back to article UK.gov's Open Source switch WON'T get rid of Microsoft, y'know

Freetards are elated: Call-me-Dave’s people in the Cabinet Office have done the right thing and backed the Open Document Format as the default government file format. From now on, all electronic documents produced and used by Whitehall and government agencies must use the Open Document Format (ODF). ODF is the open …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "No.10 wants to cut IT spending" so then why SaaS? The whole reason companies want to push customers toward that is that it makes them MORE money!

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Short-term vs. Long term

      Remember that UK Governments last no more than 5 years. This means that a wholesale switch to SaaS will show expense removed from the balance sheet before the next election.

      The ongoing costs will be the problem of the next administration. Like with PPP and PFI.

      You may also find that software counts as a Capital expenditure, so reducing that is also a win (when presented to the weak-minded electorate) for them in apparently reducing the costs of Government.

      It's all a bit smoke-and-mirrors.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: Short-term vs. Long term

        "Remember that UK Governments last no more than 5 years"

        That's news to us that lived through the 18-year Conservative government in 1979-1997.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: That's news

          and to those who suffered 13 years of Blair/Brown too

          1. cynic56

            Re: That's news

            "and to those who suffered 13 years of Blair/Brown too"

            .. only to discover it had been a dream compared to the nightmare of sleazebag Camoron and the loathsome, spineless, execrable Clegg

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: only to discover it had been a dream

              If you dream of Blair/Brown then I pity you sir. Really I do.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: That's news

              "and to those who suffered 13 years of Blair/Brown too"

              .. only to discover it had been a dream compared to the nightmare of sleazebag Camoron and the loathsome, spineless, execrable Clegg

              Ah, my dear boy, from an IT perspective I VERY MUCH prefer the Conservatives (I think we can safely continue to ignore the Lib Dems :) ). What you guys probably don't know is that the Open Source and open standards battle was one that the Conservatives actually started around 1995 - that's where the central government network came from, and the eGIF attempt to set standards across government.

              A couple of years in, the Blair cretins landed, and with them came Microsoft in various guises (you find a couple of hints in an earlier post). The worst of the Microsoft invasion were their "consultants" - basically very much underpaid contractors who got a Microsoft badge, a speedy clearance and were let loose on systems they had neither the competence or talent for to handle. But that didn't matter, as far as I can tell from the contracting fees I saw and the charge out rate, each produced upwards of £750/month of raw profit - THAT mattered. I had to dig these idiots out of self made holes time and time again, but in the end even I gave up, because it only made them still look good and nothing changed. Or did you really think that the massive amount of IT disasters in government over the last, say, 15 years or so was a coincidence? My kids could do a better job with just the XBOX knowledge they have..

              It has taken the people tasked by the Conservatives this long to wade through the mess this created, so it's no surprise that the decision went this way - there must be quite a lot of anger when competent people started to lift the floor boards and discovered what exactly was stinking underneath.

              Cameron may not be able to pretend leadership as well as false-smile Tony, but on the other hand he's also not in need of setting up his own private bank to stash all the loot gathered. Pray to $DEITY that Labour, New or Old, will not come in again - the country can ill afford that level of spending abuse and incompetence again.

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Short-term vs. Long term

          I was of course talking about a term of a government mandate, i.e. the time between elections, not the overall length of government.

          What I was eluding to is the fact that this could be being done to go on their election propaganda manifesto. If it wins them votes, then they benefit, and can work out whether it was a good idea or not, but they're still in power. If they lose, then it's not their problem anyway.

          Politics!

          1. Woza
            Headmaster

            Re: Short-term vs. Long term

            What you were alluding to was that long-term thinking eludes politicians.

        3. GitMeMyShootinIrons

          Re: Short-term vs. Long term

          "That's news to us that lived through the 18-year Conservative government in 1979-1997."

          That's called democracy, old chap. And it was a sight better than the alternative in those days.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Short-term vs. Long term

          or those of us who nearly died through similar lengths of Labour

          A pox on all their houses...

  2. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

    Of course it won't get rid of MS

    On the other hand what it will do is that it will allow people to work with UK.gov without paying the MS tax.

    It will also ensure that critical documents will still be accessible in 20 years.

    1. Spearchucker Jones

      Re: Of course it won't get rid of MS

      I like and support the decision to use ODF, but the cargo-cult statements I'm reading are a bit out there.

      >> ...it will allow people to work with UK.gov without paying the MS tax

      While a good thing, it's limited to those that want to -- a tiny (mostly IT-skilled) fraction of the population. ODF changes nothing. Outside UK.gov itself, people will send the government documents in the format of their choosing. UK.gov will read documents in whatever format they come in. People know what "Word" means. And "Excel". Ask the average man in the street what ODF means...

      Note that the anecdotal evidence of someone's grandmammy and -pappy using Linux on a laptop != the populace.

      >> It will also ensure that critical documents will still be accessible in 20 years.

      Documents will be accessible anyway, whether ODF or anything else. I can access documents from 20 years ago today, and I don't see that changing. Do you mean accessible through something non-Microsoft? If. You. Just. Need. The. Information. does it even matter who created the software? Readers (even from Microsoft) are free.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Of course it won't get rid of MS

        Everyone can open ODF documents, ...that was a reason for the change, not possible with Microsoft Office files. Microsoft Office won't open older Microsoft Office documents, a secret file format and they do this, not good. "granny you have to edit the registry to be able to open that letter you did..." ODF will fix this too. The advantages of ODF go on and on.

        Just about all vendors work with it, Microsoft are legally obliged to support the latest version of ODF within 6 months of release. They voluntarily agreed to do this for 10 years rather than get prosecuted a few years ago. When this period lapses, if they screw with it, they'll get in trouble. No doubt they'll be sods about.

      2. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

        Re: Of course it won't get rid of MS

        "Outside UK.gov itself, people will send the government documents in the format of their choosing. UK.gov will read documents in whatever format they come in."

