back to article UK citizens to Microsoft: Oi. We WANT ODF as our doc standard

Even if Microsoft bosses collectively whistled Always Look on the Bright Side of Life they'd still struggle to drown out people backing Cabinet Office proposals to adopt the Open Document Format as the official standard for UK.gov missives. The good folk of Blighty have until 26 February to make their position known as part of …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Open Source Means Choice

    Go Microsoft and all you are doing is contributing to a monopoly. Reject any closed garden mentality or you will find the walls covered in razor wire one day.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Open Source Means Choice

      I'd rather have a format that works because there's a financial reason for it to succeed, than one that was being pulled from all directions from the "include my feature too!" crowd. I use word because it works, and I can export it to just about any other format that the 5% who don't use word need.

      Not that it's going to matter soon anyway, who's going to bother creating a static document when all people want to consume it from their <insert name of favourite mobile device here>? A web/mobile delivery format will trump document standard formats before long.

      1. chrisf1

        Re: Open Source Means Choice

        a data/document format != a software application

      2. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: Open Source Means Choice

        You are entitled to your opinion, and to use word - just be sure to use its ODF capability in dealing with your government. For myself, I had an approximately 20 year battle with various Word versions due to their propensity to corrupt my document with formatting information from copy-and-paste snippets. The results - font changes, sections of light yellow text on white background, and the like - proved impossible to suppress and quite annoying to fix.

        I don't understand at all the mention of "a financial reason for [Microsoft's document formats] to succeed". They have more than once orphaned their own document formats and don't seem to have been laggards about installing new features that break old formats and software versions. One might almost think this resulted from an incentive of a different type.

        1. Ben Liddicott

          Learn to use your tools, workman.

          Edit->Paste Special-> Unformatted Text

          Keyboard: Alt+E, S, U

          Or in the new version,

          Home->Paste Menu -> Special-> Unformatted Text

          Keyboard: Alt+H, V, S, U

          Learn to use your tools, workman, instead of blaming them.

        2. officerbill

          Re: Open Source Means Choice

          The corruption issues were probably primarily caused by text being pasted retaining it's original formatting on top of the document formatting. Doing a rt/click paste, rather than a CtrlV, gives you the ability to preview & choose how the paste will be applied.

          As for orphaning formats, even today Word will open & save as formats as old as Works & Word Perfect.

          MS isn't perfect, but their document formats are the most widely used in the world and that should count for something when the government adopts an "official" format; otherwise why not just mandate .txt and no one will ever have to worry about compatability or licensing issues.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Open Source Means Choice

        From what I have seen of the various Word and Excel formats, they are the ones which are the "include my feature too" crowd, presumably pulled in different directions by different groups in Microsoft. That's why the OOXML documentation is so vast and filled with corner cases.

        The printer industry says you are wrong about web/mobile formats replacing document formats before long.

      4. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: Open Source Means Choice

        "I'd rather have a format that works because there's a financial reason for it to succeed, than one that was being pulled from all directions from the "include my feature too!" crowd."

        What value does your proprietary format have if I can't afford your proprietary software in the first place? Also: name the features that I actually care about that your proprietary software has which the open source stuff doesn't. Actual features. "Must have" stuff that will pull me away from LibreOffice.

        ...if Office 2013 is so amazing then tell me right here and right now exactly why it's worth my money. No vague fluffyness. No studies. Detailed specifics that will make it worth the pence paid for me.

        1. h4rm0ny

          Re: Open Source Means Choice

          A lot of flawed attacks here. Microsoft's OOXML is also open to anyone to implement and in addition to copy right restrictions, MS have committed to not asserting any patent rights on parties for implementation of it. A lot of people are still repeating things that were true of the first rushed attempt at OOXML which contained binary blobs and was poorly documented. The current OOXML is free to use, free to implement and protected against lawsuits.

          Certainly governments should use a standard implementable by anyone and MS are not stupid and didn't know things were moving that way. That's why MS created a format that fulfils those criteria. The debate between using ODF and OOXML should be based on technical merits and expectations of the format's long-term development, not hate.

          1. Tuesday Is Soylent Green Day

            Re: Open Source Means Choice

            "...MS have committed to not asserting any patent rights on parties for implementation of it..." You are sure that this will remain in the future? ODF has no such uncertainties.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Open Source Means Choice

            A lot of flawed attacks here. Microsoft's OOXML is also open to anyone to implement

            Which version? MicroSoft themselves don't support the standard they managed to railroad through the ISO process. It's also the worst standards document I've ever had to read, and that's saying something since I've worked on a number of systems using ISO or BSI standard formats that are rather awkward (a tape format that only seems to have been used by the EU for example, and even persisted after they moved from actual tape for the storage medium).

          3. rhdunn

            Re: Open Source Means Choice

            Sure, OOXML is possible for others to implement, except:

            1. The document is 6000 pages long!

            2. Office 2007 does not conform to the OOXML standard.

            3. The standard contains things like "useWord97LineBreaks", but does not specify what this means and even fails to describe others (e.g. suppressRef mentioned in the numFmt definition is not defined [http://www.robweir.com/blog/2008/03/how-many-defects-remain-in-ooxml.html#comment-1687] -- not sure if they addressed this during the review process).

            4. It references and describes other formats (e.g. VML) that were rejected as standard formats on their own.

            5. It uses inconsistent and incoherent naming (e.g. bkPtFixedVal, basedOn, next, val).

            6. There were many defects raised against the OOXML specification (upward of 1 defect every 6 pages), it is not clear how many of these were addressed.

