Becta takes complaint against Microsoft to the EC
Becta, the UK government body that advises schools on IT usage, first filed a complaint in October with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), alleging that Microsoft is harming users by failing to provide full interoperability between different versions of its own products, for example Windows and Office. On Monday Becta issued a press release stating that it had taken its complaint about interoperability issues with Microsoft software to the European Commission, which is carrying out its own investigation into the matter.
The EC is also in the midst of a separate dispute with Microsoft over allowing full interoperability between its server and desktop operating systems and competing software, such as open source projects.
Becta's complaint; – The complaint centres on problems with file-format interoperability, such as with older versions of Office, not always fully compatible with files created by newer versions of the software. Becta argues that the situation forces organisations such as schools to upgrade to newer, more expensive software and has other negative effects. The organisation said in its particular case, these issues are exacerbating social problems. Becta said in a statement – "In the context of the education system, this can result in higher prices and a range of other unsatisfactory effects which have a negative impact on wider policy initiatives, including improving educational outcomes, facilitating home-school links and addressing the digital divide".
Following Becta's complaint to the OFT, the Commission announced its own formal investigation into Microsoft's interoperability practices. Becta's complaint will now contribute to supporting evidence in this investigation. The EC investigation centres on the issue of file formats. Microsoft Office does not natively support the standardised Open Document Format (ODF) group of formats, while its own OOXML format, recently approved as an ISO standard, has been criticised for being effectively impossible to implement in competing software.
Becta executive director of strategic technologies Dr Stephen Lucey said the effects of interoperability barriers are wide-reaching. He stated that "Such barriers can also damage the interests of education and training organization, learners, teachers and parents".
Microsoft responded that it has funded the development of tools that promote interoperability between Office 2007 and ODF. The company says "Microsoft is deeply committed to education and interoperability," – "We will continue to work with Becta and the Commission in a co-operative manner to resolve these issues."