There has been a lot of talk recently about the UK Government making a recommendation to switch the format of all government documents to an open format, in-particular ODF 1.1 / 1.2 (Open Document Format) for editable documents and PDF/A and PDF 1.7 for non editable documents.

Microsoft Office vs Open Office
Microsoft Office vs Open Office

The main reason for this is that the UK Government wants there to be different options for people editing documents, and they have a preference for browser based editing tools, like Google Docs, Office 365. They also still want to support desktop productivity packages like Microsoft Office, Open Office, Libre Office etc. Currently Microsoft has the monopoly with Office. Pretty much everyone uses it. The downside is that Office is very expensive to license, and in an age of austerity with governments having to make cost reductions, it seems waste-full to spend so much on software licenses, especially when it is public money

If you were to have asked me 7 years ago, when I last tried Open Office, if it was any good, I would have said No. I tried it and really didn’t get on with it. But over the last few months I have tried it again, and you know what? I think it is excellent. I now use it exclusively. I am even writing this article in Open Office.

The government isn’t mandating that everyone has to drop Microsoft Office, they are leaving the decision to individual departments and budget holders, but to be honest, if I was in charge of an IT spend budget and I could reduce my costs significantly by saving on license fee’s I would feel obliged to do so, especially as it is public money.

Office is still a viable choice though. Switching to the Open Document Format doesn’t stop you using office as it does support the format. How well it supports it, I don’t know. Microsoft’s adoption of formats and standards in the past has been a little unreliable.

As for online editing of documents, you have a number of choices including Office 365, but Google Docs offers an excellent platform, and it is free. Although these options are free in terms of licensing costs, in the real world they wouldn’t be totally free as the government will probably pay for a company to provide support, but the costs should be significantly reduced.

As you can imagine, Microsoft is not very happy about this. Microsoft has asked its partners to comment on the government recommendations and trumpet their support for it’s own OpenXML format saying that government offices should be allowed to chose that if they want. I can understand why Microsoft is getting worried about this. If the UK Government stops using Microsoft Office then that will be a massive dent in their profits, it also sets a precedence for other government bodies around the world to follow when there is a valid and proven test case. I think that also offering OpenXML as an alternative will just lead to confusion. Most people really won’t care about file formats, or probably even understand what they are, but you can’ t blame Microsoft for trying.

For me though, I am now a staunch advocate of Open Office. It is very easy to use, very feature rich and comes with all the applications to compete with Microsoft’s Office including a word processor, spreadsheet, slide show creator, formula editor and a diagramming package.

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