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January 30, 2014

UK government may ditch Microsoft Office in favour of open source

Francis Maude wants to break ‘oligopoly’ of IT suppliers.

By Ben Sullivan

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has announced that the government has plans to standardise open formats of office suite software to cut costs and break the ‘oligopoly’ of IT suppliers.

He said that Microsoft Office costs the UK government significant amounts every year.

By abandoning Microsoft software, ministers could be looking at saving tens of millions of pounds a year.

It has been reported that £200m has been spent since 2010 on Microsoft Office alone by the public sector.

But Maude said that he believes a large portion of this cost could be saved by using software than produces open-source files like ODFs, such as OpenOffice.

Maude was speaking at a cross-government event that was showing off new online services. Maude 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.

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"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.

"So we have been talking to users about the problems they face when they read or work with our documents – and we have been inviting ideas from experts on how to solve these challenges."

"But be in no doubt: the adoption of compulsory standards in government threatens to break open Whitehall’s lock-in to proprietary formats. In turn we will open the door for a host of other software providers."

Gartner analyst Annette Jump told CBR that governments, not only in the UK, are tending to favour low cost options now for office suites.

"Governments are looking for alternatives that are cheaper, obviously Google Docs and Open Office are some options."

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