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UK government shuns Microsoft with adoption of the ODF standard

Maude says openness is for the people
Wed Jul 23 2014, 09:47

THE UK GOVERNMENT has chosen the Open Document Format (ODF) for in-house use, and rejected Microsoft's OOXML.

Adoption of open standards was announced by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who said in his announcement that other flavours won't do, with ODF will meet all government needs.

"Our long-term plan for a stronger economy is all about helping UK businesses grow. We have listened to those who told us that open standards will reduce their costs and make it easier to work with government," he said.

"This is a major step forward for our digital by default agenda which is helping save citizens, businesses and taxpayers £1.2bn over this Parliament."

Microsoft had backed the use of OOXML, but its recommendations have fallen on deaf ears. Representatives of the community said that the right decision has been made, suggesting that a breakaway from big suppliers was needed.

"We had a huge response to this proposal, both from the standards community and the public as a whole. I want to thank everyone who took the time to comment," said Mike Bracken, executive director of the government digital service.

"Their feedback made it clear just how important choosing the right way of publishing documents is. Using an open standard will mean people won't have costs imposed on them just to view or work with information from government. It's a big step forward, and I'm delighted we're taking it." 

Rafael Laguna, CEO of Open-Xchange also commented on the move, saying that while it has its benefits, it likely will take a while until these are noticed.

He said, "The move to the ODF file formats improves the flow of information and access to democratic participation as well as ensuring that public resources are not held to ransom at the whim of a particular software vendor. This move can have both financial and public engagement benefits for the UK government.

"But old habits die hard, and it may take some time for these guidelines to have an impact. The German Federal Government adopted ODF file formats in 2008, and the transition has been a slow one. As long as Microsoft Office has a home on government PCs, proprietary file formats will remain a fact of life."

Use of the standard comes in now and will see ODF used for sharing and collaborating on government documents. PDF/A or HTML is the selection for viewing government documents.

In January Maude said that the government planned to back open standards. However, in April it paid Microsoft £5m for one year of additional Windows XP support.

Microsoft drew some good news from the decision, explaining that Microsoft Office users have "excellent" support for the ODF file format. However, it added that it might lead to usability problems.

"Users of all sorts of popular modern productivity software may find the inability to use their default or preferred open format when communicating with the government confusing or restrictive," it said.

"Microsoft believes it is unproven and unclear how UK citizens will benefit from the government's decision... The government's stated and laudable strategy to be cloud-first in the provision of its services to citizens depends on nurturing, not constraining such innovation." µ


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