        In my experience in dealing with govs in general, you either punch in the data in an ad-hoc piece of software (either online or downloadable application) or you sent the doc in the precise format they ask. They most certainly don't "read documents in whatever format they come in". You do have to send it in their specified format or it goes directly to the bin. It used to be MS formats most of the time; sometimes even the version is indicated. I have had to install software specifically for gov dealing-with purpose; on a dual-boot machine kept specifically for that usage, using MS licences bought specifically. If I could have had sent ODF files at the time I would have save a few hundred quids. No biggie, but still.

      3. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Of course it won't get rid of MS

        > I can access documents from 20 years ago today... Readers (even from Microsoft) are free.

        Yes, that is possible, but MS don't make it easy to read pre-Office 97 documents; the latest Powerpoint viewer can't open presentations prepared in Office 95 ...

        I've found it helpful to maintain a VM of Office 97 on Win98 as this version can read all MS document formats back to Word 2.0 (via the convertors pack) and save them in something that current versions of Office can read - although Office 2003 on XP is needed if you wish to save in ODF using either Sun or SourceForge convertors...

        However, I suspect the real issue government has, or rather we will have, is that we need to be able to read electronic documents after 30 plus years when they get released to the public...

        1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
          Big Brother

          Re: Of course it won't get rid of MS

          @Roland6, "I suspect the real issue government has, or rather we will have, is that we need to be able to read electronic documents after 30 plus years when they get released to the public..."

          I suspect that the government will regard the difficulties in reading the documents in 30 plus years to be something of an advantage...

          "We are being completely transparent and accountable, all the documents were released today..."

          "But we can't read them!"

          "As I said, all the documents have been released, not tampered with in any way, exactly as they existed when they were written. We have made no attempt to conceal anything."

      4. PeeKay

        Re: Of course it won't get rid of MS

        >> Documents will be accessible anyway, whether ODF or anything else.

        Sir - I challenge you to open a year 2000 Microsoft Works document - without resorting to installing the actual software, if you can find it - and without a third party conversion tool.

    2. JonW

      Re: Of course it won't get rid of MS

      +1 for you, sir. (Not convinced about the long term accessibility bit, though!)

      We've used OO here for ages and are very happy with it, but recently had to fork out for a fistfull of MSO licences just to read some bloody contract documentation and get the bullet numbers to order correctly.

      I've no evidence to support this, but I suspect the vast majority of users don't use Macros and other fiddly bits in their day to day ops (we certainly don't) and wouldn't notice the difference.

      Big Q for you, though - is this policy going to rattle down to schools and stop the problem at source?

      1. Bluenose

        Re: Of course it won't get rid of MS

        'I've no evidence to support this, but I suspect the vast majority of users don't use Macros and other fiddly bits in their day to day ops (we certainly don't) and wouldn't notice the difference.'

        Does this mean that OO and other ODF based products are now capable of tracking document changes and presenting it as markup? That was the biggest problem that we had in my old company and why a lot of people didn't use the ODF products, they could not support the monitoring of text changes in documents which in organisations which collaboratively work on them is a bit of bind. Of course the move nowadays is to collaborative document editing in the Cloud which while clever is not always an effective use of people's time.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Of course it won't get rid of MS

          Yes, LibreOffice can track changes and present it as markup. Don't use OpenOffice, but ODF allows it.

          This is is a win for choice, not for a specific product.

          MS Office will still be a good choice for some businesses and Government departments, but it is no longer the only option.

          DOC is an opaque format that nobody in the world really understands - the only documentation is the combined source code of several versions MS Word.

          MS-OOXML contains some of those unknowable chunks of DOC in it as binary blobs, thus cannot be fully implemented by anyone without access to MS Word source code, and several parts are covered by MS patents which they charge for.

          ODF is a complete and open published specification. All of the information needed to create a complete implementation is publicly available to anyone who is interested, and you do not have to pay anyone for any patent licences. You can even download a copy for free if you so desire.

          Secondly, even today it is very difficult, if not impossible to read DOC files from early versions of MS Word, because you need to gain access to a string of different versions of MS Word - even if that is still technically possible, it's almost certainly impossible to do legally.

          Yet in 30 or even 300 years time it will still be possible to read documents stored in ODF, even if none of the currently-extant programs are still available.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: OO and other ODF based products now handle markup

          You present this like WORD support for markup is wonderful. It cannot handle lists of figures/tables when track changes is enabled with any decent number of changes present. I've hit the buffers on various other aspects of WORD's markup in the last year, all with many posts plastered across the web from others seeing the same

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Of course it won't get rid of MS

          Does this mean that OO and other ODF based products are now capable of tracking document changes and presenting it as markup?

          Edit - Changes - Record (and all the other options in that menu)

          You cannot have been near an OpenOffice derivative - this has been in there for ages and even interoperates with Word's approach to it.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Of course it won't get rid of MS

      Exactly so. Really, for a tech rag, this article smacks more like a Fry-based BBC analysis of the issue. I can't believe that anyone reasonably informed thinks that this is about removing Microsoft from the equation, but it is about ensuring that the tail does not wag the dog. The writer may be better advised to analyse the practical differences between OOXML and ODF in the context of the outcomes Maude was seeking to achieve rather than some tabloid non-issue.

      This is to do with information interchange in document format, not about the choice of suppliers. The requirements for that go far beyond choosing Word or Writer. It may well lead to other questions about purchase strategies, but that's not the issue this announcement changes.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Of course it won't get rid of MS

        "this article smacks more like a Fry-based BBC analysis"

        I didn't think it was even that good.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Lars Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Of course it won't get rid of MS

      @ ElReg!comments!Pierre

      Yes I agree, but I would like to point out that this is about accepting ODF as the standard. And what Microsoft so furiously fought for was to prevent ODF to become a standard, one that Microsoft could controll and alter at it's own will. Microsoft has lost it's ability to lock-in customers to their own "standard" which of course is no standard as there is a lock-in. Providing ODF will not create any problems for Microsoft. Lots of small companies has done it "easily" as it is well documented, as it is a open standard.

