Skip to navigation
Latest News

Microsoft: government switch to open source will cause "dissatisfaction"


By Shona Ghosh

Posted on 20 Feb 2014 at 11:51

Microsoft has hit back against the government's move to open source, claiming the change will cost taxpayers more and result in user "dissatisfaction".

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said last month that government departments should consider switching to the Open Document Format (ODF), giving users the option to flip from Microsoft Office to open source suites.

Maude criticised the "oligopoly" of companies that dominated government IT, and said ending the dependence on proprietary software - such as Microsoft Office - would save money.

Microsoft is now lobbying hard against the proposed changes, claiming a switch to ODF would cost taxpayers more. It argued for the inclusion of its competing standard to ODF, OOXML, in the government's chosen standards for file formats.

"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," the company said in a post.

"To be very clear, we are not calling for the government to drop its proposal to use ODF," Microsoft added. "Nor are we calling for it to use only Open XML. What we are saying is that the government include both Open XML and ODF."

Market lock-in

Critics of OOXML argue that the standard isn't as open as Microsoft claims, and that an upgrade to Microsoft Office 2013 - and Windows 7 or 8 - is required for it to work properly.

"In reality this is all about prolonging control of a captured market and almost nothing about end user needs," wrote Simon Wardley, a researcher specialising in open source at the Leading Edge Forum, in a December post on the government's move.

Microsoft said software shouldn't be chosen on the basis of the file formats it supports, but on user productivity. "This clearly transcends the cost (or otherwise) of any license," the company said.

Subscribe to PC Pro magazine. We'll give you 3 issues for £1 plus a free gift - click here
User comments

Using MSs own argument, shouldn't they include ODF support in office? That would be the easier option for users.

Especially since the use of multiple formats does increase complexity and one (if not boths) formats is available via free software.

That said, there are valid argument for/against the switch to OO/LO having been there before and especially given the governments history when it comes to IT.

By tech3475 on 20 Feb 2014


is in MS Office - the first time you start an Office core application, it asks you whether you want to use OOXML or ODF as your standard file format.

The problem is, if you use ODF, you cannot save all of your work! If you use advanced features that OpenOffice doesn't support, they cannot be saved in ODF format...

By big_D on 20 Feb 2014


My mistake, I usually install LF by default and prefer 2003 so it's never an issue for me.

That said, I just tried opening an LF ODT in word 2010 just now and it said it was "corrupt" and needed repairing although it opened fine with LF itself.

But that does bring up the question of why MS are going to format route in their complaints instead of general office vs OO/LF arguments since according to you they would still be similar arguments unless MS are trying to retain usage via a different approach.

By tech3475 on 20 Feb 2014

Sudden announcement...

"UK decides to stay with MS"

- After a few 'key' people are very happy with 'gifts'!

By rhythm on 20 Feb 2014

Productivity Shmoductivity

Microsoft's assertion that productivity will suffer is complete tosh.

The vast majority of users just want about 10% of the features that are incorporated into word.

Yes, the ribbon has grown on me but OOo is more than sufficient for most people.

By lordsmiff on 20 Feb 2014

please tell us what this weekend's winning lottery numbers are rhythm since your crystal ball is working so well today ;)

the only dissatisfaction the switch will cause won't be with UK citizens.

okay so there may be a cost to roll out the change. the long term savings will return that with interest.

By mr_chips on 20 Feb 2014

Why stick with MS?

the problem with switching is usually down to format compatibility and automation.

As I said above, OO/LO are missing many features across the suite. Those missing features aren't taken into account in the ODT format. That means if you use functionality in MS documents that isn't supported in OO/LO and you use OOXML, then you have a chance OO/LO will ignore them and save them again.

If you use ODT, the information is gone forever.

That is the big question, what percentage of documents, tables, presentations, databases etc. have used features that OO/LO can't cope with?

If it is relatively small, or a small number of users are affected, then you might be able to get the majority switched over and have a small bunch of special users who have to stick with MS.

If you use a lot of automated worksheets and documents (many companies have automated templates that ask the user for key information and fill out key parts of a new document, before the user begins working on the document themselves), then swapping over is going to be difficult to impossible and going to probably require a big re-invest in adapting those templates to work properly with OO/LO.

We also have an ERP product that uses the MS Office COM interface to generate analysis tables and documents with information out of the ERP system. Switching to OO/LO would break about 30% of the functionality.

By big_D on 20 Feb 2014

@mr_chips, lordsmiff

I think one thing that scares MS is if a transition works.

If the UK government is able to transition to open source then others (be they business or government) may look to switch as well, especially if it starts to become more common in schools so businesses would see a training advantage to switch.

By tech3475 on 20 Feb 2014

MS is not afraid of whether transition works or not...

tech3475 You are partially wrong about MS's fear. If English government choose the OpenOffice/LibreOffice way they WILL make it work! How? That scares the MS. They probably support open source either with fund or with programmer work (or both) and their effort that not only will yield more capable open software that handle all formats reliably but also has a respectable reference for others (countries, universities etc) to use...

By HopeLESS on 20 Feb 2014

Linux Mint?

I think the vast majority of office workers would be happy with Linux Mint and Libra Office. How many people actually use the full range of Excel features?

By grimerking on 20 Feb 2014

Sudden Announcement 2

"UK decides after all to go open source..."

