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UK Government May Switch from MS Office to Open Source

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the busting-the-lock-in dept.

Open Source 273

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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Privacy Issues (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105097)

Surely privacy issues prevent the use of GoogleDocs? Libreoffice on the other hand could save them a lot of money.

Re:Privacy Issues (2)

Jean Taureau (2195790) | about a year ago | (#46105235)

No, firewalls and application layer filters would be needed to prevent the use of GoogleDocs, privacy issues won't even get a look-in at the level they're considering especialy as the user'll do what ever works easiest for them regardless. I've seen how UK Local Government works up close.

Re:Privacy Issues (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105585)

Every government office works this way. Whatever works for the individual is fine and the management is afraid to say anything to the contrary.

Re:Privacy Issues (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105241)

I don't want to discredit the hard work and dedication of the LibreOffice developers, but I don't think it's a suitable solution to save money. It's great for one who uses open-source software as a matter of philosophy or principle but it has too many usability issues and bugs to be a reliable solution for getting actual work done.

Re:Privacy Issues (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105349)

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

Re:Privacy Issues (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about a year ago | (#46105479)

Plausible.

If so, is Microsoft now calculating the loss of revenue in the UK versus having to discount more and more nations if they cave to the Brits?

Re:Privacy Issues (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#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 (5, Insightful)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#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".

Re:Privacy Issues (0)

SumDog (466607) | about a year ago | (#46106045)

I agree with the original poster. You do a lot of documents and Open/Libreoffiice are horrible alternatives. I'd rather write things in Markdown or Laytex than use that shit. Word is actually pretty good for what it is.

Re:Privacy Issues (2)

draxbear (735156) | about a year ago | (#46106101)

If they don't like it chuck 1% of the 200m pound previous spend to a summer of coding style competition...

Re:Privacy Issues (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105623)

Most of it works great. The only issues I've seen is interoperability with the M$ proprietary formats and the M$ garbage odt output. The conversion from Access to Base is what will really prevent widespread adoption.

Re:Privacy Issues (2)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a year ago | (#46105917)

Very much agree with this. Not because of productivity concerns but mostly because the price of office software is just such a small amount of money. They probably pay at maximum $500 per license. And they probably upgrade at maximum once every 2 years. So that's $250 per year, per employee. Switching to OpenOffice would probably cost them more in training then they would save in 20 years of licensing fees. Assuming 1 week off to learn the new software, just the lost time alone would probably be worth a couple thousand dollars, add in the price you pay to the training organization, and you are probably close to $5000. And even after the week long training it will take them months to get up to speed and be as productive as they originally were.

Re:Privacy Issues (4, Insightful)

Nutria (679911) | about a year ago | (#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 (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | about a year ago | (#46105379)

AFAIK Google Apps for Enterprises allows you to run Docs on your own server. Of course it costs money. That's the tradeoff of course.

So which is it? tens of millions of pounds" ? Or & (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105115)

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.

Re:So which is it? tens of millions of pounds" ? O (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#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".

Re:So which is it? tens of millions of pounds" ? O (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105255)

That old chestnut.

In my work, I've just upgraded from MS2003 to MS2010 with that ribbon format. It is a steep learning curve getting used to the ribbon and although I am slowly getting the hang of it and enjoying it, there are those options that only gets used once in a moon that forces me to go on the net to find out how to do it MS2010 style. In time It'll be second nature to me. The same thing will happen if my company switch to an open-source office suite.

Re:So which is it? tens of millions of pounds" ? O (5, Insightful)

tomtomtom (580791) | about a year ago | (#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.

What exactly is the definition of "free?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105125)

I sure hope the powers that be take a long hard look at the definition of "free." Is anything from Google actually free? I'm sure the taxpayers would like to know exactly which non-government entities are getting access to their private information.

Hmm (4, Insightful)

J-1000 (869558) | about a year ago | (#46105131)

For actually doing office work, Microsoft stuff is hard to beat. Maybe it'll turn out great though, who knows.

Re:Hmm (3, Insightful)

coolsnowmen (695297) | about a year ago | (#46105149)

Doesn't that kind of depend on your work?

Re:Hmm (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#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:Hmm (4, Insightful)

Alain Williams (2972) | about a year ago | (#46105441)

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!

Re:Hmm (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105707)

>but then the features are free forever

I wish to move to the world you live in. You know, the one where software never needs bug fixes or maintenance.