            7. Several properties are binary bitmasks or similar.

            ...

            OOXML currently has one implementation (Office >= 2012/2013) and several buggy implementations (Office 2007, LibreOffice, etc.), whereas ODF has several implementations. If OOXML was a good standard then there would be more conforming implementations.

        2. M Gale
          Coat

          Re: Open Source Means Choice

          Also: name the features that I actually care about that your proprietary software has which the open source stuff doesn't...

          Table creation that works well.

          ...sorry.

        3. Mark 65 Silver badge

          Re: Open Source Means Choice

          @Trevor: You're right in what you say but there is a difference between the casual/home user and the business user. The business user sticks with Office as other businesses steadfastly use it and therefore it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For some there is a deep and pervasive investment in macros whether for better or worse. That businesses use it so extensively effectively forces it onto the citizen. This is exactly why it is up to Governments to enforce open standards and break the cycle. The added benefit is that, hopefully, it should save taxpayer shekels - not that we'll ever get a rebate - and promote greater data freedom as open standards gain greater adoption. It also means you constantly have an advantageous licensing negotiation position.

          1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

            @Mark65

            I'm a writer by trade. I own a business that provides content for money. I rely on my office package for my livelihood. I rely on interoperability with what others are providing.

            I fail to understand how the fact that corporate inertia exists in other corporations should affect my decision making process. If you have a business need for Office 2013 because you are imbedded in a bunch of VBscript macros, then you that is a definable business need and off you go.

            What I am asking - and nobody is able to answer - is why I, Trevor Pott, a writer by trade who also does a reasonable amount of Excel mathhackery and Powerpoint work should buy Microsoft Office 2013. What are the killer features that make it worth the money and time to migrate my Office 2003 and Libreoffice systems to this software?

            This is a very simple question with a defined set of parameters. It isn't a broad question about the entire industry. It isn't a question about other companies or other people. It is a question about me, my circumstances and the advantages - or not - to me and my company.

            At the end of the day, that's what this always comes down to. Person by person, company by company. Individual needs analysis.

            I don't know how you buy your stuff, but I don't buy based on popularity. I create a list of products that meet the needs posted (i.e. they are fit for purpose) and then I select the one that gives me the biggest bang for my buck. This is frequently the cheapest, but not always. If there is a strong argument to be made for convenience, scalability concerns or future upgradability.compatibility I am willing to pay more for a product on the fit for purpose list than simply choosing the cheapest option.

            If, however, all products on the fit for purpose list do what is required of them and there are no compelling strategic concerns regarding the product why would I choose any product excepting the cheapest?

            I am asking for the logic and rationale behind purchasing Office 2013 for my circumstances. I am entirely open to being convinced, if the argument can be made. I'm waiting patiently for rationale.

            1. Mark 65 Silver badge

              Re: @Mark65

              @Trevor:"This is a very simple question with a defined set of parameters. It isn't a broad question about the entire industry. It isn't a question about other companies or other people. It is a question about me, my circumstances and the advantages - or not - to me and my company."

              Oh, but it is. I would like to use whatever office package I like matching such criteria but if every other bastard is using Office and I need my documents to come out formatted exactly as intended (some formatting I've seen is just ridiculous) then I am effectively forced into this realm. This affects a person and it affects a company likewise. If compatibility is not 100% from a WYSIWYG perspective as the original author intended then it's not good enough for me and I don't care whose fault it is, my time is too precious to spend reformatting documents/workbooks/whatever. That is why I reiterate that it is important that the Government leads by example and breaks this cycle.

              I don't disagree with your standpoint, just that it's more ideal-World than real-World at the current time. You can make your choice and your stand but it takes a shift in momentum, that something like Government can provide, to turn this ship around. For the monopoly to be broken there has to be a viable alternative (check) and a move by major users to shift momentum (almost check).

              I also don't buy on popularity (I got it courtesy of an employer provided MSDN subscription) but I do want that compatibility and Government mandated standards will force that to happen.

              1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                Re: @Mark65

                "but if every other bastard is using Office and I need my documents to come out formatted exactly as intended (some formatting I've seen is just ridiculous)"

                Then you have a defined business requirement. One that - quite frankly - will never be met. I have cranked stuff out of Office 2013 that isn't properly read by Office 2013 on the computer sitting right beside the originator. Office and Libreoffice do indeed have rendering errors between them...but so do Office and Office as well as Libreoffice and Libreoffice.

                Quite frankly, I think you are using a completely impossible requirement to justify purchasing software. If formatting matters use HTML. That's what it's there for. Your content is independent of your styles and it's easier to beat into shape when a render engine does something stupid.

                Or just output to PDF. Really, bitmapping your output is the only way to be sure.

                But, that aside, assuming that the planets align and for your specific use cases Office will render Office-created files accurate enough, but for some reason won't render Libreoffice-created files, then you have identified a requirement for you. I acknowledge that this may well be the case and I sincerely hope that you can resolve this business case with the purchase of Office 2013.

                This is not, however, a requirement of mine, nor of my clients. Thus this is not a requirement that addresses the question "why should I hand over money for Office 2013?"

      5. John Bailey

        Re: Open Source Means Choice

        "I'd rather have a format that works because there's a financial reason for it to succeed,"

        So ODF it is then.

        You do understand that the "financial reason" for using a MS format is going to be all Microsoft's, and not yours. So financial reasons like a new file format that needs a new word processor to do exactly the same stuff with, but saves by default in the new ultrashiny file format..

        "than one that was being pulled from all directions from the "include my feature too!" crowd."