      Still this article stinks, I think intentionally.

      It's of course nice to mention OSS but anybody writing for the ElReg should know that OSS is not possible, in this respect, without an open standard. It is also nice to see Linux mentioned, but Munich is just one case. It's also nice, for IBM, to have it's name mentioned.

      Seriously, Gavin Clarke, did you write this drivel yourself, or was it sent to you.

  3. Suricou Raven

    If I were Microsoft, I'd be making sure that when Office saves an ODF file it does so just badly enough that non-Office programs that follow the spec will produce interestingly mangled documents upon trying to read them. That way everyone else has to waste time trying to hack in support for MS's latest standards-lax bodgery, and it looks like their fault for being unable to open a file.

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      IE6

      'nuff said

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You are spot on that's what they always do

      with just about everything they touch

    3. oddie

      I think the word you are looking for here is 'extend'... as in 'extending the format until only MS software can read it' :)

      This is something which usually forms part of microsofts fall back strategy and which will be in everyones interest to fight against.

      For those that didn't pay much attention in the 80s, 90's and nagthies, the microsoft fallback strategy is:

      1. Embrace (java, html, and now ODF)

      2. Extend (extra bits added in which only microsoft software can save/read.. still compatible with other software (for a given value) mind you)

      3. Extinguish (leverage the extra extended bits to hinder/disadvantage/make life difficult for/destroy the competition)

      oh, what do you know.. there's a wikipedia article :)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embrace,_extend_and_extinguish

      1. 's water music Silver badge

        never maek the misteak of ignoring a nagthy

    4. Nigel 11

      Deliberate bad ODF support?

      And when it leaks that these bugs are not accidental, but deliberate noncompliance with what is an ISO standard (or deliberate exploitation of problems with that standard)?

      Microsoft has tried to play hardball with the EC anti-monopolies people before. It took billion-dollar fines before they accepted defeat. Do we think that they are willing to go there again? With the EC far more desperately short of money than it was back then?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not Open Source it's an open standard

    A big difference

    1. oddie

      Re: It's not Open Source it's an open standard

      Indeed.. there are of course open source software that can read the open standard, but they are 2 different things.

      Its actually quite sad that by its very existence an 'Open Standard' indicates that there is such a thing as a 'closed' standard... how can it be a standard is only a few know what it is/how it works?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's not Open Source it's an open standard

        There are many industry standards, like those promulgated by the ISO, whose detailed specifications are locked up behind paywalls that cost thousands of [dollars or pounds] to access. An important difference between these and ODF is that the details of the latter have been made freely available to the public. Part of the answer to why we tolerate "closed" or "non-free" standards is historical. Just making copies of an already developed standard used to cost thousands in printing expense. The advent of the Internet and free publishing formats (HTML) has alleviated that cost to a great extent. But then there's also the problem of how to compensate the experts who develop these standards. The old model often depended on the standards body making grants to institutions or individuals, or maintaining a large staff to do the work in-house. While some open standards are also created that way, it's clear that others operate using contributions of expertise from outside and do not maintain large numbers of staff (compare the ISO to Open-OASIS). The old model isn't necessarily "wrong", but it can be much more expensive for consumers of its product (note we have a similar problem when it comes to published academic research, where the cost of access is becoming a serious issue -- especially in life-and-death fields like medicine).

    2. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: It's not Open Source it's an open standard

      That is important since it levels the playing field, allows other s/ware to interoperate. I do not expect a sudden switch to Open Source s/ware, but people will start to care less since they do not need MS s/ware to properly handle their documents. One they care less the market will open out to other suppliers.

      Also: documents will now be readable in 100 years time.

      1. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: It's not Open Source it's an open standard

        "Also: documents will now be readable in 100 years time."

        Only if we keep on shifting them to whatever replaces today's disks and file systems.

        It doesn't matter how open the file format is if we don't have the kit to read the physical copies.

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: It's not Open Source it's an open standard

          Knowing more than a few Civil Servants, I can pretty well bet that all they'd do is print the things out and file them just as their forebears have been doing for centuries.

        2. Nuke
          Meh

          Re: It's not Open Source it's an open standard

          Wote :- "[documents will now be readable in 100 years time] Only if we keep on shifting them to whatever replaces today's disks and file systems."

          Funny you should say that, because I am just transfering some stuff I wrote years ago from WordPerfect format files on floppies to ODF on archive tape. A tedious job.

          But at least ODF is likely to last longer than the WP5 format, or the ability to read a present day docx document on future versions of Word. Microsoft have every incentive to keep changing the docx standard in order to force people to keep upgrading Word and Windows - or to buy into their rental software money-making scheme. Indeed, support for ODF should last much longer than MS itself; I'm not betting on MS existing in anything like its present form for more than a few more years.

        3. itzman

          Re: It's not Open Source it's an open standard

          WEll what I do personally and what I suspect is happening in any company that values its data, is that as the kit changes, the old archive data gets pushed onto the new technology.

          My email that goes back 15 years that started life on a 50Myte hard drive in windows 95, now lives on a 500GByte hard drive on a Linux server.. Well two of them in fact in case one breaks.

          1. Tim Bates

            Re: It's not Open Source it's an open standard

            "My email that goes back 15 years that started life on a 50Myte hard drive in windows 95"

            Somehow I doubt that size. Even my poor family had a 486 with a 120MB HDD years before Windows 95 came out.

            But I agree on the point - you just copy everything over. I don't know of many businesses or government departments that just abandon their data as technology changes.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: It's not Open Source it's an open standard @alain williams

        I have to agree it does begin to level the playing field and I'm glad the decision has been taken now (ie. in 2014) rather than delayed for a few years. Whilst it will probably make no real difference to current procurements centred on XP refresh, it does give incentive for people to enhance alternative offerings, such as Calligra etc.ready for the Win7 refresh in circa 2019.

