UK Open Source Enthusiasts Upset over Becta Deal?

Lora Bentley

Earlier this week, the European Commission -- or more specifically, the competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes -- called on EU agencies to use open source software and open standards as a means of avoiding proprietary vendor lock-in. Open source, she said, is a smart business decision.


Thursday, the UK's education technology agency, Becta, announced it had awarded its "open source schools" project to the AlphaPlus Consultancy. And today, open sourcers in the UK are upset, according to The Register.


When Becta solicited bids for the project it said:

Becta wishes to ensure that schools are aware of and can access the wide variety of open source software in the marketplace. To achieve this it recognises that they must be supported in its awareness, adoption, deployment, use and ongoing development.

To that end, The Register says, the agency will spend the next two years creating a "sustainable and significant community of schools who use and develop open source products."


Wait a minute -- those who support open source adoption are upset that the UK is spending roughly $525,000 to develop an open source community in the school system? You'd think they'd be overjoyed to be making progress. The problem, according to Open Source Consortium president Mark Taylor, is that AlphaPlus is unknown in the UK's open source industry. The Register quotes Taylor as saying:

Being Becta insiders is what matters, insiders who have no track record in open source, do not even give it a passing mention on their website, and until yesterday were completely unknown to anyone in either the industry or community. Becta's friends are now responsible for the direction open source takes in British schools, entirely removed from the UK open source community and industry.

Keep in mind that Taylor's company, Sirius Ltd., also bid for the contract. Though Becta could not be reached for comment, AlphaPlus told The Register that it would collaborate with the open source community to complete the project.


I can understand that Sirius is disappointed at losing the bid, but does that mean that the project won't be done well? Does it necessarily mean that Becta is playing favorites? The fact is, it will more than likely take more than one or two consultancies to support the increasing adoption of open source in the public sector, so the emergence of newcomers on the scene is inevitable. Why not give them the benefit of the doubt -- a chance to prove themselves?

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