        Ahh.. you are familiar with Microsoft’s internal politics problem then.

        "I use word because it works, and I can export it to just about any other format that the 5% who don't use word need."

        But we are talking about a file format, not a word processor. Do try to keep on topic.

        "Not that it's going to matter soon anyway, who's going to bother creating a static document when all people want to consume it from their <insert name of favourite mobile device here>? A web/mobile delivery format will trump document standard formats before long."

        Ohh.. People who sell <insert name of favourite mobile device> for example.

        Banks, Mail/internet sellers. Supermarkets, schools, government departments, engineering firms, double glazing companies.. In other words, the same people as care today.

        People will still be using computers for work in ten years from now. Because really, people do not just use computers for facebook and Youtube cat videos. They also do stuff that they get paid to do.

        They create or organise information. And that sucks on a tablet.

        Sorry mate.. Perhaps next year will be the year of Windows 8.1

  2. Tyrion
    Thumb Up

    Thanks

    Thank you Paul and the reg for reporting on this important issue.

    Microsoft doesn't want choice, it wants everyone to be reliant on its file formats so it can force vendor lock-in. For years MS has had a monopoly over governments, businesses and individuals for this very reason. If non-proprietary and patent free formats like ODF become the standard, users can interact with government using free software like LibreOffice; thus going a long way to dismantling Microsoft's iron grip on productivity software.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Thanks

      blah blah Microsoft is evil blah.

      Tell me what document formats you read or save to in Word? Open document, open xml etc etc are all there today.

      If what we're worried about is commercial success of a product, then perhaps we need to abolish capitalism once and for all. Doesn't the market decide which format should survive?

      1. oiseau
        Stop

        Re: Thanks

        Hello:

        > Doesn't the market decide which format should survive?

        Hmmm ...

        I'll assume you're joking, eh?

        No, won't fall ito that one.

        Cheers,

        CIV

      2. Richard 26

        Re: Thanks

        'Doesn't the market decide which format should survive?'

        It will. However, it is perfectly reasonable for the government, when it is the customer, to define it's own corporate standards (as long as they are non-discriminatory, which ODF clearly is).

      3. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: Thanks

        No, and again No. First, the market in document editors did not determine the success of Word. That largely was determined by the market in desktop operating systems, in which Microsoft had, and exploited, a near monopoly. Second, a government has, or is supposed to have, non-economic interests such as very long term support and transparency that may be as important or more so than any economic ones. The Magna Carta, or the U. S. Declaration of Independence/Constitution are readable now by people skilled in the language and writing of the time they were written, as we might wish for legal documents prepared now in machine readable form to be accessible 50 or 100 years in the future. There is more reason to be confident that that will be true if they are prepared in a format based on a transparent standard such as ODF than on one like OOXML that is translucent at best. My personal preference is UTF-8 done with a plain text editor for most official documents.

        1. P. Lee Silver badge

          Re: Thanks

          +1 for UTF-8

          There are reasons to use both types of document though. Anything for long-term record should be in the simplest format, text. It should probably be printed too. I'd get really antsy if my title-deeds didn't have some physical reality. ODF seems fine if you are currently required to print and return the document.

          If the aim is presentation with limited life-spans, then ODF with extractable text, if the aim is storage, then UTF-8 and paper.

        2. Ben Liddicott

          Re: Thanks

          """My personal preference is UTF-8 done with a plain text editor """

          So bold and italic are out? Hyperlinks are out? Photographs, illustrations, and embedded graphs are out? In all official documents?

          Come on! Join the 1990s already.

      4. Pseu Donyme

        Re: Thanks

        > ... the market ...

        Indeed, the market, competition. I'd give it a try before dusting off Das Kapital. Hence ODF.

      5. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: Thanks

        "blah blah Microsoft is evil blah"

        All big corporations - and most small ones - are evil. The question is "does their evil benefit me?" The answer to that became "no" about 5 years and change ago.

        1. h4rm0ny

          Re: Thanks

          >>"All big corporations - and most small ones - are evil. The question is "does their evil benefit me?" The answer to that became "no" about 5 years and change ago."

          If a company provided no benefit to anyone, it would go out of business rapidly.

          Logic > Argument by Assertion.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Thanks

            If a company provided no benefit to anyone, it would go out of business rapidly.

            You're ignoring the problem of monopolies. MicroSoft have even been convicted of using their effective monopoly to block out potential rivals to the detriment of consumers.

          2. Gav
            Holmes

            Re: Thanks

            "If a company provided no benefit to anyone, it would go out of business rapidly."

            Unless it is operating in a monopoly position. There it can pretty much do what it likes, including crushing all possible competition. This is sound policy for the company, but not good for the market, progress or society.

            I don't think anyone is saying that Microsoft is entirely evil. But in regards to file formats it is clearly intent on protecting its position by restricting people's ability to migrate away from Microsoft products. Making this easy (as adoption of open standards do) will damage its monopoly position. Microsoft's reaction to the proposed official adoption of ODF is as predictable as the sun rising. It's what monopolies do.

          3. Fibbles

            Re: Thanks

            "If a company provided no benefit to anyone, it would go out of business rapidly."

            Governments are supposed to do what is in the best interest of the people they represent.* Microsoft may provide 'benefit' to certain people but that doen't necessarily mean they are providing as much benefit as other options could. There's also an important question in this scenario: are the people receiving the 'benefit' from Microsoft the people that the governement represents or simply the people running the government?

            *Reality may differ.