  5. Frankee Llonnygog

    Data vs information

    Given that most of government runs on big systems, and that's where the data lives, most of the office documents are likely to be reports - in other words data that has been manipulated into information. So this will be a faff to do but won't provide any real benefits in terms of transparency. Since the cost/benefit looks at best neutral, this looks like another great Maudian victory.

    Poor Frankie - he's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: his is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    1. Nuke
      Happy

      @Frankee Llonnygog - Re: Data vs information

      Wrote :- "Poor Frankie - he's but a walking shadow ... [etc]

      Are you referring to Francis Maude, or yourself?

  6. lurker

    Revolutionaries

    Odd the way basically everyone other than MS is being characterised as a 'Revolutionary' here. I guess it's just the usual Reg vision of the 'wild eyed, beard-wielding sandal-wearing freetards' who are apparently waiting to smash down the edifice of capitalism and usher in a new anarcho-communist state.

    It's just common sense - publicly owned data should be stored in a public data format, otherwise you just handed the keys to the kingdom to a corporate body. The only shock here is that MS failed to grease the right palms so as to ensure that their agenda gets pushed through.

    1. Jess

      Re: Revolutionaries

      > It's just common sense

      Common sense in government policies IS revolutionary.

      The normal practice of government is to correctly identify an issue in the way they do things, then come up with a solution that makes things worse, because they haven't thought it through.

      It will hit Microsoft, not because the big office suite replacements will be alternatives, but because they won't be forced to happen.

      If a new computers appear with a newer version of MS Office, the documents will still be compatible, the change won't be forced. (Although technically Microsoft didn't force it, because converters for the old versions are available. Did you know that Word 97 and Powerpoint 97 work quite happily with the 2007 converter pack? Excel doesn't though, presumably due to the larger sheet support).

      With the way governments procure, this may not be such a big effect, but once industry in general starts following, it will be.

      1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

        Re: Revolutionaries

        Common sense in government policies IS revolutionary.

        Upvote :)

      2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Revolutionaries

        "Did you know that Word 97 and Powerpoint 97 work quite happily with the 2007 converter pack?"

        Er, have you tried to use them with a 2010+ era .docx document? It sucks and MS has only themselves to blame, so .odf is a major improvement here as it won't have the same petty hidden changes to bother with.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Macros

    People just doing word processing and tracking a few numbers in a spread sheet won't have a problem switching to something like open office.

    However I don't see the people who have invested time and money into integrated workbooks and documents with dozens of macros & templates dropping them any time soon - they'll have to work harder to make sure those features/elements still work in an ODF doc. Time is money, and if they have to spend time on fixing something they'll just continue to use what works for them rather than spend more on the change than the supposed benefit of switching.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Macros

      Not sure why you got the down vote, you are spot on.

      Why do you think XP is still around? Because it works, people know it and despite what people in IT think, people don't want to fuck around for 3 months trying to work out how to print in A3 on both sides instead of A4 single sided.

      1. Richard 26

        Re: Macros

        'Not sure why you got the down vote, you are spot on.'

        Not really. Sure, there are people out there who have created some sort of abomination with Excel macros that likely nobody else could understand or maintain. However, such applications are explicitly excluded.

      2. Lars Silver badge

        Re: Macros

        "Why do you think XP is still around?". And why do you think MS wants to get rid of it. Read about Singer who was very eager to get rid of their old machines. Hint, they worked for too long for good business. D'oh!.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Macros

      "However I don't see the people who have invested time and money into integrated workbooks and documents with dozens of macros & templates dropping them any time soon"

      I was one of those people about 15 years ago (when the plumbing was OLE). It took the best part of a decade before MS produced a version of Office that behaved the way it was supposed to, and then for 2007 they just broke it all again and it hasn't worked since. Unless MS have produced a new glue that is *massively* more stable and bug-free than their first effort, I sincerely hope there aren't many people investing/wasting their time on such ventures.

      KISS.

    3. ScottME

      Re: Macros

      That's just tickety-boo. But "people who have invested time and money into integrated workbooks and documents with dozens of macros & templates" have no right to expect that their complex documents will survive being exchanged outside of their organization.

  8. frank ly Silver badge

    "Given Microsoft’s huge stake in government, ... "

    I've started thinking about vampires. Will this be a stake in Microsoft? Is this a suitable analogy?

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: "Given Microsoft’s huge stake in government, ... "

      Not quite a stake yet, it's more like encouraging people to eat more garlic :). It will still take time.

  9. breakfast

    Corner ahead

    Sounds like linux on the desktop is just around the corner...

    Actually there may be several corners as the Linux office suite that packs with the latest Ubuntu is chaotically unreliable and gaspingly slow even on a new and powerful desktop. It's not a big part of my job, so it's fine for me, but I would hate to be having to work with it.

    1. Col_Panek

      Re: Corner ahead

      Maybe you should run it on a 4 year old E Machines like I'm doing now. Runs slicker than snot.

      Linux desktops? Wait, how are we in the USA going to snoop on you terrorists?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Corner ahead

        >Linux desktops? Wait, how are we in the USA going to snoop on you terrorists?

        Pretty easily really as it was the NSA who developed SELinux.

  10. briesmith

    Already Given Up

    I think MS have already abandoned WORD; the document preview facility has been broken for years and never fixed - Not even in Office 2013 - indicating no money for investment - or inclination to take the product forward.

    The gleeful hand rubbing that's going about it though defies belief. WORD was a major step forward in clerical productivity. It worked, every body knew how to use it and it was integrated.

    If we are forced back to a plethora of competing products all of which support ODF but all of which work completely differently it is us who will be the losers.

    Those that think they've dished Microsoft simply don't understand how the world works.

