Becta awards unknown with advocacy deal
THE OPEN SOURCE community was bitterly disappointed today after the UK appointed an unknown consultancy to run an historic programme of advocacy in schools.
International big hitters had piled behind UK open source houses bidding for a Becta contract to set up an open source community in the schools sector. It was seen as a breakthrough - an indication that convicted monopolist Microsoft was losing its grip on the sector.
But Becta gave the open source community an almighty slap in the face when it turned down their three bids and awarded the business to a consultancy with no links to the open source community, said representatives of the community.
Becta said in a written statement today: "Bids were invited and, following an evaluation process, the contract has been awarded to The Alphaplus Consultancy (Manchester)."
It did not say why Alphaplus had been chosen over a line-up of prime open source bidders, but Mark Taylor, president of the Open Source Consortium, and whose consultancy Sirius bid for the work, said it was a mistake.
"They've chosen the worst possible candidate because [Alphaplus] have no open source experience whatsoever," said Taylor.
"The project is about open source in schools. Unless you have open source people in there, its nonsense," he said.
John Winkley, a director of Alphaplus, said he wanted to clear his comments with Becta before saying what his firm could bring to the UK's schools open source community.
But he refuted the allegation that Alphaplus wasn't qualified to do the work: "I think we are and BECTA clearly think we are," he said.
The open source community has long complained that the odds were stacked against them in the UKs public sector, with favour in contract competitions going to companies with traditional structures and those allied with incumbent technology suppliers on the Microsoft platform.
Their assertion that procurement quangos like Becta and the Office of Government Commerce fail to understand the benefit of the collaborative, distributed nature of the open source community will become louder after this contract award.
Despite only offering £270,000 for two years work, the concerted weight of the world's open source industry stood behind the three open source bids for the work, the Schools Open Source Project.
The Sirius bid was backed by Red Hat, the pioneering open source software cowpowayshen, and pulled in million of Euros of development backed by the European Commission.
Another sidelined bid by The Learning Machine, an open source schools specialist, was backed by Canonical, the organisation behind Ubuntu, the ground-breaking open source operating system.
Yet another, was put forward by Open Source Software Watch, a not-for-profit organisation that already co-ordinates open source development in the Higher Education sector. OSS-watch pulled Eduforge, the world's largest repository of open source educational software, into its bid, along with one of the backers of Moodle, an open source software system that made great advances in the education sector around the world.
Becta noted its growing challenge to Microsoft in the education sector. It has advised schools not to upgrade to the latest versions of Microsoft's Windows operating system and Office desktop software, and has complained about the firm's licensing practices and technology to the Office of Fair Trading and anti-trust police at the European Commission.