          4. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

            Re: Thanks

            "If a company provided no benefit to anyone, it would go out of business rapidly."

            This is nothing more than an assertion based on philosophy proven false decades ago.

        2. Sean Timarco Baggaley

          Re: Thanks

          @Trevor Pott:

          A corporation is just a collection of people run by a dictator, or a cabal, called "shareholders", who elect their own dictator to represent their interests in the corporation.

          A community is... just a collection of people run by either a charismatic leader (i.e. a dictator in all but name) – or a baying mob whose intelligence is on a par with its dumbest member.

          In both cases, you can have a benevolent dictatorship, or your bog standard tyranny, but the nature of the entity itself makes little difference: either way, it's a bunch of people working together towards a common cause. So I've never cared about the distinction. A community-driven project is no less "proprietary" as a commercial one: either way, if support for a format is dropped, I'm screwed. (No, I'm not going to wade through hundreds of pages of ISO documentation and code up my own conversion software. Life's too bloody short.)

          My interests may be met by one, other, or both of these two kinds of entities. I will pick whichever solution best fits my needs.

          Whatever you may think about Microsoft, I don't consider them any more "evil" than Samsung, and they're a bloody sight less "evil" than Google. But I also have no time for the constant bickering and squabbling of GNU radicals and extremist FOSS nutters either.

          1. Chemist

            Re: Thanks

            ": either way, if support for a format is dropped, I'm screwed."

            All the more reason for well-defined non-proprietary format with a number of implementations

          2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

            @Sean Timarco Baggaly

            "Whatever you may think about Microsoft, I don't consider them any more "evil" than Samsung"

            They're not.

            "and they're a bloody sight less "evil" than Google."

            Bullshit.

            "But I also have no time for the constant bickering and squabbling of GNU radicals and extremist FOSS nutters either."

            Okay.

            Look: you make your decisions about what's best for you, and so do I. In my experience this Dilbert is an entirely accurate representation of IT product design. Based on this, I don't trust any of these companies more than the other. That means the following decisions making process is optimal for me:

            1) Determine a list of products which will do what I need them to do.

            2) Select the product which offers the best value for dollar amongst that list.

            In some cases you need to make a choice whether or not to support entire ecosystems. Here it becomes about the company as a whole. There are very few companies I avoid on general principle. Making these kinds of decisions becomes a game of cutting through FUD. Microsoft versus Google is a fantastic example.

            Microsoft has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in trashing Google's name. To obvious effect. Despite this, nobody has been able to prove to me Microsoft aren't guilty of the very same things they accuse Google of doing. Instead, they simply sidestep the issues by talking about how you have the choice not to use their products if you don't want to, or to use their on-premise solutions.

            So Microsoft have waged an effective campaign of disinformation against Google, but not actually set themselves apart in any meaningful fashion. As far as I can tell both are entirely too cavalier with my personal information and I trust neither particularly far.

            So what then is to be the measure of my selection? Well, Microsoft has proven to give zero bent fucks about it's own partners, mainly by cutting our margins, raising SPLA pricing and refusing to make the clusterfuck that is VDI and multitennancy licensing into something sane. That's a whole bunch of me disliking Microsoft right there.

            As a customer, Microsoft has told me to go fuck myself with the Ribbon bar, then again with Windows 8, then doubled down on it with Windows 8.1. They have told me that they view my 6-to-10-year refresh cycles as taking the crusts of bread from the mouths of their starving children and are putting every resource available into getting me to pay a subscription fee that isn't cost effective unless you are on 2 or 3 year refresh cycles for software with interfaces I abhor. That's the other part of me disliking Microsoft.

            Microsoft also have put literally billions of dollars into making the punishment for copyright infringement as harsh as possible whilst simultaneously making their licensing so convoluted and open to interpretation that it is almost impossible not to be in violation of some aspect of it. They have put a great deal of time and effort into making sure that only can you not pirate their software, but any systems administrator, hobbyist, student or tech journalist trying to teach themselves Microsoft's suite of products cannot afford to do so. (AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN, MICROSOFT. AND THE HORSE YOU FUCKING RODE IN ON, YOU TECHNET MURDERING BASTARDS!)

            Google make products I actually want to buy. Google invest massive amounts of money into lobbying for internet regulation that - for the most part - would seem to benefit me as an individual as well as a small business owner. Google make sure that individuals, developers, systems administrators, hobbyests and small businesses can get access to the full suite of Google offerings for free. Google's pricing is simple, sensible and cheap.

            Google spies on everything I do in a horrifically creepy fashion in order to advertise at me. I have zero believable evidence that Microsoft does not do the same. Google offers a difficult to use opt-out mechanism that doesn't quite cover everything. Microsoft does the same. Google's spying can be blocked with the most basic use of browser sheilding. So can Microsoft.

            Google build out city-wide WiFi and 10-gigabit fibre projects. Microsoft give free software to schools so long as those schools agree not to buy/install competing products. Google are building a robotic car and a robot butler. Microsoft makes a video games console.

            No matter which of these companies I pick, I will get screwed in one way or another. The difference is that I feel I get a lot less screwed with Google than Microsoft. Same with choosing RedHat over Microsoft, or Open Document Foundation over Microsoft.

            I was once one of Microsoft's greatest champions. Today I am one of their most bitter detractors. I championed Microsoft because Microsoft had - and still have - some of the most amazing technologies on the market. I became a bitter detractor because of the barriers Microsoft erects to any attempt I have to make use of those technologies.

