back to article Oh dear, Microsoft: UK.gov signs deal with LibreOffice

The government has signed a deal for open source Libre Office to be made available across the public sector, in what looks like an attempt to "nudge" mandarins off Microsoft Office. The open source software deal, which is being provided by one of the open sourcer's partners, Collabora GovOffice, is apparently intended to " …

Some segments of government have systems that need a local version of an office suite, so cloud isn't always an easy option. Microsoft's heavy push to cloud systems is doing its image no good and is giving mixed messages, publicly forcing people over to cloud, but telling corporates, "Don't worry, we'll look after you."

This is probably the very beginning of the end for Office; but it will be years in the death, IMHO

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Anonymous Coward

Yes I can see it now:

You want Open Office?

No - I need an office version that actually works.

What do you mean?

Well does it run my Macros?

Well, er, no.

Does it run my Addins?

Well, er, no.

Does it have equivalents to Outlook, OneNote, Lync, Project and Visio?

Well, er, no.

Does it integrate with SharePoint?

Well, er, no.

Does it support Digital Rights Management for all those secure government documents?

Well, er, no.

So it's utterly useless for me then.

Well it 's OK for really basic users.

They already have Wordpad and Calculator.

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Each and every one of your points can be solved without Microsoft lock-in, and are issues with any software migration. The fact that MS make it so much harder to migrate than other solutions is the main reason I can see for making the transition ironically.

Macros are barely even compatible between Office versions, so I don't really see that as a strong point. I usually see macros being used by people who don't know how databases work to perform functions (using a lot more code) that a database could do in a jiffy.

Without you going into specifics of what addins you use, it's tricky to say much more.

Sharepoint has terrible lock-in and could be replaced by a number of collaborative software solutions.

DRM for secure govt documents? How would DRM help? Honestly.

I'd argue that Libre Office is ok for advanced users, who know what tool to use for which job, but really basic people users should probably stick to what they know and let the world overtake them with more powerful, scaleable, transferable, automatable, open solutions.

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Anonymous Coward

"Each and every one of your points can be solved without Microsoft lock-in, and are issues with any software migration"

Yes, you can spend a fortune migrating to a zoo of incompatible products with a poor user experience, or you can have one solution from Microsoft that just works.

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Anonymous Coward

Interesting that you've been voted down here. Odd. In fact, you've hit the nail (or rather several nails) on the head!

Whilst I am certainly an Open Source supporter, the office suite for large complex organisations is the very LAST place to be messing around.

It amazes me that nobody bothers to do the work to understand the actual cost. The loss of productivity, the cost of retraining, the higher support requirements, etc. that dog such initiatives. Even the likes of Munich and some South American countries that have managed successful implementations of Open/Libre Office have taken years to complete and even then rarely if ever actually manage to do so fully.

Don't get me wrong, I'd LOVE to see a realistic competitor to Microsoft Office but the cost of licensing is peanuts compared to the other costs involved. It CAN be done but it isn't a cheap option and it will cause massive disruption to the business - be ready for that.

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Anonymous Coward

They might be solvable by non MS products but the truth is that the current alternatives DON'T solve those issues. I've regularly used both over many years and I wouldn't dream of trying to re-engineer LibreOffice into an organisation without being very well prepared for the costs and disruption it would bring for quite a number of years.

Whilst LibreOffice FOLLOWS the innovation set by MS Office, I doubt it will ever be a realistic alternative for the vast majority of people and organisations. If it stops following and begins its own path of innovation then it might be possible. There are certainly plenty of things that could easily be improved in an Office suite. But truthfully, LibreOffice is, for the most part, a more difficult to use alternative. Even my kids, who have no background in MS Office, still find it easier to navigate and get things done that LibreOffice (which is what I make them have on their computers!)

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Anonymous Coward

"DRM for secure govt documents? How would DRM help? Honestly."

What?! Do you even know what it does?