    Standardisation is the greatest time/cost saver there is. We just don't need a choice of word processing package. As long as we all use the same one that's all we need. Choice is an indulgence the world doesn't need and can't afford.

    Just think back to thread sizes.

    1. A K Stiles
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Already Given Up

      It is standardisation, but like the thread sizes, they're specifying the standard for the end product (the screws, nuts and bolts) rather than the tools used to produce the products (the taps and dies). Yes, everyone would be fine if they just use Mr Whitworth's tools, but then you'll pay Mr. Whitworth whatever he's asking for those tools. Alternatively, I can buy tools at half the cost from Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones, which have been made such that they still produce something that will interface perfectly with an item produced by one of Mr. Whitworth's more expensive offerings.

      (obligatory Paris for a comment about nuts and screws)

    2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

      Re: Already Given Up

      "WORD was a major step forward in clerical productivity"

      No, WORD wasn't the first de facto standard, it toppled WordPerfect from its perch, which had replaced the earlier WordStar. At least, in my circles. All proprietary standards and each, in its time, the file format you could assume everyone used.

      Unfortunately they all trapped our data. WORD was "integrated", but we depended on MS for the features. Anyone can grab hold of a 1/4-20 UNC bolt and use it to mount their camera anywhere they want.

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Already Given Up

        "Anyone can grab hold of a 1/4-20 UNC bolt and use it to mount their camera anywhere they want"

        Tsk, tsk, you should be using BSW for that...

  11. Otto is a bear.

    IT support

    A number of times we have offered open office to government departments, but it's usually be squashed by a combination of user resistance and the fact that SI service centres won't support it, and charge far more for supporting open office than the cost of MS Office and MS subscriptions. Until a major SI offers it as a working proposition, it's unlikely to gain much traction. Some of the SMEs may gain traction in this area, as they might be more willing to take the risk.

    Back in the 90s government department were big users of Word Perfect, but many ran poles with their users for their opinion, and MS Word won the day. I suspect that were the same to happen now the result would be the same.

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      Re: IT support

      "many ran poles"

      I bet that was pre-Sept. 2001. Running poles these days... not a good idea. Especially in the tube.

      Closer to the topic, I'm a bit curious about the polls you mention. I have no first-hand experience of UK.gov, but in all other gov dept I've seen or been part of end user were never asked for their opinion. Is your gov really _that_ more considerate (and foolish)?

    2. Hargrove

      Re: IT support

      @otto is a bear:

      What did I miss? I can appreciate that folks of Polish descent would object to the government running them with their users. . . Although frankly, most of the Poles I personally know would have no trouble outracing the government bureaucrats I know.

      But I am genuinely puzzled by the 8:1 against vote on what appears to be a reasonably written and fairly cogent observation/opinion.

  12. DrXym Silver badge

    ODF is not open source

    ODF is an open standard, not open source. Any word processor / spreadsheet / presentation can implement it which includes MS Office. In fact, if Microsoft pull their socks up and robustly implement it, I can't think of a reason *why* any government would want to switch.

    LibreOffice / OpenOffice + derivatives really aren't adequate replacements for MS Office. They're okay for the basics but stray beyond that and they start to show a lot of rough edges. This is particularly prominent in Impress & Calc which can be very fiddly and unforgiving to use. But all components are affected. LibreOffice needs to spend at least one, and probably two major iterations where the primary focus is on usability and performance.

    Until that time I don't think Microsoft has anything to worry about.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: ODF is not open source

      "ODF is an open standard, not open source. Any word processor / spreadsheet / presentation can implement it"

      double plus one there. With a few keypresses I can generate ODF from a document created with Acornsoft View on my BBC.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: ODF is not open source @J.G.

        I'm intrigued.

        You obviously don't mean that you save it from View on your BBC. As far as I'm aware, all support and updates for that stopped at least a decade before XML and ODF were defined.

        I'm supposing that you are using something that understands View format (as it is from a much earlier age, it's a much simpler format, and one that probably leaked in it's entirety into the public domain), and can write ODF.

        I don't appear to have any View files convenient at the moment, but the version of LibreOffice I have installed does not appear to have explicit View support, although it may be there.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ODF is not open source

      In fact, if Microsoft pull their socks up and robustly implement it, I can't think of a reason *why* any government would want to switch.

      n times government department license fee

      n times government license management costs

      n times user downtime for learning a new UI every time MS feels it needs more money

      And that's just the *money* side. If you add the human side: once learned skills stay relevant, and you can use the same stuff at home without any costs whatsoever.

      I'd say there are PLENTY of reasons - why do you think MS has been fighting this tooth and nail?

  13. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Just means Configure:DefaultSave=ODF instead of Configure:DefaultSave=DOC. No change to any software.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What I never understood was why our Government or perhaps the EU don't get together and write all the software they need and be done with the likes of MS and IBM. Yes, I know what your thinking, just another crackpot but look at the figures...

    The Linux Foundation estimated in 2008 it would cost about $10.8 billion dollars to write all the software in the Fedora 9 from scratch ($1.4 billion would be on the kernel). To a hand waving estimate that's what we spend per year on IT in just the UK. Now I realize that IT spend is on hardware as well as software and Fedora 9 doesn't include most of the custom written apps that Government use.

    The point is though that compared to what the big EU countries are spending on IT the cost of custom writing the whole thing from scratch every year isn't that high. In reality it would take a decade or more so the cost would only be of the order of £700m/year. If that were spread over 10 EU nations it becomes 70m/year/nation - you could practically lose that down the back of the IT sofa. The really great thing is actually that a lot of the software is already written all the EU partners would have to do is fill in a few blanks like writing an Office 365 equivalent. I actually think if they paid for the design, project management and a bit of development effort if they made it open source they would practically get it for free.

    The trouble is this would require thinking big and having a plan that lasts longer than a single Government so we'll be stuck paying out megabucks to MS and friends till the end of time. Sigh.

    1. Col_Panek

      Thank you

      ..for keeping those quid flowing to the USA. And supporting NSA anti-terrorism efforts.

