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Uk Government Plans Switch From Microsoft Office To Open Source

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http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/29/uk-government-plans-switch-to-open-source-from-microsoft-office-suite

Ministers are looking at saving tens of millions of pounds a year by abandoning expensive software produced by firms such as Microsoft.

Some £200m has been spent by the public sector on the computer giant's Office suite alone since 2010.

But the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude believes a significant proportion of that outlay could be cut by switching to software which can produce open-source files in the "open document format" (ODF), such as OpenOffice and Google Docs.

Document formats are set to be standardised across Whitehall to help break the "oligopoly" of IT suppliers, and improve communications between civil servants.

The proposal is part of the coalition's drive to make its procurement more effective and efficient.

I wonder how M$ will react to the threat of it's benefits being cut?

If Maude is going down this route why not go the whole hog and switch to Linux? That could possible save millions from IT purchases.

M$ office just going to be for specialised need within the civil service?

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http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/29/uk-government-plans-switch-to-open-source-from-microsoft-office-suite

I wonder how M$ will react to the threat of it's benefits being cut?

If Maude is going down this route why not go the whole hog and switch to Linux? That could possible save millions from IT purchases.

M$ office just going to be for specialised need within the civil service?

I wonder how much it will cost the government (they will pay to their friends) for training the monkeys skills they can learn in 10 mins.

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....for training the monkeys skills they can learn in 10 mins.

I think you're significantly overestimating the capabilities of the average public sector worker :lol:

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I wonder how much it will cost the government (they will pay to their friends) for training the monkeys skills they can learn in 10 mins.

Agree they'll farm it out to one of the usual suspects for 10x what it should cost.

However having done my time in public sector IT it is fair to say whilst 80% will pick up the skills in 10 minutes the other 20% will never master them and be non-stop pains in the backside.

I still have flashbacks to this planning officer in his early 60's who would phone me every time he had to enter a new application on the system (at least twice a day) for a reminder about which button he needed to press.

Edited by Timak

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I'd have thought a move towards open source software was essential, not only for cost reasons but also on grounds of national security.

Edited by snowflux

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Pretty much agree with all the previous points.

To which I would add:

This is hardly ground breaking: some German municipalities switched a while back AFAIR. Of course we (the UK) could have done this several years ago.

It does rather open the door to use of Linux, FreeBSD or even OpenBSD across a range of tasks.

It not only saves money on buying the software: it also saves money on the annual auditing of licenses (though this may be seen as Keynesian heresy).

FINALLY it is wonderful to get something for nothing but if they want to go on getting something for nothing then they should contribute a meaty sum back to relevant open source projects so as to keep the virtuous circle going. £1M/ annum would represent a massive saving to government and make a big difference to the Open Source world.

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I seem to remember reading somewhere that the French public sector has gone over to using a heavily, in-house customised version of Ubuntu?

As for the proposal, I like it in principle, but can see challenges.

1. MS Office is embedded into the fabric of the education system. It's on every school and university PC, and is sold at a heavily subsidised price to students. Clever little gits, Microsoft - they've seen to it that learning how to use their software is effectively an essential life skill. How many job adverts do you see in which "Knowledge of Word, Excel and Access" (or some such wording) is an essential skill? I've tried to use Open Office on Ubuntu, and while the basics are not a problem, even some of the intermediate features (let alone the very advanced ones) don't look the same and aren't driven in the same way. For example, form fields in MS Word documents do not translate well into the Open Office equivalent very well, and are not edited the same way. Therefore, I suspect that any large-scale workplace that takes the plunge and gets rid of MS software is going to incur significant staff training and support expenses which they wouldn't have done otherwise, because MS Office is effectively part of the secondary education curriculum.

2. Presumably they're still going to have to use PDF to release public-facing documents, some elements of which are not open source. I find it hard to believe that they'll get away without having to pay Adobe anything. And furthermore, there are no (AFAIK) viable alternatives for some Adobe softtware pacakges that remain the industry standard in the the service sector, e.g. Photoshop and InDesign, and neither are there Linux versions available.

