come on Neil don't be shy - you don't need to post as AC ;-))

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Linux

Regarding Software Operation

I always hated the "Must know computers..." posted in jobs. What they mean (or should mean) is can you operate a word processor or spread sheet or database? Seriously, if a person can create a document in Word they can do it in OpenOffice. File, Open, Save, Cut, Paste, whatever, it is all the same. What differences their might be can be learned within seconds.

This is the reality and what businesses must learn. Why pay $100's of dollars for operating systems and more $100's of dollars for software, opening yourself up to audits by the software police when the majority of computer users can do all they need to with Ubuntu and OpenOffice.

For the job interview when they ask can you operate MS Office and you tell them that you are quite familiar with OpenOffice, instead of letting them go, "WTF?" inform them of what OpenOffice is and show them your knowledge of software in general.

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Stop

Stinks of Corporate Corruption

UK Schoolchildren should be given access and exposure to operating systems that follow the computing industry standards, not the only one that goes it alone. Windows, is simply not fit for purpose anymore, the whole industry except Microsoft develops and recognises standards.

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Yet another bureaucrat blunder

This ostrich-like notion that causes all bureaucracies to shun anything that is successful to give the unsuccessful "an opportunity to succeed" is another example of the nanny state running amok. I have yet to see any government agency of any nation providing the omniscience they believe they have. And the idea that bureaucrats in the capital have a clear understanding of events and requirements in the countryside is laughable. Although is is possible to imagine a student finding a job after learning basic computing skills with an obscure OS/application, imagining them as being productive in a short time and without significant retraining effort is beyond my imagination (perhaps my experiences and imagination are limited, but I do not think so)

I have used Office 2007 <on Vista and XP> since Beta1, love it, you could not pry it from me. It simply does everything better. I have shown it to several colleagues, they demanded an installation on their systems (we have an EA and licensing is not an issue). We are leaping from Office XP to Office 2007 in large numbers. I started with a pilot group of 50 users and within a month, I had 500 requests to join the pilot (we are now over 2000 pilot users). This occurred even with the proviso that, "the help-desk will not support you with this product". I get 1 call a week for Office and that is mostly help in finding a feature that users heard about but did not quickly find.

Those who have objected are the usual suspects - Luddites, over 30s, technophobes, holy warriors for "free" products and Linux fanboys. All of the younger technically competent workers demand to upgrade and are happy.

Of course, your mileage and experience could vary.

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Gates Horns

MS Academic Licensing

MS Academic licensing is much more complex than the Becta report indicates. There are four different programs, multiple tiers within the programs, and often confusing per-product rules for them. The Campus-level license program Becta references does require counting all systems on the campus regardless of the OS installed, but only requires the audit once a year, allows any number of machines to be added during the year, and includes CALs for the servers the school will (presumably) be making avalible to the non-Windows systems as well. There are follow-on arrangements for students who graduate as well as the personal systems of instructors and students - if it fits the school's needs, it's actually not all that bad.

Schools are free to select per-seat, per-product pricing if the terms of the campus agreement seem too onerous, or get on the SA bandwagon like ordinary businesses, but with academic discounts. If Becta wanted to point out absurd MS license terms, the requirement to re-purchase Vista (or acquire SA for it) for systems with OEM Vista licenses to take advantage of KMS or MKS activation and the lack of OEM-Academic OS product would be a far more damming topic for discussion, I think.

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Linux

Sell to Parents

There's a well-known British computer retailing chain which has its staff telling parents they need to get Vista, etc., to match what their kids will use at school.

Matching school isn't a bad idea in itself, but it would be better to sell something that actually matched.

I'd be inclined to sell them an Eee instead.

Recalling my own schooldays, the idea of a computer that the teachers don't have root access to would be very tempting.

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Flame

Learning computing

The Idea that you have to learn the principles of computing on any particular platform is just ridiculous. Any word processor has a common functional goal, the same for relational DBs, the same for graphics design packages etc... etc...

The 'they should be taught what they will use in real life' need to think about what they were taught on & what they use now.

I wasn't taught any of the technologies I use now in the 'real world'. The only formal programming lessons I ever had were in Pascal & c++ many years after I had already taught myself procedural basic. Does that mean I can't code in anything else?

I learnt word processing on wordstar ffs.

Whatever products you learn on schools & often universities is usually well out of date by the time you enter employment.

So why should a cash strapped education system bother spending needless millions paying for software when freely available products can just as easily teach transferrable skills?

"I'm sorry I can't buy that vauxhall, I learnt to drive a peugot - oh poo!"

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Gates Halo

@ Sino

Interesting comment, tell me: What planet do you live on?