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46106093)

Your comment is nonsense.

Software doesn't get stale. There's no more maintenance with open source than with proprietary software. Install it on a new machine, or update to a newer version.

Once it's working there's no bug fixes. That could be included in "might cost a few million".

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105461)

Honestly, the last version of MS office I have touched was 2003. What "country mile" of improvements were made? Did they remove Clippy or something?

Re:Hmm (4, Interesting)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year ago | (#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 (5, Interesting)

rts008 (812749) | about a year ago | (#46105819)

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:Hmm (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year ago | (#46105903)

Back around 2000 or so, I sent quite a few emails to various departments of my city and county, telling them to STOP publishing public data online in Word docs. Even though *I* could read them just fine, I tried to tell them how unfair and discriminatory that was... a full version of Word cost $200! Many people did not have access to a computer with Word on it.

For a long time my comments seemed to fall on deaf ears. Finally, they started putting documents out in .pdf format... which was still proprietary, but at least pretty much anybody could read them without having to buy expensive software.

Re:Hmm (2)

FuegoFuerte (247200) | about a year ago | (#46106059)

If you've been using OOo for 12 years now, how do you really know how it lines up to Microsoft Office?

I had an experience where I switched to OOo somewhere around 2001, and for years I was quite happy with it. Then I got a job where I had Microsoft Office installed on my work computer, and started using many of the more advanced features (especially in Excel).

I went back to my home computer and tried to do the same things in the most recent version of OOo, and failed miserably. At which point I gave up and installed Microsoft Office.

For basic use, OOo is fine. For anyone needing advanced functionality and compatibility with 95% of the business world, Microsoft Office is an absolute must. The others are simply not there.

Re:Hmm (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#46105591)

> Using Open Office (or whatever they're calling it these days) is like using MS Office from at least a decade ago.

You mean from back when MS Office was a relatively straightforward office suite that focused on doing the 95% of things most people wanted without making them jump through hoops? I agree.

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105599)

Wrong. I'm using MS Office 97 on modern hardware (under Win XP) and it is blazing fast.

I use Open Office when someone sends me a .docx or .xlsx file and it generally works OK (except on larger spreadsheets). It's bog slow by comparison to Office 97.

Re:Hmm (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about a year ago | (#46105181)

Open Office is great for the basic 70-80% of what you want to do. But, past that I'd much prefer Office.

Re:Hmm (2)

ian_billyboy_morris (219947) | about a year ago | (#46105215)

I wax always really pro open source I used Linux since the days of Debian potato, libera/open office was the software that convinced me to give up on open source and buy a mac. It's just bloody awful if you have to do anything remotely technical, mail merges suck worse than anything I have ever known. Even with the latest libra office you still have to use a database rather than a spreadsheet, and don't get me started on the running that is base. It makes access 95 seem good

Re:Hmm (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105403)

I have to respectfully disagree. I have been using OpenOffice almost exclusively for about ten years now and it has worked beautifully for me. I've only run into one case in the past four or five years where I desired a feature from another suite. That is a pretty good record, in my opinion. Even then it was a case of dealing with a really oddly set up docx file I had received, had the other person been using older .doc files or an open standard I would have been fine with OO.

Re:Hmm (2)

MightyMartian (840721) | about a year ago | (#46105239)

Your words ring hollow as I try to figure out why just one of the people in my office is getting a password prompt when using Outlook 2010 to access our Exchange 2010 server. Is it Outlook? Is it Windows 7 cert store on the staff member's workstation? Is it Active Directory? Is it Exchange 2010? Is it God?

Microsoft, making simple things complicated since 1988. Christ, I know people who still insist Wordpad is all they need in a word processor.

Re:Hmm (4, Funny)

jafac (1449) | about a year ago | (#46105439)

Is it Outlook? Is it Windows 7 cert store on the staff member's workstation? Is it Active Directory? Is it Exchange 2010? Is it God?

Clearly it's the NSA's backdoor.

Re:Hmm (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105455)

and when they try to make things simple they usually get it wrong so that yes it is simple but also a goatse sized hole for hackers to abuse

Re:Hmm (3, Funny)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#46105617)

>Is it God?

Clearly not. What would God be doing mucking around on a Windows network? His competition on the other hand...

How true those words are... (1)

rts008 (812749) | about a year ago | (#46105865)

LOL!
That is the funniest comment I've seen here today on /..

A tip of the hat to you, Immerman....my thanks for a well needed laugh.

