Large software vendors such as Microsoft took a body blow yesterday as the government's educational IT procurement agency lent its weight to the open source movement.

Although Microsoft will not be mentioned by name, a report due to be published next week by the British Educational Communications and Technology Association (BECTA), the government's IT agency, concludes that schools and colleges would be millions of pounds better off if they moved away from proprietary software.

British schools and colleges spend around £1 billion a year on IT, and the report's findings suggest that Microsoft's hold on the educational market could be undermined if educational establishments acted on them and turned to open source and other free resources. Some institutions have already done so to a greater or lesser extent, and the report draws on their experiences.

According to a story in the Times Educational Supplement, BECTA highlights some 15 establishments that use free software, and so save money not just on the cost of buying programs but also on the less power-hungry hardware needed to run them. The report reckoned that costs, which include software, hardware and support, were 24 per cent lower on average in institutions using open source software.

So if your kids are still running Microsoft Word, they might do well start boning up on the use of OpenOffice.