      Please avoid any further mention of Munich. It scares the crap out of software sales people everywhere.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What I never understood was why our Government or perhaps the EU don't get together and write all the software they need and be done with the likes of MS and IBM. Yes, I know what your thinking, just another crackpot but look at the figures...

      Because decisions are taken by key people. Subvert those who are short of integrity (easier found amongst politicians, I imagine), and the game is over. You will note that in nations who simply cannot afford MS (but where they were still trying) the decision making was much easier, like Peru. But it takes people with integrity to honestly balance cost vs benefit instead of feathering their own nest with fancy trips to exotic places to "evaluate" a vendor. Logically, there really is a good argument for the way, for instance, the German government sponsored open source GPG so they had their own version for internal use, but it's an uphill battle. FSF and FSF Europe (hi guys!) have been banging this drum for ages but it's only now there is a crisis that the idea is even considered that open standards and Open Source may actually cut down on costs.

  15. Jeremy Allison

    Error in article.

    The article states:

    > The only big SaaS alternative is Google, with Docs. This does not support ODF and is not listed on

    > G-Cloud – instead you need to go through small suppliers.

    In Google docs there is "Download As" -> "OpenDocument Format" (.odt).

    I think that qualifies as ODF support.

  16. Nuke
    FAIL

    FTFA :- "In short, ODF is last decade’s battle and the victory has been overtaken by the future.

    What a load of bullshit. I don't think this guy understands the issue.

    This battle, just won, is about document formats. Not software. Not SaaS. Whether the future is in the cloud or not, and whether MS provide the word processing software or not, is irrelevant to this decision.

    If it floats your boat, you will be able to use MS Office to create/read ODF documents, and no doubt some people and offices will remain loyal to MS; goody for them. OTOH you could use Open Office, or LibreOffice, or Star Office, or AbiWord, or any other decent word processing software. They may come or go - it does not matter, the format is a fixed, royalty-free standard, and not under the thumb of one particular company. The ODF format is software vendor neutral. That's the point.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Six years after the project started the city’s mayor reckoned Munich had saved $56m, in addition to regaining control over its technology roadmap rather than relying on the whims of a single supplier."

    lol, that's utter rubbish - to refresh their whole Microsoft stack was only 14 million, and they hadn't even completed the project until after 10 years.

    Even when they had 'finished', over 25% of their users still had to use Windows when they wanted to get real work done. The only independent numbers (from HP) estimate that including the Migration and development costs, it has cost them €30 million more than upgrading to a current Microsoft stack for a whole world of pain - and they now have to maintain 2 environments! Which seems to be a widely accepted view as hardly anyone has gone down that route since.

    1. Gordon 11

      ...including the Migration and development costs, it has cost them €30 million more than upgrading to a current Microsoft stack...

      Microsoft is very good as getting migration costs etc. added in to its "price comparisons". So it's only cheaper because Microsoft have already screwed you over in the past.

      Where I worked I saw one (many years ago).about switching to Unix workstations. The cost include running a Windows PC for all such users anyway(!!), so it was not surprising that it cost more. If you had taken out the Windows PCs and licensing costs it would have been cheaper....

      ...for a whole world of pain.

      Are you suggesting that being with Microsoft is not painful?

      The problem is caused by MS ensuring that you lock yourself in to the proprietary (and often unnecessary) "features" of their products. If you avoid those then migrations would be relatively cheap and painless.

      ...hardly anyone has gone down that route since.

      As has been noted elsewhere, Toulouse has done so, and the fact has been reported by the European Commission

      https://joinup.ec.europa.eu/elibrary/case/toulouse-saves-1-million-euro-libreoffice

      Of course, that means the Euro-sceptic Conservatives will do the opposite.

    2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      > lol, that's utter rubbish

      Yet another round of TheVogon misinformation is posted.

      > over 25% of their users still had to use Windows

      They don't 'use Windows', they sometimes use legacy software which happens to only run on Windows. Most of those 25% only have to do that occasionally and run their Linux most of the time.

      > The only independent numbers (from HP)

      That report was _not_ independent, it was paid for by Microsoft. It has been discredited on several grounds, one is that they did not talk to Munich but just made up their own numbers, and mainly they included the costs of buying new computers at frequent intervals when Munich did not buy any.

      > it has cost them €30 million more

      No it hasn't. Munich know exactly what the figures were and there was a significant saving.

      > more than upgrading to a current Microsoft stack for a whole world of pain -

      There was no world of pain, and probably less than upgrading successively to XP (they were using NT and 2000), then to 7 and then to 8 as well as the upgrades and retraining to Office 2007, then to 2010 and so on.

      I am afraid that it is your post that is "utter rubbish", as all your posts are.

    3. Chemist

      @AC "lol, that's utter rubbish "

      You've peddled this cr*p for ages and been refuted countless times and still return with the same tired, discredited copy/paste arguments in a manner very like that of Eadon

      It's not just Munich & Toulouse it's the entire French gendarmerie as well and lots of other organisations must be looking at on and wondering about at least a pilot project.

  18. Gannon (J.) Dick
    Joke

    Ace in the hole

    As a red blooded American slacker I was initially alarmed at this blatant ploy to make life easier for bureaucrats.

    But then I thought, we have slacker methodology light years ahead of anything the Brit Civil Service can deploy.

    They will never catch up, [METHODS REDACTED IN THE INTEREST OF NATIONAL SECURITY but it sure is fun to watch them try. Pffft ... amatures]

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ace in the hole

      In the interest of national security I shall not note that your spell checker appears defective too :)

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "“Microsoft believes it is unproven and unclear how UK citizens will benefit from the government's decision,” sniffed Redmond." < It already is proven and quite clear. LibreOffice/OpenOffice is free, open-source, cross-platform, fast, feature-packed and far less bloated. Probably the only sound decision this administration has ever and will ever make in its four year term.