            I believe wholeheartedly that Microsoft has some of the best technology on the planet. They have many of the smartest minds mankind has ever birthed. Microsoft is a company of influence and power that will be around for a long time and is a very safe bet if you are a well capitalized large enterprise of government wanting to make conservative decisions about what to do with your IT.

            But to me, as an individual, as a small business owner, as an managed service provider, as a small cloud service provider, as a systems administrator, a developer and as a journalist Microsoft has been for the past five years - and remains today - far more of an impediment to getting what I want to do done than it is an enabler.

            When what I can do technically with the products on offer from a vendor are not allowed legally or financially then they are of no use to me. They are the disease, not the cure.

            TL;DR: I'm not on Microsoft's side because they aren't on my side. Changing that dynamic is entirely up to Microsoft.

      6. Lars Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: Thanks

        "Doesn't the market decide which format should survive?". Is that not just what is going on here or do you think the market is the companies and not the users.

      7. Lapun Mankimasta

        Re: Thanks

        > blah blah Microsoft is evil blah.

        ( snip )

        > Doesn't the market decide which format should survive?

        Get a professional economist to analyze company structure for you, comparing and contrasting them to macroeconomics and microeconomics. I think you'll find any economist worth his salt will conclude that companies internally are command economies; and a monopoly is a private command economy in and over a specified segment of the market.

        Microsoft has had nearly 95% of the "market" in office productivity software, which qualifies it as a monopoly. As such it is a command economy, and talk of the "market" is absurd.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Thanks

      "Microsoft doesn't want choice, it wants everyone to be reliant on its file formats so it can force vendor lock-in."

      Microsoft give you the choice. When you open word for the first time (2013) you are asked if you want ODF or the MSXML format as default, I have a feeling they were doing this in the 2010 version as well. So not like they aren't giving the choice, people just choose not to change.

      By effectively forcing people to change you are just doing what people are claiming Microsoft are trying to do (but actually aren't). Forcing your idea of the "best solution" on people who already have the choice...but their choice is against your own personal one so you have to argue and throw unfounded arguments around.

    4. Jim 59

      Re: Thanks

      I am an open source user with no Microsoft in the house for 8 years now. However, perhaps we need to be careful what we wish for, and the degree of zealotry on display here is unsettling. Of course it is bad, very bad, for MS to control and imprison customers the way it does. But if it collapsed, what then ? It is likely Google or another giant would look for a coup, and replace MS with an even stricter and more aggressive regime. Certainly the megacorps are not going to sit there for years watching everybody get free lunches.

      And maybe the open source contributors, once they rule the roost, might start to think they should get paid a bit more than zero.

      All I am saying is calm down, dears. Maybe a case of better the devil you know.

      1. Chemist

        Re: Thanks

        "But if it collapsed, what then ?"

        All the more reason for well-defined non-proprietary format with a number of implementations

  3. Peter Black

    Zealous about the right thing

    Not "open source zealots", but "open data zealots".

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Not zealots - hard core business realists

      I rather object to the repeated use of the word "zealots" in the article, which seems to suggest the author has a bias.

      IMHO, choosing proper open formats has got ZERO to do with religion or beliefs, but everything with realistic value assessment.

      At the simplest level, it's a single source monopoly versus a diversified market - which option has the best impact on costs? At a political level, there is the question if handing off money to a foreign entity instead of fostering local spend is not worth reconsidering. At a standards level, do you really trust a standard which is not even that well controlled by the people who WROTE it, or do you use one which has been a well evaluated standard at EU level, one that was arrived at through proper consensus (instead of bribing the voting system) and which incorporates the needs of all, not just a prescribed set of features dreamt up by an entity that's not even paying tax here?

      And finally, the ILoveYou virus already showed the danger of a monoculture, and there is really only one standard that works reliably and renders relatively true on ALL platforms instead of the selected few. Hint: it's NOT OOXML. Heck, I can't think of anything LESS deserving the moniker "Open" - it's a travesty.

  4. chrisf1

    The difference between open standards and open source

    It is not really about open source, it's about a making a choice of standard. ODF can be implemented perfectly well in both open source and proprietary - a defining characteristic of an open standard. Indeed MS document their support for ODF, http://office.microsoft.com/en-gb/word-help/differences-between-the-opendocument-text-odt-format-and-the-word-docx-format-HA010355788.aspx .

    Training and document conversion is a bit of a red herring. Whatever they standardise on they will have some transformation costs and support for any key exceptions - equally the would have to train to make the average user understand the different file types , associations and extensions if they did not choose. Document conversion is probably overstated, most documents are ephemeral or new versions of old and that can be handled relatively easily.

    Rather more of an issue is the weaning off of management by spreadsheet and other uses of extended (standardised and non standardised) functionality - both to improve fidelity and interoperability but also to make mobile solutions easier.

  5. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Windows

    What!? Microsoft not well-loved by software users???!!

    Next you'll be telling us that death and taxes are inevitable!!

    (More seriously, if ODF works for the Brit government, more power to them. If it doesn't, also fine by me.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What!? Microsoft not well-loved by software users???!!

      They love it in the NHS. Excel is almost mandatory.

      The alternatives don't have compatible "casual" programming functionality.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: What!? Microsoft not well-loved by software users???!!

        >The alternatives don't have compatible "casual" programming functionality.

        That could be an advantage! As it might help security and prevent users from circumventing IT...

  6. James 51 Silver badge

    I'd like to see epub2 on there as well.

    1. chrisf1

      @James51

      Probably worth making that comment about epub on the http://standards.data.gov.uk/proposal/viewing-government-documents entry. Probably more suited to that.

