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 " …

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  1. msknight Silver badge

    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

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

      1. DanDanDan

        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.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          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.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

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

            Ah, if only they had one !

            1. Soruk
              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.

          2. Maventi

            "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.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              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.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              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.

              1. Maventi

                "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.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  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.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          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!)

        3. Anonymous Coward
          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.....

          1. Maventi

            "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.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              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.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                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.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        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.

        1. John Brown (no body) 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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      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.

      1. patch67

        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.

  2. Bc1609

    WTF is that picture?

    Nuff said.

    1. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

      Re: WTF is that picture?

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

    2. Horridbloke
      Mushroom

      Re: WTF is that picture?

      Looks like somebody's remaking Max Headroom.

      (Icon coz of the blipverts.)

      1. Danny 14 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)

  3. Stuart 22

    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.

    1. Danny 14 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.

      1. patch67

        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.

    2. AdamWill

      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 .

    3. Anonymous Coward
      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...

      1. Roland6 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...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          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...

  4. WylieCoyoteUK
    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.

    1. mdava

      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

        1. Primus Secundus Tertius 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!

          1. patch67

            Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

            That's the point of the gov adopting ODF as the standard it pushed suppliers to consider ODF rather than DOC. Anyone vying for gov contracts will have to make OCT stuff that works with ODF.

            MS is so dominant it will take a government to break that monopoly and a move such as this will hurt Microsoft.

      2. Bert 1
        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.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          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.

      3. P. Lee 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.

        1. Roland6 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.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

            As to Outlook/Exchange, the question is probably how comfortable are you with projects/products such as Zimbra.

            Ugh, used that. No thanks. I'm not even sure that really is still Open Source - wasn't that both by Yahoo or something? I also saw something fly past lately about OpenXchange ("OX"), but I have used that too for a couple of years and I was never very impressed with either the product or the support.

        2. Fred Flintstone 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.

        3. Robert Baker
          Flame

          Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

          LO isn't anywhere near as strong as Excel.

          I sometimes use Excel for working on very large spreadsheets. Libre Office Calc is useless for this because it lacks the vitally important navigation feature of using [End]+[arrow key] to quickly move to the start or end of a large range. But when I pointed out this lack to the LO team, they just replied "that's a Microsoft feature" as if this were somehow a valid reason for not including it in LO. (And in any case they're wrong; it dates back at least to Lotus 1-2-3, which is probably why it ended up in Excel in the first place).

          Microsoft Works; LO doesn't, for me at least.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

            > ...lacks the vitally...

            pish

            [Ctrl-Home] and [Ctrl-End]

            Tools-->Customize-->Keyboard to rebind

            1. Robert Baker
              FAIL

              Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

              "pish

              [Ctrl-Home] and [Ctrl-End]"

              Once more, I get an idiot response from someone replying to what they believed I said, rather than what I actually said. The keys above move to the beginning or end of the document; what I was referring to was moving to the beginning or end of a range (a contiguous block of non-empty cells, running in any of the four principal directions).

              Can LO do this? If so, why doesn't it do this using the standard [End] followed by the relevant arrow key functionality offered by all previous spreadsheets? Why should the end-user have to flap about with key bindings, just to get the thing working properly?

              1. peter_dtm

                @Robert Baker

                opens LO spreadsheet

                picks random range

                ctrl + arrow down -> goes to end of contiguous block (some 50 rows down to a blank cell - step over & repeat)

                ctrl + arrow right -> goes to end of contiguous columns (in this case the end of the table NOT the end of the spread sheet)

                LibreOffice 4.2.8.2 & as far as I remember LO has ALWAYS done this - since before it forked; so $deity only knows what antiquated version of what Office you are using - perhaps a pre- steal everything from Lotus 123 MS spreadsheet ?

          2. Mad Mecha Guy

            Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

            in LibreOffice (Version: 4.4.0.3), Control + Arrow Keys does the same thing as Control + End. Control+End in LO takes you to bottom right corner of spreadsheet.

          3. patch67

            Re: Cue all the usual stuff about incompatibility etc

            Try Crl Left, Right, Up or down.

            Same thing and more standard.

      4. SolidSquid

        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

    2. Anonymous Coward
      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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