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UK Government May Switch from MS Office to Open Source 273

Posted by Soulskill
from the busting-the-lock-in dept.
New submitter Karashur sends this report from The Guardian: "Ministers are looking at saving tens of millions of pounds a year by abandoning expensive software produced by firms such as Microsoft. Some £200m has been spent by the public sector on the computer giant's Office suite alone since 2010. The Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude believes a significant proportion of that outlay could be cut by switching to free 'open-source' software, such as OpenOffice, or Google Docs. 'I want to see a greater range of software used, so civil servants have access to the information they need and can get their work done without having to buy a particular brand of software. In the first instance, this will help departments to do something as simple as share documents with each other more easily. But it will also make it easier for the public to use and share government information.'"
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UK Government May Switch from MS Office to Open Source

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  • by powerspike (729889) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @06:38PM (#46105263)
    The owner of the company I work for hates Microsoft with a passion, around 1/2 our office computers are now Mac's.
    we have tried openoffice, officelibra etc. However the problem is they aren't 100% compatible, there is always formatting issues, colour issues, and in some instances data just went missing.
    in the End, the owner gave in, and purchased office for MAC for all the machines, and also all the pc's. Unless something has massively changed in the last several months i can see this been a great waste of time and money.
    With the amount of time it takes to get things done in government as it is, this is only going to slow them down even more.
  • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by akozakie (633875) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @06:51PM (#46105365)

    Depends on what you're doing. Powerpoint beats Impress hands down, sure, even though you can make nice presentations with both. Excel... well, for 90% of spreadsheets Calc is just as good (and don't get me started on the productivity killer called "ribbons"), but for some functions it's no match - Excel is truly the powerhorse of MS Office with no real competition. But Word? It's a PoS buggy half-baked text editor. MS was unable to fix that for the past 10 years. Writer is simply better. It does have its weaknesses, but the strengths are quite convincing. I find it more stable and the decent handling of styles makes me cringe every time I have to use Word.

    In 2007 I honestly thought that the only reason MS introduced ribbons was their failure to make Word any better (along with OpenXML, introduced for the same reason). They wanted to retrain their users with something OpenOffice was unllikely to follow (because it's stupid) before Writer got so much better than Word that even average users would want to switch. After a year or two with ribbons Word users would feel sufficiently unfamiliar with Writer to make the retraining not worth the time. Add to that OpenXML quirks and Writer would be stuck in a niche. Seems to have worked. Even though my job requires Linux and I feel much more at home in that environment, I have to keep a Win7 VM with Office 2010 installed just to work with some multi-author DOCXes where small formatting details matter. I can't force others to use ODT and DOC simply does not handle some formatting that ODT and DOCX both do.

    So... Presentation: MS. Document: Open. Spreadsheet: depends on your needs. The rest is niche.

  • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:01PM (#46105463)

    Excel... well, for 90% of spreadsheets Calc is just as good

    Unfortunately, if you need interoperability with Excel and your spreadsheets use non-trivial formulae, using Calc remains a non-starter.

    I've seen all the usual Slashdot comments about how modern OpenOffice/LibreOffice versions have near-flawless interoperability with MS Office, and how even Microsoft changes its file formats and breaks compatibility occasionally. IME, the reality is quite different, and you can easily spend more in wasted time just converting one spreadsheet from Calc to Excel than it would have cost to buy Excel in the first place.

  • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:03PM (#46105487)

    "Not really. MS Office has no competition as a jack-of-all-trades. Sure, if you're doing a lot of report writing you may want Latex or a lot of data analysis you may want specialist software and so on. But for general purpose usage MS Office is the best available software by a country mile. Using Open Office (or whatever they're calling it these days) is like using MS Office from at least a decade ago."

    This is simply not true. For one thing, Open Office uses proven icons and menus, as opposed to the almost-universally-despised Ribbon Bar. Secondly, something like 90% of feature requests for Microsoft Office over the last 10 years have been for features it already has.

    The point of that last bit is: the vast majority of users don't use anywhere near all the features that the Microsoft programs do, and for people who just need the 80% of most common features, other software works just fine.

    I have been using Open Office for 12 years or so now, and I have absolutely zero reason to go back. Negative reason, actually: I like Open Office (or Libre Office) far better than Microsoft Office.

    Further, it's cross-platform to an extent that Microsoft can only dream about.

  • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rbrander (73222) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:09PM (#46105533) Homepage

    Sounds like you and the post you're replying to might have the answer to a question I've wanted to ask a real spreadsheet power user for some time. I'm a MS detractor in general but have fallen deeply for Excel in the last decade as I learned VBA, creating whole small applications with same, pivot tables, database access via ODBC and OLE - sometimes Excel is my whole work environment, hitting on huge databases, downloading chunks into pivot tables, using spreadsheet calcs to create masses of UPDATE statements that then change the same database.