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105267)

For actually doing office work, Microsoft stuff is hard to beat. Maybe it'll turn out great though, who knows.

Most office workers write letters. Fucking letters man. You don't need Office to do that.
And for presentations, you've got a ton of choice.
Outlook may be or may not be necessary but the rest certainly isn't.

Re:Hmm (5, Interesting)

akozakie (633875) | about a year ago | (#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 (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | about a year ago | (#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 (4, Interesting)

rbrander (73222) | about a year ago | (#46105533)

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 (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | about a year ago | (#46105687)

I've never tried integrating Calc with a serious database, so unfortunately I can't give you the answer you're looking for. Sorry.

However, I can tell you that when you try to save a Calc spreadsheet in an Excel file format, you quickly run into problems with converting the formulae from one spreadsheet's model and built-in functions to the other. I wouldn't hold out much hope that more complicated tasks like the ones you described will be any easier to port, and I would expect a lot of manual tweaking to get everything working properly again even if Calc does have the features you need for any given application and you do somehow manage to get it converted.

Re:Hmm (5, Interesting)

chipschap (1444407) | about a year ago | (#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 (2)

Razordude (3505695) | about a year ago | (#46105911)

Generally the benefits come with improved ease of use and "helper" features, features that you don't think about but appreciate once they appear. For example, in PowerPoint I discovered that thin alignment lines appear when moving around shapes and images, which help when you want make two images perfectly parallel but spaced apart on the slice. Impress (last time I checked) doesn't have this feature, but it's something you miss if you make presentations a lot. You don't NEED it, but it's one of many, many tiny little enhancements that tend to add up towards make it easier and faster to create stuff the way you want, and that effort and time saved is worth money for a LOT of people, for good reason.

Most open source creation software suffers the "death by a thousand cuts" issue. There's no motivation to add these little helper features to curtail the time/effort required to do something because it's seen as pointless fluff. But a lot of people will pay good money to buy software in which said helper features make life easier. Most people's lives are stressful enough - software shouldn't be making it worse.

Re:Hmm (2)

techno-vampire (666512) | about a year ago | (#46105615)

After a year or two with ribbons Word users would feel sufficiently unfamiliar with Writer to make the retraining not worth the time.

If you have an office full of people who used MS Word before ribbons were introduced, they should already know how OO Writer works. Retraining shouldn't take more than telling them, "You know how Word used to work? Well, that's how Writer works; just go back to doing things the way you used to." Your trainers won't like it, because that takes money away from them, but really, that's all that the average user needs to know.

Re:Hmm (1)

westlake (615356) | about a year ago | (#46106175)

In 2007 I honestly thought that the only reason MS introduced ribbons was their failure to make Word any better.

MS Office is focused on the productivity of the 9 to 5 clerical worker. Full time staff, Office Temp, Senior Volunteer. You can have hundreds and maybe thousands of these guys and gals on your payroll for every one who needs a precision tool like LaTex.

Microsoft markets Office as a component of an integrated office system that scales to an enterprise of any size. Think Outlook. The FOSS alternatives continue to be framed as the stand-alone office suite of the nineties.

Re:Hmm (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | about a year ago | (#46105421)

Why did he get modded down? MS Office hasn't sold a ton of copies because folks LIKE giving piles of money to MSFT, its because its one of those tools that works damned good for most small to large businesses.

As someone who sells computers to SMBs I keep trying LibreOffice, each time hoping it gets there so I can save my customers money and each time....sigh. For home users? It is fricking GREAT, does everything your home users would ever think to do, just perfect, but for business? Maybe it'll change with the ODF but under Sun it was obvious that Writer got all the love while their versions of Access, Visio, and Excel were left sucking hind tit. While writer has reached office 2K, maybe 2K3? The rest just doesn't cut the mustard. i'm sure the Excel and Access guys can chime in and list the reasons why it doesn't cut it but at the end of the day if a tool ain't right for a job it ain't right and LO as a suite just isn't anywhere close to MSO.

Re:Hmm (2)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about a year ago | (#46105927)

Microsoft stuff is hard to beat, but the Free Software solutions these days are damn close. And a little more adoption will refine the polish even better.

I've complained before that Open Office Calc (Excel equivalent) cannot print zoom ("Fit to page", etc.) at least on Windows.

The *REAL* problem is that Microsoft has paid sales people to influence and whisper in ears. Open Source? Nope, no paid minders to spread the word and take decision makers to lunch.