<- Oh, and you missed your icon

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Linux

Taxpayer Losing Again

"Fuck Vista. Fuck Microsoft. They should be outlawed from any publicly funded project until they start following established, documented and above all open and unencumbered standards"

Amen. Note "publicly funded" - taxpayer money shouldn't be used for M$ bloatware when perfectly good free alternatives exist (Ubuntu, OpenOffice, MySQL + Tools, Gimp, etc). As many above have said, it's not the exact application, it's the concept of the application that's the key with learning and education. If you're a whizz with OpenOffice you'll be fine with M$ Office within a day or two.

"For many pupils, they won't be in the 'real world' for another decade, by which time all bets will be off. Whatever it's using, it won't be XP or Office 2007!"

Another reason why the "match the real world" argument falls on its face. It's simply a red herring, because if you accept that all bets are off, there's no point in examining the real world's choice of software manufacturer.

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MrT
Silver badge

Horses for courses...

What you you depends on what you do. Not everything done in schools is 'office productivity' software or Internet browsing - there are hundreds of titles that are written by educational developers who only write for Windows PCs.

I used to run a very large school network (700 PCs, 9 servers etc). Back in 2003 I looked into FOSS before buying a MSA. Note: back then schools didn't buy the same Campus licenses as college and universities - if it's changed in the last 2 years to exclude MSAs then forgive me - I don't do that job any more. However, at that time running Linux across site was out because WINE could not cope with the teaching software used by the Languages, Technology or Science Depts, and the additional hardware like Lego Robotics, Data Harvest logging equipment and CAD/CAM machines used etc. WINE sitll can't cope with much of this stuff, but what has happened is the developers are now waking up to the alternative OSs. Although stuff like GIMP and other titles were available, the staff didn't have the time to fuss around with the idiosyncrasies and unfinished bits when Photoshop and CorelDraw were available.

Also, not even everything that goes on in an office is Office-based - the school MIS was stuck in the DOS age, then went Windows-only. It's now an online system, so finally the most suitable set of computers - the Admin network - can be switched to Linux without losing vital functionality. Talk to Crapita about that - we had to run what they specified.

I now am involved in things like the Computers for Pupils initiative, and write online courses that are designed around FOSS rather than, say, Office and Photoshop. Free to use, no barriers to pupils who are struggling with just staying in school - can't go saddling a single-parent family on income support with the cost of a student license of Office, for example, because there's other more vital things to pay for first.

So, use what is best for the job in hand. BTW, once it was obvious in 2003 that we had to stay with MS (otherwise the teaching would suffer) the MSA saved us loads - we calculated that the cost of buying the software outright (OS and Office plus a few extras) for the vast majority of PCs would cover 5 years of licensing - during which we got all upgrades to the latest titles, as far as we could use them on the hardware we had. It also outweighed the fact that we had to count the handful of Macs in Art on the list as well.

What is missing from Becta's advice is a serious examination of where FOSS can be used in place of all the Windows only stuff. If they are serious about schools avoiding MS software, they have to provide guidance on how to replace it with FOSS. This is no way as simple as pointing to OpenOffice (as I do with my current projects BTW) and then leaving it to individual schools to fathom out for themselves all the other stuff - there's too much invested in Windows software in both cash and curriculum coverage for that. Becta needs to also convince the educational software authors of the value in developing for alternative OSs like Linux.

Unfortunately, this is where the advice will be found lacking and it will take time for even the bigger software houses to migrate to linux, for example. It's like the Congestion Charging argument - without a decent public transport alternative, people stayed in cars and paid more. It changes gradually, and like all things commercial, there has to be a valid business case for making the shift. Schools can demand alternative platform support (and the excellent EeePC will help there - many primaries can now afford three times more computers), but until the more specialised educational software is available cross-platform, the impact will be limited.

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Linux

Just a quick comment about Employers

I had a really funny situation, I was hired to a job, where I was to port an application from windows to linux (server application), the employer knew nothing but windows, and figured that I need that, a full windows system set up with top of the line software development tools from Microsoft, approximately 5000 pounds worth of software.

My first day on the job, the employer asked me what did I need, MSDN? Visual C++? Microsoft Office ?, etc etc.. I laughed, and pulled a couple of CD's from my Brief case and said, all I need is a Computer, and a place to sit, software, that's all on these disks - all legal, and free. The guy nearly fainted, he had just installed 4 other people straight out of university, who could use nothing but windows, cost him about 5000 pounds of software licenses per seat.

The problem isn't that employers don't want alternatives, it's mainly they don't know that the office secretary can get along just as easily with Linux as with Windows. The other main problem is that most people out of university and school are litterally brainwashed into thinking that only MS products will do, and can do what they need, even if it's writing a letter (I'm not kidding, but that is the purpose with educational discounts - Just see MS's reaction when Russia threatened with shifting their schools to Linux). Most people who aren't IT wizzes don't realize, that what they need, they can in fact obtain free and legally. They are scared of anything that doesn't look the same as what they're used to. Most people who cannot afford the licenses would rather try to pirate an illegal copy than to try something new, mainly because they fear change, and they have been indoctrinated with everything is MS, as well as pressure from educational institutions and places of employment.