With DRM I could prevent you accessing the document unless your machine and configuration met my standards for security. Indeed, I could prevent you accessing at all unless you were in a secure environment using a designated id. I could allow you access for a specific period. I could stop you printing it or sharing it.....

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Anonymous Coward

"This is probably the very beginning of the end for Office; but it will be years in the death" - Don't know how you can even begin to posit that from the announcement.

This will have very little bearing on the number of installations of MS Office across government.

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Anonymous Coward

" or you can have one solution from Microsoft that just works."

Ah, if only they had one !

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"With DRM I could prevent you accessing the document unless your machine and configuration met my standards for security. Indeed, I could prevent you accessing at all unless you were in a secure environment using a designated id. I could allow you access for a specific period. I could stop you printing it or sharing it....."

That sort of stuff sounds great on paper but rarely works well in practice, especially with users who don't understand it properly (which is most of them).

In reality, the helpdesk gets involved wasting costly hours sorting issues where Sarah can't print her document she needs because Bruce in his ignorance though it might be a good idea to turn that off, while crafty Alex decides to whip out the smartphone and take a photo of the screen instead which then gets automatically OCRed by Evernote and stored goodness-knows-where. But at least the information can now be printed.

DRM serves little purpose but to create headaches, because ultimately the final interface to the human being (e.g. display) stays just as weak as ever.

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"Yes, you can spend a fortune migrating to a zoo of incompatible products with a poor user experience"

Integrating independent products that are standards-based and well-documented is often very straightforward. That's the job of a competent sysadmin.

"or you can have one solution from Microsoft that just works."

That sometimes works. With a massive intertwined series of dependencies on each other, such that you get forced into concurrently upgrading them in order for them to work with each other, and then find that some features you used to rely on have been deprecated at the whim of the vendor with little alternative available. And upgrading the hairball that is SharePoint requires very expensive help if you want any hope of it ever working in future.

Trust me, I've spent two decades working in both environments. The MS way is a quick win with likely pain down the road.

Spending time properly integrating disparate products that each do their job well and comply with open standards where possible usually results in a much more stable and usable long term solution. And if it's well thought out in advance, it becomes very easy to swap any one component out for another if it no longer meets your needs. That's possibly the biggest single failing of the trap that is the Microsoft ecosystem - their products have never been designed to play well in a heterogeneous environment.

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Anonymous Coward

"That sort of stuff sounds great on paper but rarely works well in practice, especially with users who don't understand it properly (which is most of them)."

It works very well and is supported across the entire product suite including Office, Exchange, Sharepoint, mobile clients and Office 365 and many third party products.. It's on about it's 4th generation now. It can for instance with the 'bring your own certificates' option stop the NSA / USA accessing your Office 365 content from outside of the EU...

"In reality, the helpdesk gets involved wasting costly hours sorting issues where Sarah can't print her document she needs because Bruce in his ignorance though it might be a good idea to turn that off"

No they don't - the DRM client makes it clear that Bruce turned it off. There is near zero helpdesk overhead - from someone who has implemented Microsoft AD RMS in more than one company.

"while crafty Alex decides to whip out the smartphone and take a photo of the screen instead which then gets automatically OCRed by Evernote and stored goodness-knows-where"

That's why you don't permit personal mobile devices in secure locations, and lock down the corporate ones...And make doing that a fireable offence.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: DRM for secure government documents

I suspect unless you've had cause to design solutions for or work in specific agencies/government departments over the years you would not of have come across these products. Hence why few will even understand or appreciate why they exist.

The problem is that it is a relatively small market which only really came to the fore in the late 90's, when Microsoft Office was practically the only game in town, so these products have largely grown on the back of MS Office desktop and server products. I suspect until there is demand for something different, these products will continue to be tightly integrated with the MS platform. Hence I think this announcement from UK.gov is more about opening up possible futures (ie. post Jan-2020) than the here-and-now, so expect these products to now start including LibreOffice on their development roadmap.

