UK makes ODF its official documents format standard

UK makes ODF its official documents format standard

Summary: Turning its back on Microsoft Office's native formats, the UK government has adopted the Open Document Format for all its sharable documents.

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(Image: ODF Alliance)

In 2006 and 2007, there was an enormous documents standards war between Microsoft, with its OpenXML documents format, and the open-source community with its Open Document Format (ODF).

In the end, Microsoft, while eventually supporting ODF, won. ODF, while still supported by such popular open-source office suites as LibreOffice and OpenOffice, became something of an after-thought.

Until, the UK government announced on Tuesday, that it will now require all official office suites to support ODF.

The document format world has just been turned upside down.

The UK Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude, said in prepared remarks the, "Government will begin using open formats that will ensure that citizens and people working in government can use the applications that best meet their needs when they are viewing or working on documents together."

 Specifically the selected standards are:

  • PDF/A or HTML for viewing government documents
  • ODF for sharing or collaborating on government documents

The UK made this decision, Maude said, because: "Our long-term plan for a stronger economy is all about helping UK businesses grow. We have listened to those who told us that open standards will reduce their costs and make it easier to work with government. This is a major step forward for our digital-by-default agenda which is helping save citizens, businesses and taxpayers £1.2 billion ($2.05bn) over this Parliament."

Andrew Updegrove, a world-recognized standards expert and founding partner of the law firm Gesmer Updegrove, said on his standards blog, ConsortiumInfo, about the decision: 

"The U.K. Cabinet Office accomplished today what the Commonwealth of Massachusetts set out (unsuccessfully) to achieve ten years ago: it formally required compliance with the ODF by software to be purchased in the future across all government bodies. Compliance with any of the existing versions of OOXML, the competing document format championed by Microsoft, is neither required nor relevant."

In an e-mail interview, Updegrove told ZDNet that it's been a "very long and difficult road" for anyone watching the saga.

"But in the end, the sound reasons for insisting on truly open, independent standards created with the user and not the vendor in mind has begun to prevail," he said.

Italo Vignoli, one of the founders of The Document Foundation, the organization behind LibreOffice, said in an interview at OSCon in Portland, Oregon, that while it's, "too early to understand the full ramifications on the office suite eco-system, but it's like coming out of a dream to find what you've been hoping for years has finally come true."

Vignoli continued: "As soon as I get back to Italy, I will tell the Italian government that this is a milestone in the freedom of documents and protecting people from organizations trying to lock them into any kind of format. The UK decision will give users the freedom to use either Microsoft Office or open-source programs such as LibreOffice."

One thing is clear from this decision. All office-suite programs, which do not support ODF, such as Google Docs, must add support for the standard. Without it, they will find themselves unable to compete for UK government business now. And, in the future, they may find themselves unable to compete for other office contracts that will require ODF.

Related stories:

Topics: Enterprise Software, Government UK, Open Source, Software

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57 comments
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  • So, MS Office supports ODF

    and the UK Government makes ODF the standard.

    So, now that MS supports ODF 1.2, the UK Government can make it the standard.

    One could interpret this as a bit of a slap at the Open Source folks in a way, ODF couldn't be made the standard until the great evil empire supported it. Once the evil empire supported ODF, it could become the standard.

    All in all it's a bit of a yawner since MS Office and Open / Libre Office supported MS formats and ODF. Either works.
    theoldman59
    • Nice twist!

      But of course the real loser is Office, as any 5-yr-old could see.

      This move frees government departments - and business users - from requiring proprietary software.

      It'll make little difference in the short term, but long term, it's one more nail into 1990s software.
      Heenan73
      • 1990s software.

        I'm an open suse guy and I use abiword/libre office on my home machine and wps on my tablet. I do have the kingsoft office(formerly/going to be called again wps) installed as well, but mostly use it for spreadsheets. I've never bothered getting MS office to work in wine.

        I think you are right that it won't make any difference to those of us that use open source solutions at the moment, as we have a long experience of good MS compatibility now. But it's psychological - people by and large have for some time adsumed that MS office is just what an office suite is. This puts that little nugget in there that there are options.

        I disagree that it gets rid of 1990s software - all software we use now from android to chrome OS to open office to mac has code or design principles carried over from then. In fact all the office packages i just listed us a user interface that is almost identical to those of the 1990s including MS office at the time. It is MS that changed how their office looked to the user.

        This isn't bad. Change is good, but only where it advances. 90% of people use office identically to how they did 7/8 years ago, but have had to upgrade three times since then, taking time to find what they want. I'm all for innovation, but truth be told, desktop office software doesn't seem to be a problem that needs to be solved, just users realising they have more choice.
        MarknWill
      • The real loser in all of this

        is Heenan73.