  20. channel extended

    Not only Munich.

    Reports are showing that Toulouse in France has also switched. Although not completely to open software they are well on the way. They have saved one million euro's over a three year period. Open Document Standards at the base mean's NO vendor controls them, even if MS tries to E,E,=E as usual those doc's will then be NONstandard. Then they can be sued for using the term ODF.

  21. roger stillick
    Go

    CNWMRC's IP is in PDF form...

    My Club's real, historical IP has been converted to E-Book / PDF form that will last forever, and be easily convertable to any storage medium currently available... initially time consuming, just needs to be done once using established rules everyone agrees on (that's what business meetings and secretaries are for).

    IMHO= going from .doc to .odf is moot once the non-changable .pdf is generated and stored / printed...FOREVER...RS.

  22. vmcreator

    Fantastic

    All these ex Novell, Borland clever people working in Open Source killing of the greed machine slowly and surely.

    Revenge is sweet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Borland

      Yeah - I rather liked Turbo languages, and Paradox - they were intelligent products that ran rings around their MS equivalents in those days, and their "as a book" approach to licensing was also miles head of the time..

      Funny fact: the person I dealt with at Borland UK moved to Canon a while later. Guess who I ended up talking to when we were using a Canon BJ130 in a way that they told us would *never* work? :)

  23. W. Anderson

    Tough public stance masks a noticeable loss of control and income

    Much as Munich, Germany and Tolouse, France and several other European cities and countries that have or ae moving to Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) - whether ODF document format, Linux Operating System (OS), other FOSS Software or any combination thereof, it has been proven unequivocally that there are not only substantial $$$$-savings over being tied to Microsoft technologies, but considerable added flexibility, scalability and freedom to adapt FOSS to heir specific needs.

    The UK Government now has a great deal more opportunity to move whole sections of government to Linux OS if desired, without severe headaches experienced in whole Applications/OS move at once.

    If most of the European Union - 27 countries representing 400 plus million citizens - are slowly moving away from Microsoft homogeny, which they certainly are (translated as verified factual), then Microsoft should be concerned, even their UK and US club club minions will act tough in tech media, as if all is rosy.

    While Microsoft may not lose any sleep over the matter, as intimated by one Microsoft loyalist, it did cause Steve Ballmer to make several trips to UK in an attempt to initially threaten against not sticking with MS Office, and then his making MS retention offerings that were obviously hollow and false.

    A telling example of loss of control and income for Microsoft is State in India that is replacing more than 90 percent of it's Windows XP government and education computer systems with Linux computers. Indian media estimate that figure at about half million computers and counting. Similar actions are taking place in Brazil and other South American and Central American countries.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    unethical business practices

    some big american companies have been known for this sometimes (possibly)

  25. Al 18

    It will make a big difference to M$

    For the reasons given in the piece, it won't make the difference it could have ten years ago.

    But it ends 25 years of the "standard" being controlled by a corporation whose main aim is herding their customers to the next upgrade.

    It enables uses to move to migrate via a mixed environment without major chaos.

    And last but not least document interchange across time and space becomes if not trivial at least much easier.

  26. This post has been deleted by its author

  27. El Andy

    Given that both Office 365 and Google Docs, the only large scale SaaS offerings, support both OOXML and ODF and the desktop equivalents Office 2013 and LibreOffice/OpenOffice do too, this "format war" is literally the most pointless discussion ever.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      No, it is not pointless.

      The point is with .docx you have to do it MS' way, and they can fiddle with that and withhold info (e.g. the binary blobs in .doc format that is included), while with .odf it is an open and transparent standard.

      That way anyone can do it properly and the goal is to compete on the quality/price ratio of your editor, and not on having the only one that works with some secret sauce.

      Long term, that is MS' way forward to a profitable future - to do better and not to rely on lock-in and unethical practice. Not holding my breath, of course...

  28. Volker Hett

    Macros, try them in MS Office on a Mac

    Or try opening my thesis from 1993 in Office 2013!

    My bet is on ODF.

  29. amacater

    ODF move by Government - ODF editors can be given away ...

    This is for citizens to communicate with Govt. and vice versa.

    Every doctors' surgery, jobcentre, school, publicly funded IT class, library - can have machines running this, Linux live CDs to use an ODF word processor and do your banking / deal with HMRC.

    Licence costs £0, ongoing support costs low, learning curve - as low/lower than older versions of Word.

    ODF 1.2 is suggested: so older Word versions need not apply.

    Munich gave out live CDs, not sure what Toulouse has done. Vienna hasn't yet switched - but people like the education dept in Bozen/Bolzano already did.

  30. Hans 1 Silver badge

    MS Word and ODF Support

    >If you still want to cling to the desktop, Microsoft has added full ODF support - after years of dragging its feet - in Office 2013.

    LOL, you have never opened an ODF with an embedded SVG, I do not call that "full support". Besides, I have tested it without SVG and can say, it sucks - the formatting is as broken as what you get with docx from Office/Mac.

    Compare that with what you get when you create an ODF 1.0 (You could do the same with ODF 2.0, but 1.0 is supported in more versions) document in OpenOffice on HP-UX, then successively modify it on Windows, Solaris, Linux, Windows, OpenIndiana, Mac OS X, Windows, then you open it again on all platforms and, surprise, you cannot tell the difference. You print it out from all platforms, pixel perfect copies. You will note that it does not matter which combinations of versions (2, 3, 4) of OpenOffice/LibreOffice/NeoOffice you use.

    Word cannot even do that with docx between Office 2010 and 2013, let alone 365 - I doubt it could even do that with different SP levels of a version, but to be fair (rofl) I have not tested it ...

  31. TiddlyPom

    Open Document Format and Open Source Software is Freedom NOT 'Freetard'

    *Sigh* at the risk of feeding the trolls (including the one that wrote the article).