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Anonymous Coward

"Integrating independent products that are standards-based and well-documented is often very straightforward. "

In theory until it isn't - and then you need to try and get a fix between multiple products - where the only support is often posting to a forum! And the end user experience nearly always sucks.

"That's the job of a competent sysadmin."

No, that should be the job of a competent systems architect. Leaving that type of decision to a sysadmin usually leads to a broken zoo of stuff.

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Anonymous Coward

"With a massive intertwined series of dependencies on each other, such that you get forced into concurrently upgrading them in order for them to work with each other"

Which is ten times worse when trying to integrate products from different sources / vendors. A single vendor solution is a much lower risk here.

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"A single vendor solution is a much lower risk here."

So putting all your eggs in one basket is good risk management now? That's certainly something you will only ever hear from sales folk.

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Silver badge

"It CAN be done but it isn't a cheap option and it will cause massive disruption to the business - be ready for that."

But that is precisely the lock-in that MS has created. Years of investment, both time and money, training people, creating complex interaction and yes, special macro functions. Yeah, it might be cheaper short term to stay with the lock-in rather than change, but MS love to talk about total cost of ownership. They conveniently forget to mention the massive investment already made by organisations in the MS products and infrastructure when comparing a move to open source.

Now, I'm not saying that OpenOffice or any other open source sw is ideal, or even better in all circumstances, but the long term total cost of ownership is not necessarily as high as many people seem to think after the initial investment in a switch over.

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Anonymous Coward

"So putting all your eggs in one basket is good risk management now?"

If it's a 'better basket' as we are discussing here, then yes absolutely.

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Joke

Microsoft Works

...Hah, yeah right.

The only thing Microsoft Works did was prove that the Trades Description Act didn't apply to computer software.

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Microsoft just raised prices in UK by 20% separate to UK pound falling by 20%.

Government seriously needs to save money and MS Office is not the only show in town.

Massive price hikes vs free.

LibreOffice gets more attractive by the day.

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WTF is that picture?

Nuff said.

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Silver badge

Re: WTF is that picture?

Improve your life instantly by blocking regmedia.co.uk.

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Mushroom

Re: WTF is that picture?

Looks like somebody's remaking Max Headroom.

(Icon coz of the blipverts.)

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Silver badge

Re: WTF is that picture?

Outlook is the sole reason we use office (it is just as cheap to license outlook for us as it is office). Our WinOS, CALS and office are bundled together as part of our core desktop license bundle (office is effectively free when we do this).

If it wasn't for the reliance on outlook then we would be down the road too - I at least have LO installed alongside as the DEFAULT in hopes that people will use it more. Unfortunately I haven't found a way around outlook (without resorting to individual email, communicator/lync/skype, task, calendar apps)

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Which part of free is not-free?

"The government has signed a deal for open source Libre Office to be made available across the public sector"

A deal implies money. It would be interesting to know what the government is paying for and how much. I know it isn't a cost free exercise but it would be good for everybody to understand what the savings would be.

On a secondary note it will be a wonderful day when government (local & national) documents arrive in an open rather proprietorial format.

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Silver badge

Re: Which part of free is not-free?

There will be a lot of work in the background. MSO is rolled out through office customisation tool, there isn't an alternative for LO. The only way I could get a mass rollout of LO with all the settings was a simple GPO with the MSI and a lot of .INI hacking later, perhaps someone has an enterprise LO solution (similar to the old open office enterprise suite you could buy).

All the documents I get from government (mainly local) tend to be PDFs anyway.

Outlook is not so easily replaced, granted you can use OWA to a very high level but it isn't as slick as outlook.

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Silver badge

Re: Which part of free is not-free?

Implementation and support deal with Collabora, basically. You can follow Michael Meeks, an LO dev who is involved in the whole thing:

https://people.gnome.org/~michael/blog/

if, er, you don't mind the constant updates about going to church. Read the ones like http://www.gnome.org/~michael/blog/2015-10-20.html .

