England's Open Standards Plans May Not Sit Well with Microsoft

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 06, 2014

In many parts of the world, there are governments paying significant amounts of money to license Microsoft's Office suite of productivity software. And, Office has played a big part in Microsoft's recently improved revenue and profit reports. But, as reported here in late January, the U.K. is just one of the government bodies that is reportedly considering getting out from under expensive Office licensing fees by switching to open source software.

The U.K. government is considering a broad move to Open Document Format (ODF), and possibly Libre Office instead of Microsoft Office. That's not sitting so well with Microsoft, though.

According to a report from The Guardian,  Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said:

"The software we use in government is still supplied by just a few large companies. A tiny oligopoly dominates the marketplace."

"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."

Microsoft has posted opposition to these plans, noting in one post:

"We believe very strongly that the current proposal is likely to increase costs, cause dissatisfaction amongst citizens and businesses, add complexity to the process of dealing with government and negatively impact some suppliers to government. Our Area Vice President, Michel Van der Bel, has written an open letter to Microsoft partners which details our concerns and draft response. You can read it here."

To be fair, Microsoft is not actually calling for the government to drop its proposal to use ODF. Nor is it calling for it to use only Open XML. What the company is saying is that the government include both Open XML and ODF.  That is actually a debatable proposal. Simply because of the huge installed base of Microsoft Office users, it might cause fewer incompatibility problems in the short run, but it also represents hedging what was to be a strong step in the direction of open standards.

These are the kinds of issues where incoming Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella can potentially make a big differenc in how the Redmond software giant is perceived. Microsoft has become friendlier to open source in recent years, and Nadell understands open source. It will be interesting to see how the company treats England's proposed plans to fully embrace open standards.