3. If the government is going to customise the open source OS and applications it uses, it's going to have to support all that in-house, with all the public sector IT nightmare that implies.

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I seem to remember reading somewhere that the French public sector has gone over to using a heavily, in-house customised version of Ubuntu?

As for the proposal, I like it in principle, but can see challenges.

Just about sums it up for me. In my field, we occasionally bump into "oh, we're switching to open source" advocates, and not one has gone through with it (yet). Training and essential proprietary software are the main stumbling blocks.

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Agree they'll farm it out to one of the usual suspects for 10x what it should cost.

However having done my time in public sector IT it is fair to say whilst 80% will pick up the skills in 10 minutes the other 20% will never master them and be non-stop pains in the backside.

I still have flashbacks to this planning officer in his early 60's who would phone me every time he had to enter a new application on the system (at least twice a day) for a reminder about which button he needed to press.

I've often thought the same but the costs of running a business able to support the ability of thousands of staff to descend and train and churn though paperwork (albeit at times unnecessary paperwork) is so high that the costs are often 10 times higher than a smaller firm. That's just the way it is if you want a middle class population who pay their taxes and pensions. The government could go to an overseas provider and give our tax money to an indian outsourcer instead?

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With open source there are also lots of cost savings over and above the cost of the software itself i.e. you no longer need a small army of people to deal with budget approval, purchasing, auditing etc so you may well end up saving double the headline cost of the software itself.

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Here's an interesting article contrasting successful (Munich) and unsuccessful (Freiburg) migrations to open source software in Germany. They're pretty much case studies in how and how not to do it:

Triumph and disaster: Two migrations to OpenOffice

By contrast, the city of Munich's migration was all in, full on, and nonoptional. The city switched to Linux desktops as well as to OpenOffice.org. It hired staff to work in the open source community, developing features and fixing bugs. The government invested in software, helping develop the comprehensive WollMux tool to manage its OpenOffice.org usage, as well as the LiMux platform. Administrators stayed up-to-date, switching to LibreOffice once it was obvious it was the vendor-supported and active forward path for the productivity suite. The crew engaged expert vendors to improve the open source software for them. As well as investing in IT and technology, Munich's workers invested in the user community, hiring staff to manage communications inside and outside the organization too.

.....

Munich realized the importance of open source software came from empowerment rather than license price. Yes, it saved $13 million, with more cash likely to come. But to do so involved using software freedom to break the lock-in holding back the city. Achieving this was a long-term strategy, one that involved learning and course corrections. It also involved investment -- in software, in community, in engagement.

As Munich frees itself from vendor control over its IT architecture, it is increasingly able to prioritize its own decisions and gain greater control over software budgets, eliminating the worry over arbitrary price rises or non-negotiable fees. But that doesn't mean no spending; value always costs money. Freiburg tried to save money in the short term without breaking the lock-in and failed. Munich invested in open source empowerment and created a long-term strategy to break the lock-in. Now it's sitting pretty

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In other words Munich analysed and managed it like An Engineering project, whereas Freiburg largely tried installing open office on a bunch of machines

At least therefore this is coming from central government may mean that if it is taken up it is properly imposed and not piecemeal

Edited by Si1

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Here's an interesting article contrasting successful (Munich) and unsuccessful (Freiburg) migrations to open source software in Germany. They're pretty much case studies in how and how not to do it:

Triumph and disaster: Two migrations to OpenOffice

Guess which way we'd do it in the UK... ;)

Edit to add - in my experience, this is often just a hustle for some cheaper licences...

Edited by tomandlu

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Microsoft are embedded in government IT everywhere from the the desktop, applications, databases through to the server farm

While it is relatively easy for an individual to switch from MS to Linux etc on the desktop at home it is quite another matter for businesses to make that switch in every area of their organisation particularly when there may be large numbers of legacy applications upon which an enterprise relies to function. Skimping on those to save a few bob is the fast route to disaster as the RBS/NatWest Ulster bank fiasco showed when it decided its mainframe systems were not important anymore even though to all intents and purposes they were the bank as far as the customers were concerned .

The reality is that the British government has pissed off most of the major players in the IT industry by the way it has behaved in recent years so that increasingly some firms are very wary of doing business with it unless they have a nailed on profit margin. The cost and reputational exposure that comes from dealing with civil servants and politicians makes it simply not worth the hassle. In my experience they are a by word for bad faith, contract breach and general mendacity. Any IT pros who have the misfortune to have been involved with HMG over the past decade will tell you it is more a nightmare than a gravy train.

BTW Maude having stuck his oar into the Universal Credit fiasco seems to have now retreated pretty pronto presumably because he does not want to be onboard when the ship goes down

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jan/08/francis-maude-universal-credit-it-row-dwp

Edited by stormymonday_2011

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Edit to add - in my experience, this is often just a hustle for some cheaper licences...

Yes, this is the most likely scenario. MS must surely be wise to this tactic by now though.

Surprisingly not all govt IT these days is hopeless, the alphagov stuff on github looked interesting last time I had a quick browse.

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Making the adjustment from Office to OpenOffice was a breeze compared to the adjustment from Office 2003 to Office 2007.

I still hate that god awful ******ing ribbon.

Most of the old codgers who`d normally object to the change will probably find that they`re actually more familiar and comfortable with the old style interface on the open source office suites.

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Guess which way we'd do it in the UK... ;)

Edit to add - in my experience, this is often just a hustle for some cheaper licences...

I think the UK would probably create an even larger feck up and probably grind the entire civil service to a halt.

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Would think this isn't serious and its an attempt to get Microsoft to lower the bills.

I use Open Office (+ Google docs) myself on Ubuntu and Centos machines in addition to Windows 7, but turning over whole government departments to Open Source would be some undertaking.

Every now again a major institution makes an announcement about going open source, and before too long Microsoft is making them an offer they can't refuse.

Come to think about it, BT work like that too.

Edited by aSecureTenant

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I use LibraOffice exclusively at home and I've never found anything it couldn't do. Looking at the bigger picture though, how much does the government spend on the software vs. installing it, upgrading it, training people to use it etc? I'd love to see MS booted out but, at the same time, only if that resulted in a meaningful saving overall.

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MS Office is embedded into the fabric of the education system. It's on every school and university PC, and is sold at a heavily subsidised price to students. Clever little gits, Microsoft - they've seen to it that learning how to use their software is effectively an essential life skill.

Both the university of london colleges I went to a decade ago had already switched over to openoffice then, so I'm not sure this is an ongoing issue for graduates. No training was provided for students but none was really needed, openoffice is fairly self explanatory.

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Both the university of london colleges I went to a decade ago had already switched over to openoffice then, so I'm not sure this is an ongoing issue for graduates. No training was provided for students but none was really needed, openoffice is fairly self explanatory.

I'm one of those people who seldom uses office software, and only for particular tasks. So sometimes I don't know how to do something, and have to figure it out.

One such occasion about 15 years ago, a friend who is proficient with MS-Office was in my office and could see me looking for something in openoffice[1]. She told me exactly how to do it, based on it working exactly the same as MS-Office.

That kind of thing suggests transferability of skills ;)

[1] It may still have been called star office back then.

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I use LibraOffice exclusively at home and I've never found anything it couldn't do. Looking at the bigger picture though, how much does the government spend on the software vs. installing it, upgrading it, training people to use it etc? I'd love to see MS booted out but, at the same time, only if that resulted in a meaningful saving overall.

Many, many years ago I had issues with CLAIT training where they would advertise courses in 'Office' 'Excel and 'Access' and I said really you should be teaching Word processing, spreadsheets and databases. But employers were asking for basically a knowledge of Microsoft Office products.

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This is hardly ground breaking: some German municipalities switched a while back AFAIR.

Bigger than that, whole governments/public sectors have moved. For example Lula moved Brazil to open source round about a decade ago, and the Chinese government sponsors its own Linux distro.

But I imagine the experience of a neighbour and European peer should be good to learn from.

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