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Which part of free is not-free?

"On a secondary note it will be a wonderful day when government (local & national) documents arrive in an open rather proprietorial format."

Microsoft Office is by far the best Open Document Format client that there is at the moment. The first thing it asks you is what file format do you want to use...

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Silver badge

Re: Which part of free is not-free?

The first thing it asks you is what file format do you want to use...

and the first thing it advises you, when you propose to save a document using any format other than the latest MS docx is that formatting may be lost and so choose a different format, such as docx...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Which part of free is not-free?

"and the first thing it advises you, when you propose to save a document using any format other than the latest MS docx is that formatting may be lost and so choose a different format, such as docx..."

No it doesn't suggest that you use docx. It just warns you that some features might not be supported, together with a never show me this crap again tickbox...

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Re: Which part of free is not-free?

Moved users away from Outlook to Google Docs for Education.

No complaints, Google calendar is way better.

Moved users away from IE to choice of Firefox or Chrome user choice no complaints.

Users are more savvy than they used to e switching between Iphones, Andoids and Windows they've got used to being adaptable.

Not sure if they'll all go for LibreOffice but it certainly play a role in my org. I refuse to pay MS £12,000 every 5 years for Office.

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Facepalm

Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

Funny how so many people on-line seem to rely on obscure macros, plugins and fonts.

Or is it just those that post comments?

To be honest, probably for 75% or more of users, LO is more than adequate.

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Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

The thing is, compatibility is the issue.

I, and many others, would immediately adopt LO as our sole office suite except for the fact that 99% of businesses use MS and compatibility is not perfect. I get that this is MS's fault (intention), but if it means that documents can't be shared and worked on without issues arising, then MS defends its position.

IMHO MS's office stranglehold is a far greater strength than the OS.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

And as a result, other business software tends (tends, mark you!) to be designed to work with MS Office integration as the first choice for interaction.

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Silver badge

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

Agreed. I wish the OCR software I use would feed into Libre Office.

PS What have El Reg done to their system today?? Stop messing us about, will you!

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Thumb Down

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

I tried Libre Office for a while.

Opening repeatedly with LO and MS Office and using tracked changes in both, results in a document neither can read after a very very short time. This is saving in docx format.

Until everyone (whole world) moves, it is a risk I can't take.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

The company I work for has about 1000 employees in its London office. With the exception of the IT bods and some of the senior management who still rely on crayons, almost everyone uses VBA macros on a daily basis. I know this because part of my job is supporting these macros (over 60,000 at the last count). Compatibility here isn't some silly complaint - it would be practically impossible for us to ever migrate to a system that doesn't support VBA. I would that it were otherwise.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

This is the fault of management mostly.

There have been better solutions than VBA + MS Office for over a decade, but short-sighted (and frankly, ignorant) managers haven't prepared their people to use them: mostly because they want to avoid paying for training, and, to a certain degree, empowering employees such that they could find better jobs. Because, after all, that's the number one goal of middle management: keep your employees as locked in as the customers, even if it means that workers are less capable and ultimately won't be able to keep up with the demands of serving customers. Yes, I know it sounds like utter stupidity to anyone who has ever had to actually compete in the marketplace, but that's what's been going on since before many of you were born.

It's a crime, really. Well, not an actual crime. There are big companies out there, really big companies, where the business logic is wrapped up in MS Access forms. Tens of thousands of employees trying to do their month-end rollups using MS Excel front-ends to Access "databases". All because the company put MS Office on their desks 20 years ago and had IT leave the users to their own devices while the tech pros were tasked with the deployment of enterprise middleware systems (which although much needed, are several circles removed from where much of the work gets done).

That's just not right, and I'll guarantee that if anyone ever had the courage to collect real world metrics, could be shown to have cost companies serious profits.