        Adhearing to ODF does nothing to stop Microsoft from continuing to sell MS Office, which is what he was hoping for. :)
        William.Farrel
        • The UK Government is the KISS of DEATH to anything IT

          "UK [Government] makes ODF its official documents format standard"

          The UK Government is the KISS of DEATH to anything IT related.

          One would be well advised to avoid ODF simply because .gov.uk thinks that it's good.
          Henry 3 Dogg
          • That probably needs explaining.

            I'll grant you that if the article was 'uk government to redevelop libre office' then libre office would be pretty screwed - 14 million pounds later there would still be a committee deciding what shade of grey the menu bar should be.

            But I don't understand how them happening to save a document in odf has any impact?
            MarknWill
      • Nice twist, Heenan73!

        Not once did you mention the fact that your beloved Google is now locked out of accounts (not that they were there ro begin with).

        And it does nothing to stop the sale of MSO as they have supported the 1990 based ODF format for some time.
        William.Farrel
        • But. . . .

          It also substantially reduces the need to use MSO, which it good because it's grossly overpriced and awful to use.
          Henry 3 Dogg
    • Funny that big, bad Microsoft supported ODF well before Google

      Article:
      "... office-suite programs, which do not support ODF, such as Google Docs ...".

      Rah, rah, rah Google anyone?
      Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Agree. It may be the "offical standard" but nothings says

      they can't still use MS Office, or it's file formats for things unsupported in ODF for in house use.
      William.Farrel
      • And whose fault would that be?

        MS could have supported ODF in good faith at any time since this came up in Massachusetts (back when Mitt Romney was Governor).
        John L. Ries
  • only 25 years late

    The plan was always to have open standards. Then MS sold everyone on the idea windows was a better solution with all sorts of their own standards which never quite worked as planned

    As some good news for the Brits it will probably not even make the press over here. For MS it has a fundimental knock on effect. Now if only the open office team could make a decent spreadsheet
    martin23
    • 25 years is right, but MS was not selling standards.

      What happened 25 year ago was:
      At that time a 5 user wordprocessor on a main frame or mini computer cost about $5000/user, and another 5Gs for a speadsheet.

      People discovered they could buy an "IBM clone" for about $1500, and put a $300 copy of Word and Excel on it.
      Then they discovered they could put the same copies of Word and Excel on as many computers as they wanted to.

      Microsoft, like any good pusher, allowed free copies of Word and Excel to propagate for years, until most of the main frame and minicomputers companies went out of business.
      Then, again like any good pusher, Microsoft closed the gates, and began doing software audits, and extorting licensing fees for Word and Excel.

      The rest is history.
      anothercanuck
      • Flocking

        I think it's more like people flocked to WordPerfect and Lotus 123. Then Microsoft killed those with sweet-heart deals to IS departments.
        Bill4
        • That's one version of the story, anyway

          Another version is that Lotus and WordPerfect killed themselves off, by being too focused on their DOS versions, and not enough on the then-emergent GUI paradigm (on both Mac and in Windows.)

          I think that the more likely version, from my own experience. I remember the Lotus transition to Excel, and it was this very thing... 123 (DOS) was very powerful, but you had to be a near genius to get pie charts or a decent printout, things that were an Excel no-brainer.
          Mac_PC_FenceSitter
          • Apple iWork

            Does iWork support ODF? Just curious ...
            Rabid Howler Monkey
          • They do not

            That's what I've read anyways, I don't run it.
            Mac_PC_FenceSitter
          • shot in the foot or given a gun by MS

            It took MS a little while to convert their spreadsheet to excel before it was that good but I accept your point.

            On the issue of did the other producers shoot themselves in the foot. It was always strange how MS's competitors producing word processors, networking or web browser somehow had products which ran into problems be they massive memory leaks or some other issue with mostly with the GUI. Bye bye Netscape Novell and Wordperfect.

            Like all things though these issues come to an end. MS has been required to become standards complaint so no more funnies with IE. If more countries go ODF it weakens the MS hold of the office world which will mean lower prices for everyone.

            At the moment MS Office is a bit like washing powder each version improves our productivity but nothing seems to change. I somehow take longer to produce a document than it did 20 years ago and but one day when I want to produce a document in collaboration with 20 other people all those bells and whistles will help me do something more efficiently.
            martin23
          • Wordperfect did not kill themselves off.

            MS did.

            By "partnerships" and encouraging WordPerfect developers to use an API that was to be available in Win95 - then pulling the API just before release. That forced the developers to redo over a years work in a couple of months, and missing the release date.

            With the MS goal of releasing first... against a crippled WordPerfect.
            jessepollard
        • It wasn't sweetheart deals

          it was Windows. WP and Lotus refused to make Windows versions and guess what? Windows won. Even lousy old Windows 3.1 was a lot better than the DOS prompt.
          theoldman59