Unless you have a specific requirement for something really specifically made only for windows, then there is no need to choose a specific platform, Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS, Solaris, Windows, etc can all do the same, they have similar tools, and can replace one another. I use VirtualBox for the function, which has the additional benefit, that the hardware profile is virtual and really messes up XP's hardware detection - allows me to upgrade my machines freely, and not run into activation crap.

Personally I only use windows when I play computer games, because that is the ONLY application that I use, which is specifically windows, though linux's cedega project is comming along nicely. I am an IT professional, so my job is computer support, programming, development, and system administration, so far I have managed to convince all my employers to give linux a go (at least for their servers), and most have been pleasantly surprised.

About Education, it is important to learn fundamental principals, such as desktop publishing, word processing, databases, etc, however it is important NOT to learn a specific product, because that leads to vendor lock-in and creates an inflexible workforce in the future.

I'm not arguing that Microsoft should not be present in schools, however it should only be present in the degree that is necessary, such as for specific tasks, which one department may have - special windows only applications. All other departments should use alternatives. You see this has the additional benefit of exposing the students to a variety of systems, allowing them to learn principles, and to learn how to adapt to new systems, which may exist when they finally graduate and enter the 'real life' (tm).

Educational discounts schemes for students should be banned, because it only benefits the companies, in that they create a new generation of indoctrinated people, it's not because the companies care about the student's economic situation.

The real problem in society is that some groups are being left behind, because they cannot afford the crazy software license fees, such as having to buy vista, (it is at least 80 pounds of the computers price), then add in Microsoft office (another 100-250 pounds), and so forth. If schools concentrated on FOSS, then a student and their parents would only have to finance the hardware, which is significant savings for the individual. An additional benefit is that FOSS like Linux, FreeBSD, etc, can run effective on lower hardware specs, so instead of the 300 pound computer, an older second hand 80 dollar computer is sufficient for most tasks.

To argue that retraining is a problem in the schools, higher educational institutions and other government agencies, is bogus, this is a one-off cost, and the benefits far outweigh the costs, because the poorer families will be better able to afford the tools that they need.

regards

Michael Nielsen.

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Hear hear

I think the overall sentiment is: that to teach IT is not the same as teaching Microsoft.

The approach offered by the Open University in teaching databases is to explain the principles, use some software to implement relational algebra, and show how that translates into structured query language. You learn the fundamentals (relational algebra), then move on to examine its implementation SQL.

The handy thing here, because you know the fundamentals, you can understand the implementation because you know what it is trying to do, enabling you to use a variety of products and adapt to each as necessary.

The question ought to be one of "are we teaching pupils about computers or are we teaching them about Microsoft". The answer will determine what you ought to do next. If it is to teach pupils about Microsoft, perhaps the EU might take an interest in state subsidies to corporations. If it is to teach pupils about computers, then the FOSS approach must be superior as the source code is available for examination too.

Schools are about education, which is not the same as training. Employers can fund their own training. Education is to equip pupils with the ability to make their own choices. Again, adopting a FOSS approach can show a number of choices which can be made. Whereas, a Microsoft only approach, cannot do this. Simply put, selecting Microsoft as a supplier turns your school into a training shop, which is not what you are there for, you are there to educate.

Another part of the problem is the whole approach taken to IT in schools. IT is a vast topic area, comprising many divisions to bring it into manageable scope. Bundling the whole lot together and throwing in communications for good measure has got to be a disaster. The definition is flawed.

There are two fundamentally different groups involved in IT, the users and the programmers. The two do not mix and have different requirements. Teaching IT then, needs to determine in which group a pupil will sit. The skills required to produce games, operating systems, DBMS, user applications or custom built applications are all different. Until these differences are examined and a proper curriculum produced as to what should be incorporated into the classroom, I don't really see much improvement coming along.

Unix took off in universities because IBM withdrew the source code distribution from their VM product in the 1960s. Quite simply, the universities wanted to look at and analyse source code. They wanted the ability to show what a paging system looked like, how a device driver slotted into the OS, how processes were managed and despatched. You can do none of this with Windows, yet you can do it with Unix and Linux .

The choice remains, are schools to educate or to train ?

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Unhappy

BECTA costings

I used to work at a Secondary School in Berkshire. We had technology specialist status, and we decided that it was always better to order directly rather than go with BECTA approved suppliers. As the BECTA suppliers always thought that schools are an easy target for making extra cash.

This included a MS schools agreement licensing, it always seemed better to go to the suppliers ourselves as it normally saved us between 10-30% in cost.

One of the biggest pains was the tesco "computers for schools", which always required you to get the computers/accessories from RM. This is a pain as the RM prices were comparable to buying a mac than a std HP machine, so we always ordered printers instead.

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