  7. Number6

    Data Format, not Applications

    There's nothing to stop the government using MS Office to generate the documents, assuming it's capable of producing ODF files that conform to the spec (i.e. MS wrote their plug-in correctly).

    All that is being consulted on here is the format to use, not the applications.

    In practice, however, once they've specified the open file format, it's not that great a leap to shift to the cheapest (including support costs) option for generating those files, and I guess this is what MS is afraid of. There are costs involved with using Libre/Open/Star Office, but there's likely to be competition for providing that support which should help control costs. If a large user such as the UK government shifts over, expect others to also take the plunge, providing a bigger market for support organisations.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Data Format, not Applications

      More than a few government bodies have tried to make the jump to open source office suites. I might be wrong in saying this, but I'm pretty damned sure that no large body has yet to succeed in making the switch. Switching file formats is one thing, but the simple fact is the open source office suites don't come within a hundred thousand miles of MS Office. I'm as big a fan of open source software as the next man - I make my living flogging Hadoop solutions - but the simple fact is it's like suggesting a professional graphics house replace Photoshop with GIMP. Just not going to happen.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Data Format, not Applications

        >More than a few government bodies have tried to make the jump to open source office suites.

        One of the hurdles to migration is office document/file formats. So the switch to more open file formats means that other providers of office suites begin stand a better chance of competing.

        Obviously, given the various Windows migration projects currently going on within government, I doubt there will be any serious deployments of non-Microsoft desktops until Windows 7 is due to go off support.

        However, by setting a standard for office file formats now sends a strong message to the industry and perhaps may encourage a greater investment in non-MS products such as the open source office suites. So come January 2020 the competition and their offerings could be much more credible....

      2. Grifter

        Re: Data Format, not Applications

        >>I might be wrong in saying this,

        Yes, quite wrong, Munich for one, it's certainly the most famous one.

        1. Chemist

          Re: Data Format, not Applications

          "Yes, quite wrong, Munich for one, it's certainly the most famous one."

          The French police have almost completed a move to Linux

          http://www.zdnet.com/french-police-move-from-windows-to-ubuntu-linux-7000021479/

          That's going to be ~70000

      3. M Gale

        Re: Data Format, not Applications

        it's like suggesting a professional graphics house replace Photoshop with GIMP.

        Honestly while The GIMP has that truly weird multi-window interface, it's quite capable, even if not quite as advanced as Photoshop, which is only one component of the entire Adobe creative suite.

        However, given Adobe's recent "cloud"-only subscription bullshit, I could see some companies tempted to make the switch to just about anything else, even if it's only Paint Shop Pro and Corel Draw.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This all boils down to:

    What Microsoft is afraid of is:

    1) If ODF is the standard, what incentive is there for people to use their products?

    2) Their support for ODF would have to be complete and it would have to work, of which neither is currently the case. Oh, and they would be able to keep changing it with each version of Office.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: This all boils down to:

      It should actually be pretty easy for Microsoft to use ODF keep a dominant position in the market by making the best software around. OpenOffice and LibreOffice are okay for many things but I have more crashes with either of them than I ever have with MS Office.

      Going ODF would mean Microsoft could drop the army of people associated with maintaining and implementing its own very unwieldy (yes, I've worked with it) standard. They've sort of shown they can do this with the more recent versions of Internet Explorer but you can just see how they still haven't understood that providing tools and services are more important than sabotaging data formats.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: This all boils down to:

        It is often said that 80% of users only use 20% of features. As anybody who has ever done support knows, it's more like 80% of users only know 5% of features exist. I caught a user adding up cells in Excel with a calculator and adding them in manually recently. That is the stark reality of the level of ignorance that exists in the userbase.

        For this 80%, If I could then I would cheerfully give the users LibreOffice on the basis that it meets all of their needs and then only give people Microsoft Office if they needed it. Microsoft know full well many other organisations would cheerfully do the same, and will do anything to avoid this happening, since Office is one of Microsoft's big money makers.

        Microsoft is not going to keep office in a dominant position by having the best software around, even if they did have it. A combination of "zero purchase price" and "good enough" would severely degrade offices profitability.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Peter2 Re: This all boils down to:

          "I caught a user adding up cells in Excel with a calculator and adding them in manually recently."

          Say hi to my sister, would you!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thank god we have some clever people in charge at the moment unlike the technophobe dimwits headed by Blair who must have thought "nobody gets fired for buying Microsoft".

    Much of the big proprietary mess that was the NHS programme for IT is now moving over to open source software and away from big greedy companies like BT.

    Now all we need is some decent IT lessons in school. I did BASIC, Logo and Pascal at school. At college I did 6502 and Z80 machine code. Such things should always be taught, I found history and geography pointless but it's stuff you can at least talk about.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      unlike the technophobe dimwits headed by Blair who must have thought "nobody gets fired for buying Microsoft".

      That was not the reason. "Nobody makes money if we go Open Source" is more accurate.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't forget Newham (the Blairite's Wandsworth) Councils upgrade to that; "Why not Microsoft?". Arguments against that didn't seem to cut much ice included "because most of the people likely to access the council documents can't afford to buy MS Office, let alone keep it current".

  10. Lyndon Hills 1

    Very long term

    While there are implications for the software used to create documents today, the more important thing for a government is being able to read them in the long term.

    In the UK we have various rules (30. 50 & 100 years) after which documents might be made public. This implies that whatever the format, we need to be able to still read them 100 years from now. There is no reason to suppose that Microsoft (or any other company for that matter) will be around then, so using a proprietary format as a standard must surely be an unacceptable risk.

