Microsoft questions UK Government's ODF adoption pledge

News 23 Jul, 2014

Francis Maude has confirmed government departments will adopt ODF, but Microsoft claims the benefits to UK citizens are "unclear"

Microsoft has shrugged off the UK government’s decision to adopt the open document format (ODF) as the file type of choice for sharing and collaborating on official documents.

Furthermore, PDF/A and HTML will also be permissible for government departments and bodies to use when it comes to viewing official documents.

The move was announced by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude yesterday, who said the adoption of ODF will boost collaboration between government workers and third parties as they will no longer require specialist software to open or work on official documents.

Microsoft believes it is unproven and unclear how UK citizens will benefit from the government’s decision.

The expectation is that all government bodies will adopt these measures as time goes on, and deploy free business productivity tools, rather than shell out for proprietary offerings, such as Microsoft Office, that favour the OpenXML format.

As such, it is hoped this will drive down costs within departments, and save third-party organisations that regularly work with the government money for this reason.

“We have listened to those who told us that open standards will reduce their costs and make it easier to work with government,” said Maude.

“This is a major step forward for our digital-by-default agenda which is helping save citizens, businesses and taxpayers £1.2 billion over this parliament.”

It forms part of a wider government initiative to reduce its reliance on a handful of large IT suppliers, and shop around for better deals when it comes to procuring tech kit.

In the past, this has seen the government renegotiate multi-million pound IT contracts, and make efforts to increase the number of SMBs it procures IT services from.

In a statement to IT Pro, a Microsoft spokesperson played down the significance of the ruling by pointing out that both its business productivity offerings - Office 2013 and Office 365 - already support ODF.

“Microsoft believes it is unproven and unclear how UK citizens will benefit from the government’s decision,” the spokesperson said.  

“We actively support a broad range of open standards, which is why (like Adobe has with the PDF file format) we now collaborate with many contributors to maintain the Open XML file format through independent and international standards bodies.”

The spokesperson added that Microsoft champions the notion of giving users a choice of standards because of the positive impact this can have on competition, and in turn, innovation.

“The government’s stated and laudable strategy to be cloud-first in the provision of its services to citizens depends on nurturing, not constraining such innovation,” the spokesperson added.