Consultancy and training companies awarded multi million pound contracts to help with the transition.

Or put another way; heads, it will cost the taxpayer a fortune, or tails, it will cost a fortune!!

This is govt. IT after all!!

By rjp2000 on 21 Feb 2014


and all of the applications they need, like SAP, the millions of lines of existing bespoke code for Windows, that can't even run on Windows 7 it seems, how are you going to get all of that running on Mint?

It can be done, it has been done, but it isn't as cheap as people think. Munich switched to all Linux, they even made their own distribution, but it has taken over half a decade to fully implement. There are also municipalities in Italy that are working on similar projects.

By big_D on 21 Feb 2014

Groundhog day#2

Been here, done it, got the earache.

"Open Source" and indeed "openness" in general as a means of reducing cost is a chimera, if not an outright illusion.
I'm not prepared to get into big arguments about how you analyse & associate costs in the context of "Productivity" software. Suffice to say that you don't get owt for nowt (or ought for nought if like me you're from South of Watford).

If it's NOT about reducing cost, what's the point?
The whole "debate" is infused with some odd pseudo-moralistic overtones "Open\Free" is GOOD, "Paid for\"closed"" is BAD. Why?
The crux, surely, is that MS's Office suite is a highly competent product that is widely used and well-supported. That's why people stick with it. Ministerial diktat that we must switch to a different product doesn't change that.
As Big_D has pointed-out, you are free right now to use "Open" formats with MS products, but MS's allegedly less-open ones work better.

As was widely said regarding Apple's grip on Tablets & Smartphones, it's up to the competitors to make something better. Arguably the likes of Samsung have done precisely that.
Surely, as a good Conservative, Mr Maude prefers out-competing to unnecessary and restrictive Nanny State interference?

By wittgenfrog on 21 Feb 2014

MS OS Products

Of course MS less-open formats work better because MS designed their software so it would. A majority of people use MS products because they have never tried anything else and just don't want to change. When I was using MS stuff probably less than 1 in a 1000 used more than the very basic capabilities of Word, Excel, & PowerPoint. Almost no one used Access.

I wonder how anyone can say that it is less costly switching from XP to Linux and other open source software than to Windows 8.

MS has never been very user friendly with compatibility with either competitor nor their own legacy products.

By rmisk on 22 Feb 2014

MS OS Products

Of course MS less-open formats work better because MS designed their software so it would. A majority of people use MS products because they have never tried anything else and just don't want to change. When I was using MS stuff probably less than 1 in a 1000 used more than the very basic capabilities of Word, Excel, & PowerPoint. Almost no one used Access.

I wonder how anyone can say that it is less costly switching from XP to Linux and other open source software than to Windows 8.

MS has never been very user friendly with compatibility with either competitor nor their own legacy products.

By rmisk on 22 Feb 2014

MS OS Products

I meant 'more' rather than 'less' costly!

By rmisk on 22 Feb 2014


I used Linux and OpenOffice for several years as my main workstation. It was fine all the time I was generating simple documents and sending out PDF documents to customers.

Once I had to start working on documents with other people, I had to switch back to MS Office. I am also producing much more complex documents these days and OO just doesn't cut it.

By big_D on 22 Feb 2014

Presuming the government actually press forward with this, I can eventually see the government using both types of systems depending on e.g. the departments, requirements, etc. Subject to the licensing costs.

LO is good enough for basic tasks and may be suitable for basic letter writing, but for those who have more complicated requirements MS Office could be used if LO doesn't cut it and the features can't be implemented in another way.

I can't help but remember an article in which IIRC the government was criticised for spending too much on computer equipment without giving reasons for what the equipment was used for.

For example, I can't switch my OS to linux because I have too many windows only apps and WINE doesn't cut it so it makes sense for me to use windows.

My mum on the other hand on her netbook just needs something to browse the web and make quick notes so Linux (Mint) is good enough for her (what amazed me was that she used LO without realising what it was until I told her the next day).

By tech3475 on 22 Feb 2014

How to Choose?

Let's see now, decide whether to standardize on a recognized international ISO file format (ODF) that is used by many office suite software programs, and a file format that assures longevity of file support, and, used in software on multitudes of OS's and translated in over +150 languages /OR/ standardize on a recognized ISO format (OOMXL) file format that is used on one office suite that still has compatibility challenges despite 7,000 pages of documentation, and, that is offered on one office suite program that works only on Windows and Mac, and that is not published in multiple languages.

Hmmmm, now let me see, which one should we pick for a public institution that is supposed to serve its public and assure longetivity of files produced by their departments as well as assure compatibility of format for years to come. Hmmm, let's see, which one to choose ... I dunno, it is so hard to choose ... :-)

By Ahems on 23 Feb 2014

Leave a comment

You need to Login or Register to comment.



Most Commented News Stories
Latest Blog Posts Subscribe to our RSS Feeds
Latest ReviewsSubscribe to our RSS Feeds
Latest Real World Computing


Sponsored Links

Your email:

Your password:

remember me


Hitwise Top 10 Website 2010

PCPro-Computing in the Real World Printed from

Register to receive our regular email newsletter at

The newsletter contains links to our latest PC news, product reviews, features and how-to guides, plus special offers and competitions.