    1. Spearchucker Jones

      Re: Very long term

      Microsoft's format is published and freely available.

      1. Grifter

        Re: Very long term

        >>Microsoft's format is published and freely available.

        Meh, when microsoft doesn't even follow its own spec in implementations, what worth does that have?

        1. Spearchucker Jones

          Re: Very long term

          Consistency. Our nearly obsessive desire to be (and appear to be) consistent with what we have already done. What the downvoters are so ably demonstrating is that once we've made a choice, we encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Given that my post was a factually correct counterpoint is amusing. And a bit sad, given the assumedly enlightened audience here.

          Be that as it may, Microsoft do follow their own spec, just haven't implemented all of it. The problem is quantitative rather than qualitative. ODF vendors don't fare much better with their format.

      2. Morrie Wyatt
        Thumb Up

        Re: Very long term

        "Microsoft's format is published and freely available."

        Except that the OOXML "Standard" <cough> is replete with instances of backward compatibility features (often optional of course <cough><splutter>) that are described along the lines of "Treat version X feature the same way that versoin X does." but with no details on exactly how the proprietary format version X actually performed said function. The documentation for version X being proprietary and not available.

        It leaves Microsoft as the only ones that could possibly implement the OOXML standard in full, while they point at their competition on performance issues over exactly such ill defined behaviour.

        Even then, Microsoft railroaded OOXML through as an IEEE standard by stacking the ballot by having Microsoft business partners join IEEE, purely for the purpose of filling seats at meetings and in doing so, ensuring that objectors were not able to attend these meetings in enough numbers to make a difference.

        Despite that, several modifications to the original OOXML standard as proposed by Microsoft were pushed into the final OOXML standard that made Mocrosoft Office only partially compliant to their own standard. Microsoft however were uninterested in making changes to Office so that it does comply.

        In other words, it is a standard that even Microsoft don't comply with.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Very long term

        Microsoft's format is published and freely available

        Really? Can you then point me at the .doc format spec as it was in 1990? Because that's the sort of thing you're talking about when you're dealing with the longevity of documents.

        Sorry MS shill, try again.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Very long term

          Really? Can you then point me at the .doc format spec as it was in 1990?

          Back in 1990 we were having the same discussions as now and at the time SGML was hopefully going to be the saviour, especially since we had standardised formats for things like tables (the US military DTDs). Trouble was that the editing tools never really took off, and convincing management to support a format we could still easily read in ten or twenty years time was bloody hard. This was for military and commercial data relating to products that would be in use for decades, hence the importance of long term formats.

    2. Gray
      Trollface

      Re: Very long term

      Yes, ummm, well, errrr ... if God had wished us to create documents we'd be able to read in the 30. 50 & 100 years long term, then She wouldn't have created Microsoft ...

      (or was that Lucifer ... ?)

    3. Number6

      Re: Very long term

      Technically you don't need the format to endure that long. What you need is a set of standards that are robust enough that one can run an update program on your current set of documents that will convert them reliably into something reflecting the new standard and maintain the same appearance and formatting and be able to trust that it's done so without needing to visually inspect every document.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Very long term

        No. Format shifting is not a good idea.

        Imagine that the 1215 Magna Carta was created in word. What are the chances that after being shifted to a new format every ten years the result would be readable in exactly the original form without losing content or positioning after 80 format changes?

        A static format is the only sensible way to go.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Very long term @Number6

        >Technically you don't need the format to endure that long...

        Obviously not been involved with archives as the scale of the task you are contemplating would tell you how impractical it is.

        Plus whilst slightly different, we shouldn't forget the problem encountered with the maintenance of climate data. Where due to the size of the records archive it was decided to do a conversion and consolidation and destroy the source records. When questions were raised about the reliability of the conversion etc., it was not possible to verify the process because the original source records no longer existed.

        Likewise as we've seen recently the compression algorithm used in Xerox copiers was found to be flawed even though the algorithm was reliable. (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/08/06/xerox_copier_flaw_means_dodgy_numbers_and_dangerous_designs/ )

        What is telling about this one is that the majority of pages copied were okay, but some weren't and the only way to verify was a detailed visual inspection of each page.

        So no we do need formats that can be read over long periods of time, but yes like Microsoft and others have shown, if we want to do more than just view ie. edit, then we can save it in a newer format.

        1. Number6

          Re: Very long term @Number6

          I wasn't thinking of deleting the originals, merely providing versions in the latest standards. Keeping the original work, and a means of reading them, is important in case of conflict. Very few people read the original Magna Carta, but the text is available in different formats for everyone to view.

  11. Petersbear
    Unhappy

    Don't just blame Microsoft. Apple Keynote 08 files are not compatible with the latest version on iPad or iPhone you have to export to Microsoft format and re-import on your portable device.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Apple never pretended to use open formats, so your point is?

  12. Spearchucker Jones

    I've no preference

    But do believe that the overwhelming pro-ODF response is because the tech community is predominantly pro open. This is good, but it doesn't mean it's a fair representation of "citizens" of which I presume most, like me, couldn't particularly give a damn.

    1. amehaye

      Re: I've no preference

      Choosing ODF will save you money. It will save you loads of money. Do you care now?

    2. dajames Silver badge

      Re: I've no preference

      ... the tech community is predominantly pro open. This is good, but it doesn't mean it's a fair representation of "citizens" of which I presume most, like me, couldn't particularly give a damn.

      Most "citizens" want easy access government data. They couldn't give a damn how that is achieved, but they will scream blue murder if they don't get it.

