Try before you buy

The software preloaded onto computers, rather than the components inside them, accounts for an increasingly large proportion of the total cost of computers bought by schools. As its slice of the cake has grown, so has the need to evaluate pre-loaded software.

Sellers of ICT equipment to schools generally give no breakdown of price, claiming commercial sensitivity in the license agreements they have with software publishers. This does not stop ICT co-ordinators looking carefully at the programs on offer.

The key programs to try before you buy are the word-processor, spreadsheet, data-handling, control, artgraphics and desktop publishing packages, image-editing, personal organiser, Internet browser, web editor and e-mail. Draw u a sample list of ICT tasks and questions for each program to put to the salesperson. Examples could be using the word processor to wrap text around pictures, using image-editing software to make copies of what is on the screen (called screen grabs), how the address function works in the e-mail program and whether the program is web-based or not.

Word-processors may have become fairly standard in terms of their functions, but the quality of graphics software differs widely and is therefore definitely worth checking out before you buy. Where you find a sub-standard program, ask the seller what alternative programs the company has licenses for - or, if you know the program you want, ask for it in place of what is on offer.

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