Software giants back open standards plans by providing support for open document formats
The government has claimed a boost for its efforts to promote the use of open standards in government IT by striking agreements with Microsoft and Google to provide support for the campaign.
Francis Maude, the outgoing minister for the Cabinet Office, announced the moves for the companies to make it easier to use open document format (ODF) with a claim that it will give users a wider choice of the software they use.
It is especially significant given Microsoft's predominant role in the office applications market, and earlier reports that it had argued against plans to include ODF in the government's open standards.
ODF, which was developed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), is an XML-based specification for different types of documents. It is aimed at reducing the reliance on proprietary software and making it easier to share documents and collaborate.
Linda Humphries, senior technical adviser in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer, outlined the changes in a blogpost.
She said that Google has begun to provide support for ODF presentations, in addition to that it already provides for spreadsheets and text documents. She claimed it was done months ahead of schedule because of the government's policy, and that the company is working on new support measures.
Microsoft has announced it will enable users to export files in ODF regardless of the format in which they were created. This effectively breaks down a barrier between ODF and the company's Office suite.
The government has also received a boost from the open source sector with news that Libre Office, a free suite of office applications developed by The Document Foundation, will become available as a cloud service with native support for ODF by the end of the year.
"The needs of users are at the heart of everything we do, and it's great to see that major software suppliers such as Microsoft and Google are improving their support for open formats," Maude said.
"This will give people more choice about the software they use." He added that it supports the digital by default agenda, which he claimed is saving £1.2 billion of pubic money over the soon-to-end Parliament.
Maude also emphasised that a number of government departments have begun to publish in open formats - including the Department for Transport, the Department of Health and HM Revenue and Customs - and predicted others would do so by the end of the year.
In July of last year the Cabinet Office set out the standards for document file formats that it expects to be used across government. In addition to ODF for sharing and collaboration, it prioritised the use of PDF/A or HTML for viewing government documents online.
Pictured: Michel Van der Bel of Microsoft and Francis Maude; Open Government Licence v3.0