      Different users, using a different devices, will be using a variety of different software packages from different suppliers -- some open and some not. The use of an open data format ensures that all the suppliers are free and able to provide access within their software to the government data.

  13. Herby Silver badge

    Other examples...

    "My personal preference is UTF-8 done with a plain text editor for most official documents."

    Which is why RFCs are published in this EXACT manner. No fuss, no muss. Of course they are dealing with an entirely different audience, but it is worth noting that documents from a word processor (pick one) are good at multiplying the character count of even the simplest of documents.

    Most word processor document formats have grown "organically" to accommodate the ever changing landscape of users who like the latest gee-wizz feature that they found out about. Then you get a word processor vendor that adds on a newer fature, needs a new document format, and one person in the organization publishes in that format necessitating that everyone else use the "more modern" word processor even though they have no need for its features. So everyone does upgrade and the vendor of the word processor makes out by making previous versions obsolescent. When the next new feature comes out, the cycle continues, only this time the version of the word processor needs a new version of the operating system to function properly.

    Rinse, repeat.

    Hopefully an 'open document format' will cut down on this vicious cycle.

  14. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Facepalm

    You want interchangeable documents ... are you a bearded fatwa thrower??

    the open source zealots

    Am I really reading an article by Orlo?

  15. John Tserkezis

    Microsoft just happily give up their lock-in? Not without a fight they won't.

    Remember when they knobbled windows to make Word Perfect for windows work "weirdly"? Pretty much screwing many clients and leaving them without a working word processor of their choice? The only way to get them going was to either fork out for Word, or, pirate it? One way or another, Microsoft made sure they were the last man standing - whatever the cost.

    Remember that? Because I do.

    But it goes much deeper than that, I'm STILL seeing software today that spouts "this requires Internet Explorer vX". Are there still programmers around today that are that lazy, they can't find libraries outside of IE to do the job? Shame on you.

  16. msknight Silver badge
    FAIL

    Ha!

    It will only, "increase costs, cause dissatisfaction amongst citizens and businesses" of Microsoft customers if Microsoft don't support open standards properly in their products ... oh ... um ... er ... :-)

  17. Skizz

    "Productivity" Software

    Not very related, but every version of Word was touted as having improved productivity. My first proper word processor was Word2.0 (I think) for MSDOS (no GUI!) and I could bash out degree coursework in no time. So, by extrapolation, I should be able to write those same documents in a fraction of the time. This isn't to say any other software is more productive, just that the whole "improved productivity" seems to be marketing speak for "more frustration and time wasted".

    Oh, and to get back to the topic, I don't think there's a current version of Word that could read those old Word files.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Productivity" Software

      but every version of Word was touted as having improved productivity

      The next version of Word could indeed do this if they removed all the rubbish they added over the years. Take Word 97 (or at most Word 2003), recompile it for 64 bit and give it a new name: massive sales, and real productivity boost - simply by giving back what they took away.

      We could even get some work done then, but why wait? I switched to LibreOffice for exactly that reason, and it was worth it. No need to spend money other than contributing to the people who develop it - if you pay them 10% of what you would have spent buying yet another break on productivity you still save 90%, and make sure you can keep on saving.

  18. Big_Boomer

    Who cares?

    I got bored of the format wars years ago. Now I don't give a **** what format something arrives in. I just convert it into the format I want and go from there. If you want to use ODF then go buy some software that uses ODF. If you want to use MS Word then guess what? No ODF. If I was in charge at MS I'd tell you all to go take a hike. Why on earth would I want to support a minority document format that could cost me future earnings? Greedy monopolists MS may be, but stupid they are not. And yes, "it's not fair" but that is just the way of the world.

    1. Bladeforce

      Re: Who cares?

      I am so glad more people have a backbone on this planet

  19. Lapun Mankimasta

    Mind if I make a comment? Back in the "format wars" of the early 2000s, I realized something. These competing file formats could be considered authoritative definitions of word processing functionality, as seen by the Open Source/Data crowd and Microsoft.

    Now the ODF definition isn't pretty, but it's well-thought-out and workable. The OOXML one contains a lot of "edge cases" I believe the word is, where functionality is defined in terms of something that is not well known outside Microsoft's Office division, and even then, doesn't seem to be all that well understood either in those hallowed halls. OOXML/DOCX is basically DOC redone in XML, and DOC is a memory dump to disk.

    Anything more I need to say?

  20. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Happy

    Interesting read

    Just had another look at the gubbemint site and there have been quite a lot more people commenting.

    Just one sticks out like a sore thumb. It is overlong, very densely formatted and full of marketing speak.

    No prizes for guessing which format it supports.

  21. officerbill

    The argument about which format the government will accept is pointless since almost any decent word processor will at least open & read pretty much any format. We saved any internal document that would not need editing as a pdf and all of the documents available to the public (including on-line forms & email attachments) were only available as pdf, no problems.

    1. Chemist

      "since almost any decent word processor will at least open & read pretty much any format."

      And how about in 50 years time - all that will help then will be a well-documented format (so not an MS one). If you read the threads around this you'll get plenty of views on this **. Also documents are being edited on various tablets and not all of these will read every format.

      **(I know you might not have had time having only joined today)

  22. Col_Panek

    Think of the starving children in Seattle

    Australia, which is moving toward ODF, has high electricity rates, deathly heat, and is perilously close to Communist China. Coincidence? I think not! Abandon Microsoft proprietary formats, and you go down the road to perdition and Linux. Beware!!

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