The government is promoting Microsoft’s proprietary software as part of a plan to get more UK adults online, despite arguing for greater adoption of open source in the past
Business secretary Lord Mandelson has launched a scheme designed to encourage more adults to improve their knowledge of computing and the Internet and develop online skills.
Developed by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, Online Basics is an online portal designed to help web-newbies get to grips with the online world. The course covers issues such as using a mouse and keyboard, using the Internet and keeping safe online.
“Everyone should be a confident user of the Internet if they are to participate fully in today’s digital society. Being online brings a range of personal benefits, including financial savings, educational attainment, improved salary prospects and independent living for older people,” said Lord Mandelson speaking at the launch of the course at the Learning and Technology World Forum in London this week.
Mandelson added that Online basics will mean more people will be able to improve their IT skills, enhancing their working lives and making digital literacy as important a skill as basic literacy and numeracy.
Although users will be able to access the site from their home computer, for those without PC access, the courses will also be piloted in UK online centres in Barnsley, Oldham, Gloucester, Devon and London. Becta, the government’s technology learning organisation, said it will evaluate the courses which are expected to be rolled out across England in September 2010. “We’re also investing £30 million extra in UK online centres to support digital participation, with the aim of getting more than one million people online in the next three years,” said Mandelson.
Some open source supporters may object to elements of the new scheme however as, although the Online Basics course is supposed to be an independent education project, the site contains a link to Microsoft’s own learning network – Microsoft Digital Literacy – which includes guidance on how to use Microsoft products. In February 2009, the UK government said it intended to use open source to save £600 million a year and published guidelines the that effect but, despite this, the UK lags badly at open source, using it less than countries like Mali, open source activists said at a meeting in September.
Despite supporting the push to get more UK citizens online, Lord Mandelson is also credited with pushing through controversial legislation that will allow the government to cut-off the Internet access of an entire household if someone within that dwelling is found to be guilty of persistent file-sharing.
The UK government laid out its strategy to combat illegal file-sharing in the Digital Economy Bill during the Queen’s speech in November. Lord Mandelson plans to implement an escalating series of sanctions, starting with sending letters to illegal downloaders and culminating in slowing down the connection speed of offenders or temporarily suspending their connections.
Earlier this month, Bono, lead-singer of Irish rock-group U2, said more needs to be done to tackle file-sharing and has cited China’s clamp-down on Internet freedom as evidence that swapping of illegal content online can be controlled.
Users can access the learning site at www.onlinebasics.co.uk.