Advanced countries *REALLY* should have government spending to open source freedom advocates because this is in the public good. But we aren't there yet.

This has happened before (5, Insightful)

maroberts (15852) | about a year ago | (#46105137)

...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:This has happened before (0)

rmdingler (1955220) | about a year ago | (#46105665)

Walmart wields the same sway vis a vis price control over several oodles of Chinese manufacturing companies.

Many of these vendors pay their employees a wage that would embarrass you..

But not Walmart since people say the same thing here about their employees' paychecks.

Re:This has happened before (2)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#46105677)

Agreed. And yet it seems like every year there's a few more government offices in the world that are actually making the switch. Insufficient kickbacks? Actual cost savings? Does it really matter? Ever so slowly MS is losing it's stranglehold on the desktop, and that will be better for everyone. Even MS will be freed from having to constantly "innovate" incompatibilities with everything else in the world and can focus on their core competency of buying innovative products and driving them into the ground.

about time (2, Insightful)

mpb (41407) | about a year ago | (#46105151)

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/

Re:about time (2)

BasilBrush (643681) | about a year ago | (#46105269)

10 years to switch isn't what I'd call very successful.

The word I'd use is "Finally!"

Re:about time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105331)

Licensing saving is small vs 10 years of migration project work, all to move to an inferior system on the end...

Re:about time (1)

mpb (41407) | about a year ago | (#46105357)

Here is some interesting reading for you Mr Basil Brush:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Linux_adopters

And avoid NSA spying (0)

Uloi (1996356) | about a year ago | (#46105157)

Or did they get to open source too?

Re:And avoid NSA spying (2)

Uloi (1996356) | about a year ago | (#46105193)

Yea just read. They aren't moving to Open Source, looks like they are moving to "anything but Microsoft" Big difference.

Re:And avoid NSA spying (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105673)

The way microsoft has breaking things that always worked just to push their shiny new product or cloud offering tied to an app store software (just to wring a few more bucks out) is probably the impetus behind this.

Re:And avoid NSA spying (2)

gb (8474) | about a year ago | (#46105301)

I think you'll find that the UK Government (or GCHQ at least) are responsible for more than their fair share of the spying. There's been pretty much a free flow of traffic between GCHQ and the NSA by all accounts.

I'll stick with the rattling MS's cage to see if some discounts shake loose theory. I very much doubt the cost of retraining and stripping out customised solutions built on top of MS Office will be less than the savings moving to Open Source.

What is more interesting is the Cabinet Office banning (excpet under 'expcetional' circumstances) all IT projects billing more than £100M - in order to stop them being locked into a few big integrators. You never know, perhaps they'll start delivering IT projects that are semi-functional and only a factor two over budget - that would be a real improvement.

Re:And avoid NSA spying (1)

tomtomtom (580791) | about a year ago | (#46105595)

What is more interesting is the Cabinet Office banning (excpet under 'expcetional' circumstances) all IT projects billing more than £100M - in order to stop them being locked into a few big integrators. You never know, perhaps they'll start delivering IT projects that are semi-functional and only a factor two over budget - that would be a real improvement.

I'll believe that when I see it. Every IT project of that size was already "exceptional" in terms of trying to deliver some promised huge benefits to someone (service users, taxpayers, etc). If they really meant it they would be banning "transformational" projects of any type in government (whether IT-related or not) and just get on with trying to cut small incremental levels of cost out of how they run the current system each year.

Re:And avoid NSA spying (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#46105705)

> I very much doubt the cost of retraining and stripping out customised solutions built on top of MS Office will be less than the savings moving to Open Source.
Over what timescale? This year, probably not. But they get free from MS lock-in permanently - amortize over 5, 10, or 50 years and things look much, much better for open source.

And if they're in the position of upgrading from pre-Ribbon Office then they're going to be looking at extensive retraining regardless. If fact LibreOffice is probably the easier option for an old-school MS-Office user to adapt to.

In no way is Google Docs 'open-source' (3, Insightful)

c4320n (2551122) | about a year ago | (#46105163)

The original article doesn't even make this mistake: it just says that Docs can handle ODF. Nice summarizing, Karashur.

Re:In no way is Google Docs 'open-source' (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | about a year ago | (#46105579)

Don't worry, it isn't much of an office suite either.

