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UK government once again threatens to ditch Microsoft Office

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Office 2013 hed
Office 2013 hed

The UK government is once again outlining plans to swap Microsoft’s Office software for open source alternatives. Ministers aim to save millions of pounds by moving away from the popular Office suite of applications. The Press Association reports that around £200 million ($331 million) has been spent on the software since 2010. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude is expected to outline the plans during a speech later today. "The software we use in government is still supplied by just a few large companies," Maude will say. "A tiny oligopoly dominates the marketplace."

One part of the plans is to create technical standards for document formats. "The adoption of compulsory standards in government threatens to break open Whitehall's lock-in to proprietary formats," Maude will explain. In turn we will open the door for a host of other software providers." The planned idea will "help departments to do something as simple as share documents with each other more easily," according to Maude.

The UK government has been promising to move towards open source software for more than 12 years

However, a history of government promises to move towards open source software have not materialized. In 2002, the UK government announced a software policy entitled "Open Source Software: Use within Government," as a way to avoid software suppliers like Microsoft. The aim almost 12 years ago was to look at alternatives to Microsoft Office across departments with the aim of cost cuts. Back in 2009 the UK government once again promised to accelerate the use of open source software around word processing applications, document management, and other IT system software. But it has managed to spend around £200 million ($331 million) on Microsoft Office since 2010.

The solution of migrating away from Microsoft’s dominant desktop software might not be as simple as some ministers have previously alluded to over the years. In 2012, the UK government admitted that open source software was still not widely used despite internal IT policies. Libre Office and OpenOffice had both been considered as alternatives to Microsoft Office, while Firefox and Chrome were the top considerations to replace Internet Explorer. Despite the alternatives, the UK government admitted in 2010 that it was "not straightforward" to upgrade from Internet Explorer 6 to Internet Explorer 8, noting it was "more cost effective in many cases to continue to use IE6."