The UK Government has selected ODF (Open Document Format) as a required standard for sharing and collaborating on documents across all governement bodies. PDF/A and HTML are the selected standards for viewing government documents.
The decision to use ODF, the XML-based file format for word processing, spreadsheets, charts and presentations that is widely available in free software such as Open Office and LibreOffice is hoped to make savings for citizens, businesses and taxpayers as it avoids the need to buy proprietary software.
Its adoption as an exclusive standard follows a public consultation process on the Cabinet Office Standards Hub which attracted over 500 comments. It was strongly opposed by Microsoft which was arguing for the adoption of the OOXML standard as well as ODF.
The announcement made by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, explains why open standards are being required across all UK government departments:
Government will begin using open formats that will ensure that citizens and people working in government can use the applications that best meet their needs when they are viewing or working on documents together.
When departments have adopted these open standards:
citizens, businesses and voluntary organisations will no longer need specialist software to open or work with government documents
people working in government will be able to share and work with documents in the same format, reducing problems when they move between formats
government organisations will be able to choose the most suitable and cost effective applications, knowing their documents will work for people inside and outside of government
Writing on the Standards Blog, Andy Upgrove recalls that when a similar proposal was made by Commonwealth of Massachusetts ten years ago it proved unsuccessful and led to "an often contentious, vigorously fought battle that ultimately raged across multiple U.S. states as well as many countries across the world".
He points out that while some local, regional and national entities in WEurope have subsequently adopted ODF, the UK Cabinet Office is the largest such commitment to date.
The decision has been welcomed as "historical" by the Document Foundation, responsible for LibreOffice.