Redmond, we need to talk... (2)

rsborg (111459) | about a year ago | (#46105165)

Sounds like your plain old customer "renegotiation" where they ask the vendor to lower prices. Have no fear - I would bet solid money that Office stays preinstalled on any UK Govt builds.

Only question is how much money they can save by threatening to leave. The UK government of cronies (doing their best to improve on US-style cronyism) would not benefit from any vendor graft if the vendor doesn't ever get paid, would they?

No danger of anything happening here as long as UK government is still for sale (Vote of no confidence? That's not remotely possible anymore given the Tory/Lib alliance charter).

Wait for it... (0)

QilessQi (2044624) | about a year ago | (#46105217)

Microsoft to strike deal with UK government offering them thousands of free copies of MS Office in 3...2...1...

Re:Wait for it... (1)

t0qer (230538) | about a year ago | (#46105303)

No joke.

I ran for city council once, and one of the items on my platform was more OSS software in the city. I was contacted by a MS sales rep that told me he could offer us hosted exchange servers for $4@user per year. Office for $5 a seat, and free OS upgrades.

Re:Wait for it... (1)

NiteMair (309303) | about a year ago | (#46105399)

Or the other option...

Mysteriiously, same government representatives have a change of heart, buy all new licenses, and then happily leave their jobs a couple years later to work for Microsoft.

Re:Wait for it... (1)

QilessQi (2044624) | about a year ago | (#46105813)

...as lobbyists in the UK, where they will dine frequently and lavishly with their old friends still in Parliament, to ensure that such a close call never occurs again.

Yep. I think you nailed it. :-)

Wrong answer. Switch file formats first, then apps (5, Insightful)

Karellen (104380) | about a year ago | (#46105245)

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:Wrong answer. Switch file formats first, then a (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:Wrong answer. Switch file formats first, then a (1)

KingOfBLASH (620432) | about a year ago | (#46105929)

Not completely true.

The reason office has a stranglehold on the market is that they've implemented every feature you could possibly want in your word processor / spreadsheet.

That's why I currently run Office. Every time I try an alternative (OpenOffice, Pages, Numbers, etc.) there's something missing that the developers didn't consider "necessary."

That sort of thing makes it hard to use other programs for
a. school work (but professor, OO/Pages won't let me do a landscape section break and OO/Numbers doesn't have a Data Analysis pack!)
b. office work (sorry boss but I can't use existing visual basic macros with OO/Pages/Numbers!)
c. other professional work you need to share (sorry mr. recruiter but Word can't correctly render OO documents, you should blame them and give me the job even though my resume doesn't look good!)

Oh and I've tried to make things work. R or any number of statistical packages makes the Excel data analysis toolpack look like a joke. But providing the professor with a completely new format for your regression outputs is not good for your grade. He's familiar with the M$ way, and will only get annoyed you couldn't produce output in his predesired format. Even if Excel can't look at colinearity or autocorrelation or any other of a number of things you really might want to look at.

(All these are real examples from the past year when I switched to Mac. I ended up having to buy MS Office for Mac after quite a bit of headache.)

Re:Wrong answer. Switch file formats first, then a (4, Informative)

Karellen (104380) | about a year ago | (#46105661)

Actually, now I've read the article, that's what the Minister is saying. Move to open formats first.

That will make it possible to switch software later, if they choose to. But even if the government doesn't, it will allow the people they work with to use their own choice of software, and prevents lock-in. Using MS Office becomes a choice, and can be selected (or dropped) on its merits, rather than being suffered out of necessity.

It's the BBC article and the /. summary which try to make it look like this is purely about switching software.

Re:Wrong answer. Switch file formats first, then a (0)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#46105751)

Sadly, you really can't. MS Office doesn't support the widely used ODF 1.2 standard, only the older ODF 1.1 standard which was still plagued by serious underspecfication, particularly on spreadsheets. And of course MS went for a interpretation that was incompatible with everything else on the market at the time.

If you want to also purchase import/export filters there are some options out there, but they're potentially more expensive than MS Office itself once you factor in MS's steep "please don't leave me" discounts.

Not going go down well (2, Interesting)

powerspike (729889) | about a year ago | (#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:Not going go down well (1)

erroneus (253617) | about a year ago | (#46105383)

Actually, a government can standardize on an ISO format like ODF. That will cause a ripple effect which will result in lots of people exchanging documents in that format instead of MS Office formats.

Microsoft will not take this lightly, of course. They will have to give it away for free pr less to prevent the ripple effect.

