Document Actions

UK Cabinet Office Signals Move Towards Open Source Office Suites

The Standards Blog - Andy Updegrove - It was ten years ago that the CIO of Massachusetts rattled the desktop world by announcing that the Executive Agencies of the Commonwealth would henceforth license only office suite software that complied with the OpenDocument Format. The shock waves that followed were attributable to the fact that while the open source OpenOffice office suite was built around that standard, the dominant product – Microsoft’s venerable Office suite did not.

Yesterday, the UK Cabinet Office blew some life back into the embers left behind by what  was one of the most epic standards wars in history (you can follow that saga from the beginning here and the first five chapters of a book I started to write about it here). 

Much has changed since 2004, including the upgrading of Office to comply with the ODF standard, as well as another XML document format standard – OOXML – launched by Microsoft itself and eventually (like ODF before it) adopted by ISO.

Thus it was that while the announcement a few months ago that ODF would be added to the list of standards approved by the UK Cabinet Office for procurement elicited memories of that saga, it did not sound the alarums that battle was about to be waged again.

That changed yesterday, when Francis Maude, a senior UK government minister, revealed that the Cabinet Office has more in mind than ensuring that UK citizens will be able to download documents in ODF form, thus providing product choice to that end of the document equation.  Rather, Maude stated that the government must free itself from control by the “tiny oligopoly” of software vendors that “dominates the marketplace." More particularly, he stated that “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.”

The way to achieve that end, he explained, would be through mandatory compliance by vendors with specific standards: