You are on page 1of 3

An Opportunity to Comment on the Cabinet Office Proposal to Mandate ODF file formats for Sharing and Collaborating with

Government Documents Were sure that most people remain completely unaware that the UK government is currently in the process of selecting open standards to be mandated for use of when sharing and collaborating with government documents. The response to the initial consultation phase was rather limited, with 28 responses being submitted to the governments Standards Hub. Microsofts response to the challenge can be viewed here. Despite this limited response, two weeks after the closing date the government published a Proposal for Sharing and Collaborating with Government Documents; mandating ODF and (where possible HTML) and omitting OpenXML. Microsoft is concerned that: Although the inclusion of HTML in the governments proposal (alongside ODF) means the government recognises the value of avoiding a single standard for documents, using HTML for discrete documents (or for more complex content like that often found in a spreadsheet) which can be edited off line is not practical, making the sole choice in the governments proposal effectively ODF. Mandating one open standard for discrete document formats over another completely ignores benefits enabled by a choice of modern formats and is therefore likely to increase, not decrease, costs (see our original response here for the explanation as to why), risk widespread citizen dissatisfaction (which the government is attempting to avoid) and add (not remove) complexity to the process of dealing with government The widespread impact of selecting such standards suggests the consultation should ideally be based on a much larger number of respondents gathered over a longer space of time, much closer to the crowd sourcing exercise that was anticipated. In the blog post introducing their proposal, the government discloses two other surveys they have run in parallel to this Challenge. Neither of these surveys had been openly disclosed before and the government has so far declined to share either the questions asked or the selection criteria of those surveyed or the detailed results of those surveys, intending to publish these later.

Microsoft believes that the least costly and most effective way forward for any organisation seeking to ensure the maximum range of interoperability, the richest range of functionality and the widest use of common formats should be to embrace multiple open standard document formats e.g. both OpenXML (ECMA-376, ISO/IEC 29500-1:2012) and ODF (OASIS ODF v1.1, ISO/IEC 26300-1:2006). In our draft response to the Proposal, available to view here, we set out to address each element of the governments proposal and to present evidence that shows the government risks increasing costs and reducing interoperability by ignoring the fact that the vast majority of citizens and businesses already use OpenXML as their preferred document format. While including ODF is a choice that Microsoft supports, ignoring and omitting

OpenXML will ensure that the very things the government is trying to avoid are actually more likely to happen. The proposal is open for comments until 26th February 2014. Microsoft expects to submit our final response ahead of that date. The exact ramifications of such a mandate for current and potential suppliers to the Public Sector are unclear, however this move has the potential to impact businesses selling to government, who may be forced to comply. It also sets a worrying precedent because government is, in effect, refusing to support another internationally recognised open standard and may do so for other similar popular standards in the future, potentially impacting anyone who wishes to sell to government. It is clear that the government expect the use of this single standard to reduce their costs. We fail to see how this will ensure that happens because it changes nothing. Microsoft has supported ODF since Office 2007 and our latest version is no exception. Equally, competitor office suites (including the most up-to-date open source products) have long supported OpenXML. Modern productivity applications are not selected on the basis of the file formats they support, but on the value they provide and the personal productivity they enable. This clearly transcends the cost (or otherwise) of any license. So what should we all do? First, we want to make clear that you are not obliged, either by Microsoft or by the government, to do anything or comment in any way. You may be entirely comfortable with the governments intention and their proposal. It is not our job to change your mind, but we feel we should ensure you are properly appraised of a situation that may have an impact on your business. Hence, we feel strongly that you should at least be aware of the Cabinet Office proposal, have the chance to review the information provided and the other responses to the challenge, which can be found here on the Standards Hub and, if you do feel the urge to chip in, then please do make sure you provide a response to the proposal before the deadline (26th February 2014). You may agree with our view that multiple open standards are the best approach, but, as we acknowledge above, you may also agree with the proposal to mandate ODF. When you have reviewed the evidence, you may decide that the government should choose to mandate OpenXML, rather than ODF. Whatever your position, if you have one, wed like you to ensure your voice is heard and your view recorded. The Cabinet Office is seeking responses from anyone, both here in the UK and beyond and from organisations and citizens alike, so it is possible for you to respond in a number of capacities. If you choose to make multiple responses, it is, perhaps, worth making sure you indicate in each response in what capacity you are responding.

In any event, if you choose to respond, please ensure you do so before 26th February here. Please note you will need to register on the Standards Hub web site before you can submit your response. If you have any questions or comments may we suggest that you first post these to the Microsoft Partner Network LinkedIn group so everybody gets to see the questions and responses. But if youd prefer to contact someone direct, then please email Dr Mark Ferrar, our National Technology Officer, at, who is leading the response team here at Microsoft. Thank you for your time in considering this request. Best wishes,

Michel Van der Bel Area Vice President, United Kingdom