But no one is ever going to run those metrics, because those who would have to direct the effort have too much invested in no one ever knowing the truth about their outright neglect and smoke blowing.

As for replacing MS Office or other commercial solutions like Oracle or even Google, with LibreOffice, I sometimes wonder if the delay in going there didn't have more to do with someone's uncle having made a fortune off those outrageously priced licenses all these years. In most cases of government or corporate waste I usually assume incompetence, but surely at least this time *everyone* knew the public has been getting the shaft for nearly a generation. It seems to me that people who can successfully play the stock market, and amass serious wealth for themselves in doing so, could have figured that out in short order. Maybe what we need is a pile up of more investigative journalism like The Register did here: to force the cockroaches out into the light where they can be properly stomped on, either in public corruption prosecutions or at the polls.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

Very true, though I wonder for how long VBA is going to live on.

Microsoft have four office automation interfaces in Office as of now: VBA, .Net (Visual Studio Tools for Office), Office Add-ins (html?) and now (Office 2016) enhanced Office Add-ins (Javascript). Only the fourth seems to offer the kind of document automation that VBA excels at (because it has access to the COM model). The other two could do that sort of thing, but it is perverse: they are more suited to application automation, e.g. mailing a list of contacts when the web stock-price widget you added to Outlook tells you you are rich.

Isn't it likely that Microsoft desperately want to be shot of VBA in favor of JavaScript? Having people develop a minority development platform is not a good use of their resources compared to having their people develop the best JavaScript engine in town.

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Pint

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

Have a pint...I think bitter might be appropriate?

What does "better alternative" really mean? Or "left to their own devices"? My experience is that VBA has been so successful precisely because it is the better alternative to engaging with IT and allows people to get stuff done. I certainly agree with you that there are many VBA hacks out there, but equally, there are many hideous IT systems that attempt to deliver services to users but actually constrain them to narrow, limited actions. How many times have you used a web platform to view a report, and then downloaded it to Excel so that you can manipulate it how you like?

The problem is not VBA per se, it is unregulated systems that quietly become the backbone of an enterprise. When Marjorie's Expense Spreadsheet becomes the Company Financial System, someone needs to step in and say, "hey, this is an important IT system, we should make sure it's looked after". That's not always the same as "we should take it away from the users and replace it with some Big Platform". It might be as simple as putting the code under version control, hiring someone other than Marjorie to handle bug fixes, and making sure people are well trained in what it's strengths and limitations are.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

Ah, but here is the fun bit - it's actually the Microsoft Office users who are incompatible as the MS file formats are now classed as legacy..

I know this forum is enthusiastically spammed by Microsoft staff who allege that MS Office is better at writing out OpenDoc format files, but that is patently BS: it takes time to adopt a new file format, even if it is mature and documented a heck of a lot better than MS OOXML, and LibreOffice and OpenOffice have basically been developed on the very basis of ODF. I have seen what MS Word makes of ODF and it's not-invented-here fugly.

Why is this important? Why, UK government decided a while back that ODF would be their standard, NOT any Microsoft format. It appears we now see phase 2 of that decision.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

Opening repeatedly with LO and MS Office and using tracked changes in both, results in a document neither can read after a very very short time. This is saving in docx format.

I would avoid the XML format altogether - even MS can't make them work properly. We've been using .doc for years now If exchanging with customers and never had a problem (internally we use ODF now). We have one (1) MS Office license which we use for conversions if we need absolute fidelity in reproduction, but that's rather rare.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

But no one is ever going to run those metrics, because those who would have to direct the effort have too much invested in no one ever knowing the truth about their outright neglect and smoke blowing.

When we ran those analyses for a Government Department that I work for (in upper management these days), the results were truly shocking and we were told by the then Labour Government to hush them up! The money squandered on ill-managed, poorly designed and utterly broken computing in just this one Department would support the NHS for several months.