But the UK's intent behind this may not be entirely based on cost -- there's that NSA partnership that might be of concern to many.

Re:Not going go down well (4, Insightful)

tomtomtom (580791) | about a year ago | (#46105627)

You are assuming that MS Office's handling of ODF is the same as LibreOffice's. It isn't.

Re:Not going go down well (2)

erroneus (253617) | about a year ago | (#46105693)

I'm not presuming anything. When Microsoft is required to make their ODF support compatible, they will.

Things are chaning. Technologies from US companies are under scrutiny and are less trusted. The economy is causing everyone from individuals to business to government to rethink their spending priorities.

The notion of Microsoft lock-in isn't quite as compelling under these circumstances. Cisco's feeling it. Microsoft is feeling it too.

Re:Not going go down well (1)

tomtomtom (580791) | about a year ago | (#46105975)

MS can't even make their own products backwards/forwards-compatible without subtle formatting or processing bugs creeping in - so even with the best will in the world I'm just not sure this is an easily solvable problem.

The other big problem is that LibreOffice Calc in particular is still a long way behind Excel in terms of functionality. Even ignoring VBA, the basic formula support just isn't there. I don't know if this is lack of work, copyright/patent issues or something else but it means I simply can't use Calc for work at the moment. Anyone who needs to interoperate with Excel needs to buy Excel, and that means forcing people to use something else is likely to cause more problems than it solves.

I expect what will actually happen is that we'll end up with a (long) period of "Works best in Internet Explorer"-style hell. People who need to work with government will resort to doing their work in MS products then copying the outputs into LibreOffice, or using PDFs, or other equally time-wasting strategies. Everyone will hate it. And everyone will blame LibreOffice (and by extension, OSS) for it.

Re:Not going go down well (4, Insightful)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | about a year ago | (#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:Not going go down well (2)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#46105767)

The government doesn't have to worry about 100% compatibility - they're in a position to simply mandate "all files must be in ODF format", and anyone who wants to do business with them can damn well download a copy of any of dozens of free programs that support it properly, or buy expensive I/O filters for MS office that are at least mostly compatible.

Re:Not going go down well (2)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about a year ago | (#46105827)

And when there is a queue of constituents complaining to their mp that they cant send a document from their pc into government plus the CBI and IOD complaining about having to use a nonstandard format to work with government - which will be spun as more red tape :-)

Re:Not going go down well (2)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#46105985)

Sure, it will be spun however vested interests like. But when you get down to it LibreOffice natively supports the only widely-supported document formats approved by an international standards body (several in fact, IIRC). And anyone who wishes to use it has their pick of software to support it.

MS Office on the other hand only supports MS Office files, as defined by the output of MS Office. They don't even support the format that they themselves bought passage through an international standards body for.

Re:Not going go down well (1)

guruevi (827432) | about a year ago | (#46106187)

Meh, the same happens between Office for Mac and Office for Windows though. Especially now with Office being online, the rendering online will be different again.

Google Docs is Open Source? (1)

monk (1958) | about a year ago | (#46105315)

> could be cut by switching to free 'open-source' software, such as OpenOffice, or Google Docs.

Where is the source for Google Docs?

What Replaces Outlook? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105339)

I'm an OSS bigot but the realities of my workplace intrude on my idealism. I have yet to find a good replacement for Outlook w/ Exchange, so I look forward to seeing what they end up choosing for it.

Tale of 2 migration to Open Office (2)

liwee (3407373) | about a year ago | (#46105391)

The city of Freiburg in Germany embarked on a migration to OpenOffice.org and failed terribly [infoworld.com] while another German city -- Munich -- announced that the success of its open source migration had netted savings around $13 million. Partial migration / mixed environments seem to be a very bad idea.

I call Bullcrap. (3, Informative)

deviated_prevert (1146403) | about a year ago | (#46105435)

Every time a government anywhere in the world decides to threaten a drop of Microsoft software you can bet that their seat license agreements are coming up for renewal. And the threats to migrate are only a ploy to cut a better deal. You can bet the Microsoft rep has already been authorized to sweeten the coffers of some politicians pet riding fund raising or do what ever is necessary to very quickly ensure that the by the time a real decision is taken that MS office and MS server products are the ones the government chooses. Same thing here in Canada, but with our government the decision to go all MS is a forgone conclusion there is no such thing as "looking for alternatives to save money", we just contract out every service possible and kill off labour unions like the CUPE instead and spec that contractors use nothing but MS office and server software compatible with existing government servers. We, unlike Great Britain have public money to burn now that Harper has gutted government services and pushed just about everything out to contract.

