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Open Source Software Microsoft United Kingdom

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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  • Hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by J-1000 (869558) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:23PM (#46105131)
    For actually doing office work, Microsoft stuff is hard to beat. Maybe it'll turn out great though, who knows.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:23PM (#46105135)

    Any savings, of course, would be offset by the unproductivity of "tens of millions" of government workers who can't seem to get their open-source office software to "just work the way it always has" over the next 5 years.

    I can't get Microsoft Office to "just work the way it has".

  • by maroberts (15852) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:23PM (#46105137) Homepage Journal
    ...and normally appears to be the Government trying to force Microsoft to discount its licensed to the UK Government or invest in the latest boondoggle.
  • Re:Hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by coolsnowmen (695297) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:24PM (#46105149)

    Doesn't that kind of depend on your work?

  • about time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mpb (41407) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:24PM (#46105151) Homepage

    Its taken them years to understand they actually have a choice and can save UK taxpayers a huge amount of money and have a better safer system. Let's hope they don't mess it up.

    Take the very successful example of Munich:
    http://www.techrepublic.com/article/how-munich-rejected-steve-ballmer-and-kicked-microsoft-out-of-the-city/

  • by c4320n (2551122) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:25PM (#46105163)
    The original article doesn't even make this mistake: it just says that Docs can handle ODF. Nice summarizing, Karashur.
  • by Karellen (104380) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:35PM (#46105245) Homepage

    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 that case, you want to first switch your mandated file format from MS's doc(x)/xls(x) to ODF's odt/ods. Then you can use MS Office, or switch to a new (possibly open-source, possibly even Free Software) office suite as you prefer.

  • Re:Hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:36PM (#46105257)

    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.

  • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:48PM (#46105349)

    Well, you're in luck because this is most like a negotiation ploy to bring down licensing costs.

  • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:59PM (#46105441) Homepage

    If there are features that open/libre office lack that would cause some parts of the UK government a problem then the obvious solution is for the government to pay someone to implement those features. If some requirements are really hard it might cost a few £million - but then the features are free forever. They have spent £200 million on MS Office in the last 3 years -- that sort of money would pay for a big heap of new features!

  • by tomtomtom (580791) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @08:08PM (#46105525)

    I've been using the Ribbon format for about 3 years now and I STILL hate it. The newer versions of Outlook are the worst - the combination of the ribbon and the way MS couldn't be bothered to reimplement the compact header format really eat up vertical screen space for those of us who prefer the bottom preview pane layout (yes I know I can hide the ribbon but then I lose all the buttons which do what I use all the time, which is mainly the quick search box). On a laptop with only 768 vertical pixels (when I'm not docked) that is a serious headache which leaves me using OWA instead of the full blown outlook usually.

    As you point out, the 2003->2007+ switch was therefore a huge opportunity for OpenOffice/LibreOffice/whichever fork is your favourite. The UI is great, easy to understand and the small differences from Office 2003 (like where the cursor ends up mid-editing a formula in Excel) are actually mostly positive incremental steps. You theoretically get the usability benefits of 2007+ (particularly for Excel, where memory/size constraints in 2003 were getting to be a problem for many).

    Unfortunately though, interoperability is extremely poor - LibreOffice simply can't handle a big Excel spreadsheet (which is in my experience at least 60% of what most businesses buy Office for), and I've sent docx files from LibreOffice where, when people open them in MS Word, all the line breaks are suddenly gone or other formatting oddities appear. As another example, trying to use LibreOffice's "track changes" equivalent functionality left me with a docx file that Word (and often LibreOffice itself) is unable to open.

    I would love to think that if the UK Government does move to LibreOffice they would fund someone to provide decent support who can fix a lot of these issues - that is supposed to be how the model works and fixing these issues would be of huge benefit to everyone. Unfortunately I can't really see that happening. I suspect instead it will end up being a typical government cock-up and massively overspend/under-deliver. I just hope that people don't end up viewing "Open Source" as the problem reason as it will be nothing to do with that and entirely to do with yet another display of civil service incompetence.

  • by hcs_$reboot (1536101) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @08:09PM (#46105539)
    This is why when an official entity, like the UK gov, goes for OpenOffice, ie something open, that will push companies to do the same. Little by little, world will tend towards something more standard and open, and the remaining hard MS officers, will have no other choice than migrate to the new standards if they want their docs readable. This is what happened with Internet Explorer, as more and more people went away IE 6-7, pushing MS to do something more compatible. The difference lies into the fact that MS Office is not free, and, more importantly, MS office is for many companies the only blocking reason they can't migrate to something else, Mac or Linux. I'm not saying they would migrate but at least - after MS Office is gone - most of them can.
  • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Immerman (2627577) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @08:12PM (#46105559)

    Really? I find it at least as stable and easy to use as MS Office. The only issues it ever seems to throw in my face are the occasional formatting hullabaloo on trying to open one of MS Office's engineered-incompatible files. And that's not really relevant to a government that can simply say "you want to do business with us, you use the industry-standard odf format".

  • by tomtomtom (580791) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @08:16PM (#46105627)
    You are assuming that MS Office's handling of ODF is the same as LibreOffice's. It isn't.
  • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @08:17PM (#46105629)

    It's too bad my mod points just ran out, or you'd have had one for being insightful.

    The important thing is the data. Open formats matter, and if there aren't suitable open formats available yet for the data you need to work with, creating additional open formats matters. The specific tools you use to access data that is stored in open formats are much less important.

