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Microsoft's interoperability dodge in U.K. schools

Microsoft is dragging its feet toward interoperability with open file formats in the U.K., and hopes that a discount will distract people from the real issue at hand.

In an attempt to get its Office 2007 program on the desktops of U.K. youth, The Register reports that Microsoft is saying all the right things to the U.K. government in its attempt to placate the European Commission over interoperability with open file formats. Everything, that is, except how it intends to make its software more interoperable

Now Microsoft has stepped in to appease some of the education tech body's grumbles by announcing a new Open Licensing Programme (OLP) for government that will launch at the start of next month.

The company said the OLP offered "a new way for public sector organisations to purchase software from Microsoft resellers" who will sell MS products at a discounted rate.

However, while offering Microsoft products with a reduced price tag to the public sector might be viewed by some as a move in the right direction, the firm didn't reveal how Office 2007 might be made more interoperable with other doc formats.

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" seems to be the strategy. Discounts are nice, but discounts only make it cheaper to fall into lock-in. The Open Source Consortium's president, Mark Taylor, says it well: "Schools can now choose between long-term software freedom or a short-term discount on the next lock-in play."

Fortunately, groups like Becta, which brought the original complaint against Microsoft to the European Commission, are unlikely to fall asleep at the wheel.

Microsoft will no doubt eventually be forced into offering interoperability alongside its discounts. As noted on InfoWorld, Microsoft has even made some strides toward a more peaceful future with open source, the kissing cousin to open standards.

It's just too bad that so much time must be wasted along the way.