    People who want common inter-operable document format (like ODF and PDF) and abhore lock-up formats (such as Microsoft's docx, xlsx, pptx - and this applies also to OOXML which is very difficult for other vendors to use) are not 'Freetards'. They want choice and are using common sense.

    Microsoft has had a near monopoly for nearly two decades on desktop/laptop systems (with the exception of Apple systems which are even more locked down). PCs sold in shops are not 'Microsoft' computers. They are made by independent hardware manufacturers and can run any operating system that the user wants to put on them. Why therefore if I go to a mainstream computer shop do I face a complete monopoly? I cannot buy a (non-Apple) computer running anything other than Windows (and in most cases using anything other than Microsoft Office). If (say) everybody was forced to buy nothing other than Microsoft mobile phones there would be an outcry or if everybody had to buy O2 SIMS ("but hey you can buy ANOTHER one if you want to!").

    This is about stopping a monopoly which has gone on for far too long.

    Users of open source software are not 'Freetards' - we are less retarded (or mindless) than those users who cannot be bothered to find out about other alternatives and continue to pump money (unnecessarily) into the employee retirement funds of large (usually American) multi-national corporations.

    Canonical (who produce Ubuntu) is a British company so if you support Ubuntu you are supporting British IT. They plough millions into producing a polished Linux distribution that anybody can use should they want to (as do Red Hat who produce Fedora, The Debian Project and the myriads of other distributions). Android (which is the most popular smart phone/tablet operating system) is a (somewhat specialised) Linux distribution and is open source software. Most of the world's supercomputers run Linux as do a significant majority of the servers on the Internet. Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Linked-In and Whats-App are all based on open source software. The Raspberry Pi (of which over 2.5 million have been sold - especially to school children) runs Linux (Raspbian based on Debian). Linux is everywhere - in set top boxes, burglar alarm systems, Tesla Sports Cars and industrial control systems. It runs the USA Whitehouse web site and still runs most of Skype (despite that now being owned by Microsoft).

    I work with and use open source software on a daily basis - as a desktop operating system at home and work (I use Ubuntu - and have donated money every time a new release has been made). I also contribute to open source software directly and donate software back to the community. I use LibreOffice at work and home and swap documents (with the minimum of fuss) with other users using Microsoft Office and Google Docs. (I have also donated money to LibreOffice).

    Who is the most retarded - somebody who voluntarily donates money to open source projects (such as Linux and LibreOffice) so that everybody can benefit and everybody can download and use the software - for free and completely legally - or somebody who insists that everybody should be locked into one software vendor and have to pay significants amounts of money for every licence on every computing device they own. I want choice - and if anybody wants to run Microsoft Office on Microsoft Windows or Apple OS/X that is fine - but fully interoperable document formats (like ODF and PDF) give that choice. Please strike the 'Freetard' moniker off the list and think before you use it.

  32. BearishTendencies

    Not sure how this makes any practical difference.

    UK government has had an 'open source first' policy since at least 2004. Not one iota of difference has it made. This will be identical.

    And just to be clear here.....

    This was published in 2010

    http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/government_it/open_source/policy.aspx

    It's taken this Government 4 years to make a policy out of something that the last Labour Government had already determined at least twice before.

    Congrats all round.

  33. tiger99

    Don't forget security!

    There is one VERY good reason why government departments, like my employer, can not, will not, and never will be able to use "cloud" services for their core business, and that is security. In most cases it would be strictly forbidden, for very good reasons, to host government documents, or those containing personal data, in some arbitrary cloud controlled by an entity not subject to either UK Data Protection Law or UK national security regulations. So the cloud, as an alternative to keep M$ in the game, is just not going to happen.

    No, this really is VERY good for free and open document formats which are controlled by legitimately obtained ISO standards, and are actively supported by multiple vendors, but very bad for M$.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beaten by the French again

    https://joinup.ec.europa.eu/elibrary/case/toulouse-saves-1-million-euro-libreoffice

  35. SleepyJohn
    WTF?

    Er, what was this article actually about?

    There has been some interesting discussion in the comments here, but I still have no clue what the point of the article was. I moved to New Zealand a few years ago and have finally changed all my electrical plugs to ones that fit the NZ sockets. This means I no longer have to buy plug adapters from a specialist UK supplier, and can just pop into any local store for a standard plug.

    Perhaps I should add a thousand or so words to that paragraph and sell The Reg a breathless article about freetards having to face the fact that UK plug manufacturers, although I am no longer personally beholden to them, have not been specifically banned from making and selling plugs that will fit into my standard sockets.

  36. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    OpenOffice compatibility and cloud services

    "The data in those documents needs to be liberated and ODF is seen as the way to do this – modern-day editions of Office also support ODF. Just don’t expect to install open-source OpenOffice on the desktop and open your old Microsoft Office docs. It won’t work – many documents won’t display properly"

    Must call BS on this one. I have not heard of anyone having a problem with *many* documents not displaying properly. Don't get me wrong, some found the few documents they had not display properly were absolutely mission-critical; but this is by no means some widespread issue. And, I would venture, neither are macros.

    Secondly.. if it were my gov't doing this, I would find it absolutely irresponsible for them to knowingly spend much more overall for a software subscription to save a bit up front. But, not surprsing, gov'ts love to "kick the can down the curb" when it comes to spending even if they know it's going to screw them later.

  37. TiddlyPom

    Can we drop the FOSS insults - calling open source fans 'Freetards'? There is nothing retarded about wanting to use software which gives back to the community. I donate to Linux distributions and to LibreOffice. I would rather do that than add to the Bill Gates/Steve Ballmer retirement fund. I have also written open source software and given back to the community. If UK schools and public authorities (such as councils, government offices, Police etc) were to switch over to open source software such as Linux, LibreOffice, GIMP rather than Windows, Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop, it would save the UK millions. Canonical (which fund and develop Ubuntu - one of the most popular Linux distributions) is a British company. The Raspberry Pi is a British invention and most of them run Linux.

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