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @08:51PM (#46105907)
    The switch to Linux is not about open office. The simple reality is that most people create very basic documents and don't need much more than a basic text editor with fonts and spell check. Most enterprise software is now web based and thus all the average government machine needs is a web browser. So paying for a Windows license an a word license for a zillion machines that don't need either is just throwing money into the toilet. Plus once you dip your machine into the OSS world people often find that all kinds of commercial software needs can be replaced. Email systems, scheduling systems, VPNs, etc.

    While there will be a handful of machines that need to remain windows I suspect that it would be significantly less than 1% and even then they will be in clusters such as an accounting office.

    But some of the greatest advantages of OSS is that you no longer have an onerous license audit problem. Basically you point to your dozen accountants hold up a dozen 5 year old MS licenses and tell the auditors to go to hell as you don't even plan on upgrading office for another 5-10 years.

    As one government official said directly to Bill Gates, OSS gave them freedom from Gates himself.

    What I can't wait to laugh at are all the MS white papers that claim that this will somehow cost the UK more money than they presently spend on MS software. Quite simply these white papers are driven by the hysterical realization that the MS business model of taxing governments and businesses worldwide is nearing an end. People now have realistic options.

    But the tears will be even more real as many governments and enterprises the world round will be dumping MS not out of a desire to save money but a desire to keep their computers from being spied upon by US entities.
  • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nutria (679911) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:00PM (#46105979)

    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.

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

    by icebike (68054) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:31PM (#46106259)

    But we are talking government document here. Papers and memos etc.
    The vast majority of Office document processing never encounters anything more complex than a table embeded in a text document, and most of it is less complex than that.

    OO/LO can easily handle that load. And Once written with either of these free package, conversion to the other works perfectly.

    Getting from Word to OO/LO is occasionally problematic for complex documents. But in my experience, about 95% of the DOCX/DOC files I get convert perfectly. And I have a much better rate going the other way (oo/ol to Word).

    Databases are a minuscule portion of the typical government work load, and even with Microsoft products, they are so unreliable and fragile that as soon as the developer walks out the door your Access + Word + Excel project becomes maintainable.

  • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:4, Insightful)

    by femtobyte (710429) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @11:14PM (#46106851)

    The fact that you spelled it "Laytex" (hint: there is no "y") shows that you likely have near zero experience with actually using Free alternatives. How about giving stuff a try, instead of speaking out of obvious ignorance? Also, if you last used "that shit" a decade ago, the code has improved.

  • Re:Hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by femtobyte (710429) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @11:22PM (#46106903)

    If you're doing fancy database work, then you should just learn a useful full-fledged programming language (like Python). Spreadsheets are simultaneously complex to use and error prone --- if you're doing much more than adding up a couple dozen numbers, you're using the wrong tool. Once you get over the initial learning curve, a few lines in Python can get what you need done far more flexibly and reliably than the baroque constructions necessary to apply spreadsheets for tasks they are poorly suited for.

  • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest (867930) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @11:29PM (#46106949)

    For cost savings and flexibility, getting rid of office for a more open alternative is the first step towards being able to use non-Microsoft platforms for desktops as well. Once you're not tied to them you can start looking at Linux, OSX, Android, etc. The lock-in is gone. If Microsoft is paying attention, this should scare the crap out of them.

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

    by davester666 (731373) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @02:23AM (#46107581) Journal

    This is just a way for the UK gov't to get some additional "concessions" from Microsoft...

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 30, 2014 @03:10AM (#46107707)

    This is just a way for the UK gov't to get some additional "concessions" from Microsoft...

    No it is not.

    Real people are sick of MS in general and MS Office in particular. They're sick of lockin. They're sick of manipulative licensing schemes. They're sick being overcharged for being outside the USA. They're sick of engineered incompatibility. They're sick of upgrade treadmills. They're sick of pointless UI changes and they're sick of all the FUD and deception it takes to keep it all the way it is.

    The world is now trying to route around the damage that is Microsoft and its shoddy products and practices. They'll make the change happen sooner rather than later.

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

    by pablo_max (626328) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @03:17AM (#46107727)

    While I agree with you that OO/LO can handle much of what word is used for, I completely disagree that these are a suitable replacement for excel.
    I have tried LO/OO on both mine and my wife's laptops as we both tend to do a lot of work while at home and do not wish to always bring our computers home.
    For someone who is a "power user" of excel, these two programs are simply not sufficient.
    The general performance issues aside, the functionality you get with excel 2013 just cannot be matched right now by OS software. I wish it could because it would have saved my 300 bucks.
    After a week of use, my wife said she would continue to just bring her work laptop home until I bought "real" office.

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

    by davester666 (731373) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @03:18AM (#46107733) Journal

    "Real People" are not the ones who decide if MS is used in gov't offices or not.

    There are less than 50 people involved in deciding this [as, presenting suggestions for how to move forward with the UK's IT infrastructure, and it will come down to 1 person who goes yes or no.

    The Real People who are sick of MS products are little people, and how they think or feel about it will have NO bearing on how "the decider" decides.

    Hell, it's more important that they can exchange files with US "law enforcement" than it is for the little people to be happy.

  • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KingMotley (944240) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @11:39AM (#46110507) Journal

    It's not baseless FUD, the open alternative to Excel are absolutely terrible. You can tell this is nothing more than a PR stunt to help contract negotiations when they list "this will help departments to do something as simple as share documents" as one of the reasons. Switching to a different platform than what the majority of offices use will hinder their ability to share documents, not help.

    If you want to make your case, at least stop posting as an Anonymous Coward. Hiding behind AC just shows that you don't believe what you are saying is true, and most people will see right through your BS, and you don't want your name associated with a bunch of lies.

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