Government Adopts Open Document Formats

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

The British government switches to the ODF document format, but Microsoft is not happy

The British government is officially adopting the Open Document Format (ODF) as the standard format for government documents, much to the frustration of Microsoft, which has voiced its disappointment at the decision.

The announcement was made by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, who has long championed the adoption of the open document formats such as ODF, as a way to reduce the spend on proprietary software such software such as Microsoft Office.

ODF Support

Maude has previously pointed out that the public sector has spent around £200 million on Microsoft Office usage alone since 2010 and believes this amount could be cut significantly by switching to open source alternatives such as OpenOffice or web services like Google Docs.

“The standards set out the document file formats that are expected to be used across all government bodies,” said the Cabinet Office. It pointed out that the government will begin using open formats to ensure both citizens and government workers “can use the applications that best meet their needs.”

PDF/A or HTML will now the standard “for viewing government” while ODF is now expected “for sharing or collaborating on government documents.”

Maude“Our long-term plan for a stronger economy is all about helping UK businesses grow,” said Maude. “We have listened to those who told us that open standards will reduce their costs and make it easier to work with government. This is a major step forward for our digital-by-default agenda which is helping save citizens, businesses and taxpayers £1.2 billion over this Parliament.”

“Using an open standard will mean people won’t have costs imposed on them just to view or work with information from government. said Mike Bracken, Executive Director of the Government Digital Service. “It’s a big step forward, and I’m delighted we’re taking it.”

“Government documents will use what are known as open standards for document formats,” wrote Bracken in a blog post. “Word processor files will be saved with ‘.odt’ suffixes, rather than ‘.doc’. It’s a different format, but it does a similar job.

“This is a big step for government, and things won’t change overnight. We have to make sure that the switch is managed properly. We shall work with departments to make the transition as smooth as possible, and ensure that the burden stays with government and not users.”

Unhappy Microsoft

Microsoft, as would be expected, is not happy at the Government’s decision.

“Microsoft notes the government’s decision to restrict its support of the file formats it uses for sharing and collaboration to just ODF and HTML,” a spokesperson told TechWeekEurope “The good news for Office users is that Office 365 and Office 2013 both have excellent support for the ODF file format, so their current and future investments in Office are safe.

“However, 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.

“Microsoft believes it is unproven and unclear how UK citizens will benefit from the government’s decision. We actively support a broad range of open standards, which is why (like Adobe has with the PDF file format) we now collaborate with many contributors to maintain the Open XML file format through independent and international standards bodies. We also believe that giving users a choice of standards is an important spur to improvement, competition and consequently, innovation.

“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.”

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