    Does ANY of that work in OOo ? I know it has some kind of database connection, but it seemed pretty lame by comparison; I know it has a macro language of its own, but unlike VBA there aren't six thick books on it and mega-lines of code to steal from the Net - so I'd anticipate a huge drop in capability if I switched.

  • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chipschap (1444407) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:11PM (#46105555)

    I respect everyone's choices and if you say you need MS Office then go ahead and use it. You use what you find best, I'll use what I find best.

    However here's my question. First let's compare current MS Office and a version from, say, 10 years ago. What is getting done better that matters with the newest version? Has productivity increased? Are presentations and documents slicker? Does that mean they communicate their information better? Are spreadsheet models a lot better (maybe they are, I don't know)? Or are they just more complex and maybe buggier?

    Now do the same comparison between the latest MS Office and the latest LibreOffice.

    There was this guy I used to work with who was considered the organization's PowerPoint guru. He did all sorts of amazing tricks, effects, and whatnot. I will be the first to say there is no way those tricks, effects, and whatnot could have been done with Impress. His presentations wowed his viewers just about 100% of the time.

    So, was he getting his message across better?

    What actually happened is that the viewers were so busy watching all the pyrotechnics that his message often got lost.

    So think about the true value of all the "extras" in MS Office. Certainly there are edge cases where they present value, but is that true for 90% of users 90% percent of the time?

  • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rts008 (812749) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:39PM (#46105819) Journal

    I have been using Open Office for 12 years or so now, and I have absolutely zero reason to go back.

    Same here, but for 16 years.

    Another added bonus you did not mention:
    There is usually better backwards compatibility opening older MS.doc files with Open Office and Libre Office, than there is with newer versions of MS Office.

    I can't count the number of times(and people) that have come to me with .doc files they recieved that they could not open with their version of MS Office, I successfully opened with Open Office. I would then save as '.doc' in OO, they could then open that file with their version of MS Office. They sometimes (on VERY rare occasions) would have to fix some small format issues, but they could easily fix those when they could not even open them before.

    IMHO, this kind of stuff is unacceptable for a gov't., and I would love to see a global mandate that required all official doc's to be in an open format. I won't hold my breath waiting, but I can hope and wish! :-)

  • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @08:18PM (#46106149)

    Plausible.

    Not really. PP is a FUD-spreader.

    Besides, have you used MS Office recently? It's horrible, and most workers who have to use it are confused and annoyed at the way it (semi)works. Libre Office is like a breath of fresh air in comparison.

    Even in the MS-dominated company I'm consulting to, a significant proportion of workers now keep a copy of Portable Libre Office on a memory stick or external drive to get real work done. The change away from MS is gathering momentum, Munich is a good example for organisations looking at switching to open formats and software. .

  • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:5, Interesting)

    by icebike (68054) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @08:35PM (#46106291)

    Switching to OpenOffice would probably cost them more in training then they would save in 20 years of licensing fees.

    As opposed to the relearning time wasted when I was forced to upgrade from MSO 2007 to 2010?

    Thus, I say that "oh, the retraining costs" is a red herring.

    Agreed. The retraining nonsense is pure MS hype.
    Switching to either is pretty simple, something that most people do with very little retraining. (Often none). You open the document from Word, or Excel and it just works the VAST majority of the time. The typical government office has little that is that complex. True you can find some horribly complex stuff occasionally, but most is simple letters and reports.

  • by Jameson Burt (33679) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @08:36PM (#46106301)

    If you want a feature in Open Office, fund it. Better yet, considering the cost of Microsoft Office, put the funding of Open Office in the annual budget. Rather than giving $100 million a year to Microsoft, give $10 million a year to Open Office. With a programming / total-expenditures ratio of 1, open source funding is efficient.

  • by sunderland56 (621843) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @12:24AM (#46107373)

    How many copies does the government buy per year? And how many do they really need?

    £200 million over 4 years, at the single-unit MSRP of £199, is about 250,000 new copies per year. If we factor in a reasonable discount, say 50%, that is 500,000 copies. According to the government [ons.gov.uk], total headcount is about 450,000. Does every single government employee need a brand new copy of Office every single year??

  • by NonFerrousBueller (1175131) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @04:25AM (#46108149)
    My wife is a corporate accountant for a large city in New Zealand. I've asked her about this as she uses Excel every day and has used OO/LO at home on occasion (a while back). She says they use so many third-party reporting plugins that work with Excel that a switch to a FS option would be nearly impossible. Word may be crap but Excel will rule the bean-counter world for the time being.

    The main bit of software councils need to wean themselves off of is SAP. My jaw nearly hit the floor when I found out the seat license cost for that (I've forgotten the exact amount and am not waking her to find out), and any individual of a company that runs it who enters their own timesheets must hold a seat license, even if that's the only thing they use a computer for in the firm. We're talking thousands of dollars per seat here, not dozens.

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