Fortunately, the migration to FOSS has begun. One particular licensing bill for £44.7m per year is no longer being paid to M$. This is just the first of many that the current "austerity drive" has deemed too expensive for too little return. At least this Government would listen to the reasons for the migration - unlike Gordon Broon who, like Tony Blair, was in the pocket of Microsoft.

One Department down, about a further 40 to go.........

AC for obvious reasons

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

When we ran those analyses for a Government Department that I work for (in upper management these days), the results were truly shocking and we were told by the then Labour Government to hush them up! The money squandered on ill-managed, poorly designed and utterly broken computing in just this one Department would support the NHS for several months.

Oh yes - been there. The irony is that the migration to FOSS started about 15 years ago, but was acutely suspended by the ten incoming New Labour government - there was even thinking about a central phone directory. Did you know that all public HMG websites used to run from a bunch of old but lovingly maintained Unix boxes, and were then consolidated on one large machine running Linux?

It hurts just to *think* about the amount of money extracted from UK government by these scoundrels, and to add insult to injury they then gave a Knighthood to Bill Gates for his sterling gesture "gift" of money which he got from milking it out of UK's school system. Remember when the school license fees shot up? We'd warned Education that that was a dead cert, but of course that got quenched from up high until it happened just as predicted and everyone had to act surprised.

I ran a conversion project in a department where the waste on a proprietary service was so high we had an ROI on the costs (including licenses, systems and consulting time) of one MONTH. We even got support calls from users asking what had happened because they never had that service work that quick. It wasn't actually quick at all - it was for the first time in years actually working how it was supposed to work, instead of making money hand over fist with failure.

Hoodlums, the lot of them.

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Silver badge

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

>IMHO MS's office stranglehold is a far greater strength than the OS.

+1

EMail replacement is easy, group calendaring is a bit harder though Collabra should sort that out, Visio replacement is pretty much a non-starter as far as I can tell.

LO isn't anywhere near as strong as Excel. I'd like to see some large corps/govs clubbing together to request and fund LO features.

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Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

It's always going to be a slow process weaning people off of MS Office, but this is certainly the first step. France's Gendarmerie got around this (when they switched to Linux) by mandating file format in contract and having a small number of licences to deal with cases where outside agencies can't provide a file they can use. The more government bodies using non-Office based suites the less of a problem they'll have with this and the easier the migration will be

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Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

OK, much of a fan as I am of open source projects, it *really* hasn't been all that long that Libre Office has been roughly on par with Office in terms of it's feature set, and there are still limitations on things like Impress vs PowerPoint

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Silver badge

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

"The irony is that the migration to FOSS started about 15 years ago, but was acutely suspended by the ten incoming New Labour government "

The real irony is that a Conservative government withdraw support for the CCTA IT standards effort back in the late 1980's, resulting in the dropping of UK GOSIP, which specified mandatory office file formats etc. and had an independent testing regime to underpin it. So here we are in 2015 still arguing over office file format compatibility and product interoperability, but with no independent arbitrator to rule on interop issues...

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Silver badge

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

@ P.Lee "EMail replacement is easy, group calendaring is a bit harder though Collabra should sort that out, Visio replacement is pretty much a non-starter as far as I can tell."

Collabra server? I though that had died years back.

But I agree the thorny items in the MS Office suite to replace are Outlook (email, group calendaring and PIM) and Visio. Although I think the Calligra project with Flow is making a good attempt at providing a Visio replacement. As to Outlook/Exchange, the question is probably how comfortable are you with projects/products such as Zimbra.

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Gold badge

Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

LO isn't anywhere near as strong as Excel. I'd like to see some large corps/govs clubbing together to request and fund LO features.

Funnily enough, that is exactly what the German government did when it wanted something - best use of tax money ever IMHO as it directly benefits the common good. It gave us GPG and Kolab. Not sure what they're up to now, but giving LO some funding would not be a bad idea.

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