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Government open standards - the curious case of Microsoft and the minister

Computer Weekly - The UK government's decision earlier this year to commit to an open standard for sharing documents in the public sector was one of the more obscure parts of its digital strategy, and uncontroversial in the eyes of many outsiders. Only this week, government departments started releasing plans for publishing documents according to the mandate.

Most people would see little to argue with in the choice of a standard called the Open Document Format (ODF). It is widely used and respected, and is supported by the most popular word processor and spreadsheet products in the world – Microsoft’s Word and Excel.

But Microsoft consistently opposed the policy, which the software giant saw as its last chance to overturn the UK government’s broader plans for open standards. As emails seen by Computer Weekly reveal, the decision became an issue in the supplier’s Seattle boardroom, and brought the lobbying powers of the software giant into full force in Whitehall.

There has been speculation about the role played by senior government minister David Willetts, then minister of state for universities and science in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), but who later left the post in David Cameron’s 2014 summer reshuffle.

An investigation by Computer Weekly has revealed that.....