Re:I call Bullcrap. (1)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about a year ago | (#46105943)

^^^ Winner. And no I don't like the argument, these governments *should* be using Free Software. But in reality, probably a negotiating tactic.

Standards (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105469)

Should standardize on a document exchange format and not the software which creates the documents.

Much as I detest almost everything from MS... (1)

fatphil (181876) | about a year ago | (#46105531)

Star Office, sorry Open Office, sorry OoO, sorry LibreOffice, sorry whatever they're gonna call it by the time I realise there's another name, is shit. It has to have bug-for-bug compatibility with MS Office, for a start. Nothing that attempts to mimic, including retaining the functional flaws, can be considered superior to the original.

(Don't get me wrong, the last 10 versions of MS Office have been shit too. The last office package from MS I had any respect for was MS Word 2.0.)

Maybe people should start learning how to communicate again, rather than getting wizards to create bullshit for them. Every day our office receives documents in the latest .doc-like formats where the authors have used the tab key or the space bar to align text in columns, even across lines. These people, whose jobs are to propagate information, would probably produce a better result if they used vi.

Re:Much as I detest almost everything from MS... (1)

chipschap (1444407) | about a year ago | (#46106051)

Maybe people should start learning how to communicate again, rather than getting wizards to create bullshit for them.

.......

These people, whose jobs are to propagate information, would probably produce a better result if they used vi.

That was one of the main points in my posting earlier in this discussion. Slicker is not better unless it communicates more effectively, and often it does the exact opposite. Back in the day, some people used WordStar and were happy enough with it. Slick? Hardly. Could you communicate with it? Yup. (Not that I recommend it today, but that isn't my point.)

Another poster made the point that LibreOffice and predecessors don't break the paradigm, and instead try to more or less mimic MS Office (sans ribbon). That is an interesting observation and could generate a long discussion of its own. Even AbiWord, which prides itself on being small and lightweight, has an MS Office feel. That leads me to ask, where could office software go that is new and different, and most importantly, allows for easier and better communication, if the paradigm were to change?

There was an important paradigm shift between the older systems, such as the aforementioned WordStar, and the fully-GUI systems of today, although there are those who argue that this did not enhance communication. But clearly usability for the average user is higher.

What might the next paradigm shift be?

Alas, Open Office/Office Libre just don't work.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105603)

I run a dual-boot system: Win7 and Mint. I would love to lose MSO for OO/OL but when I did opened my 2012 taxes in OL I got different answers on the same spreadsheet* when opened with with MSO: OL said I owed $1K more taxes. The IRS accepted the MSO version, so I assume it was correct. My wife is an environmental engineer who writes huge baroque spreadsheets (her idiot clients won't accept the database approach she would love to use.) Although there are no macros or VBA in those spreadsheets, they won't even open in OL. This despite my really doing my best to get them to work as I want to get the Microsoft monkey off my back. Pity.

*using the wonderful tax spreadsheet at http://www.excel1040.com - no endless inane "interviews" just fill in the forms you know you need.

hopefully not (1)

Lawrence_Bird (67278) | about a year ago | (#46105671)

why? because it is better that the money be paid to a corporation who at least employees people, pays dividends to shareholders and in general boosts the economy.

what will happen if the govt "saves" the money by going to open office or some other free software? Well I can say with certainty that they will not return the money to the taxpayers. Instead it will fund more bureacracy and more government programs.

off topic: is there any way at all to prevent slashdot from sending me to the beta site? It refuses to retain my login credentials.

hahahah (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105683)

seriously though, these are like the cunts from beyond infinity, something else happened today that required they post this third rate arsewipe distraction press release. kill them with hammers made out of aids as soon as possible.

Not about open office (4, Insightful)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about a year ago | (#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:Not about open office (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46105981)

Why couldn't they just use Office WebApps? These are as free and open as Google Docs!

What's stopping them from sharing documents now? (1)

jader3rd (2222716) | about a year ago | (#46106011)

In the first instance, this will help departments to do something as simple as share documents with each other more easily.

If they are currently running MS Office, how would switching to OpenOffice help share documents with each other? The same 'difficulties' of moving a file from one computer to another still exist.

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