Government open standards consultation will likely impact all of us. Make sure your voice is heard by 26th February

You may not be aware, but the UK government is currently in the process of making important selections about which open standards to mandate the use of in future. These decisions WILL likely impact you; either as a citizen of the UK, a UK business or as a company doing or wanting to do business with government.

An important current proposal relates to sharing and collaborating with government documents. The government proposes to mandate Open Document format (ODF) and exclude the most widely supported and used open standard for document formats, Open XML (OOXML). We believe this will cause problems for citizens and businesses who use office suites which don’t support ODF, including many people who do not use a recent version of Microsoft Office or, for example, Pages on iOS and even Google Docs. Microsoft Office has supported ODF since 2007, but adoption of OOXML has been more widespread amongst other products than ODF. This move has the potential to impact businesses selling to government, who may be forced to comply. It also sets a worrying precedent because government is, in effect, refusing to support another internationally recognised open standard and may do so for other similar popular standards in the future, potentially impacting anyone who wishes to sell to Government.

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. Our Area Vice President, Michel Van der Bel, has written an open letter to Microsoft partners which details our concerns and draft response. You can read it here

To be very clear, we are not calling for the government to drop its proposal to use ODF. 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. To do so offers it most flexibility, the widest compatibility and the lowest Total Cost of Ownership for everyone – government, businesses and citizens alike.

Please take a few minutes to read the email and seriously consider responding to this consultation. Whether you agree with our proposal or feel that the government proposal is correct, please do take a few minutes to have your voice heard and respond before the consultation closes on 26th February 2014.

It’s worth remembering that the government is seeking responses from anyone, organisations and citizens, so it is possible for you to respond in a number of capacities. Although our response is very detailed yours can be much shorter and simpler, just covering the key points you want to make. You will need to register on the Open Standards Hub site before you can submit your response.

Comments (53)

  1. The Open Sourcerer says:

    OOXML is about as Open and transparent as a black hole. It’s nothing more than a vendor lock-in scam that has run it’s course. The world has moved on. Time to get with the new programme guys.

  2. Kim Bruning says:

    I always understood OOXML to be a bit of a MS smoke and mirrors gambit, and it’s not actually very open.

  3. Legal Eagle says:

    MS would not have a problem with ODF unless it meant more people being able to process docs without buying software such as MS Office. There are perfectly good alternatives. Both free and at a cost. OOXML is not an open standard and never will be. It’s
    all about vendor lock-in.

  4. Roger Thomas says:

    As a citizen and business owner in the UK I disagree. This move is likely to save me time and money as it means that the government departments I deal with are over time likely to stop sending me files that I can only open and correctly view with Microsoft
    based software. As for Open XML its a standard that was not needed in the first place, apart from Microsoft’s need to maintain a tie-in based standard. Any standard that requires 7,000+ pages to detail it is pointless.

  5. Hugo Davenport says:

    I wouldn’t describe OOXML as an open standard other than that it has been published, and agree with Roger Thomas.

  6. Paul Hands says:

    About time the government booted out the awful microsoft monopolist. This is a great move.

  7. Freedom McLinux says:

    OOXML is crap.

  8. Gavin says:

    It’s about time you pulled out of the entire public sector, Microsoft. Nobody wants you; nobody wants their taxes spent on your bloat and vendor lock-in. OOXML isn’t an open standard by any stretch of the imagination.

  9. Dave Cryer says:


    I think you will find lots of public sector organisations want Microsoft technology, particularly Dynamics CRM which provides huge value for money when compared to other vendor ‘locked in’ applications.

  10. UK Subject says:

    I agree we should be heard. Let’s all email in and say how wonderful it is that the UK is embracing openness and freedom by ditching the proprietary and closed OOXML. MS and partners have a choice – get with the program and assist inter-operability or get out; someone else will do the job.

    Is MS truly fear ODF, that just proves how weak their own offering is.

  11. UK Citizen says:

    Thanks for the heads up. I’ve just left a message in support of this draft. It looks good. I’m fed up of receiving digital forms from my government that are contained within your proprietary file formats. I don’t want your ‘open’ xml anywhere near my government and I told them that a long time ago.

  12. From Exeter says:

    If MS is so for open standards, why not stand behind ODF fully. OOXML is only so other products have issues reading the files and you are basically left working with MS Office. ODF is supported by Office, so there is no issue. I personally don’t want to use ms office so I would rather see ODF.

  13. European Citizen says:

    This is your future Microsoft, embrace it..

  14. As Mike of BrBa said: says:

    “You…are trouble. I’m sorry the kid doesn’t see it, but I sure as hell do. You are a time bomb, tick-tick-ticking. And I have no intention of being around for the boom.”

  15. But... says:

    There are two problems with using OOXML. Firstly, Microsoft itself doesn’t use OOXML as it is published; this means the published standard is becoming more anachronistic by the day (revisions notwithstanding). Secondly, the standard has such lovely undefined elements like “useWord2002TableStyleRules” and “wpJustification” which are limited to the decription similar to “emaulate the behaviour of this 10 year old software package”.

    In short it is an oversized (7,000+ pages OOXML vs 1,200 ODF 1.2), in parts lacking detail and accurate documentation, and without a compliant example (closed or open source). OOXML was written to benefit Microsoft and its symbiants that Microsoft has deigned not to compete with (yet). Hardly good reasons for a public body to support it.

  16. Bristolian says:

    ODF is the future, Microsoft.

    All over Europe and beyond, the public sector – at both national and local level – is adopting ODF for document exchange. It is doing so for many reasons, including escaping vendor lock-in and ensuring that future generations can read public documents and records without difficultly.

    OOXML is a botched standard and the ‘Open’ part of OOXML is as open as a pub in an Islamic country during Ramadan.

    Time to embrace the future or decline into oblivion, Microsoft

  17. Bilbo says:

    Microsoft is the true cancer of the industry! They cannot compete on technical merit and depend on proprietary protocols and bastardizing true open standards.

    Europe is doing the right thing by demanding true open standards and not rubber-stamped corrupt pseudo-standards by bands of criminals.

  18. Libre Office Sucks says:

    Microsoft Office is the best office suite around. Enjoy your low quality software children.

  19. citizen_101 says:

    Formats don’t need to upgrade every few years (Works, Office 97, 2000, xp, 2003, ETC!!!!), they just need to work. PDF has worked for decades, and it’s not broken yet. OD* looks like it’s here to stay, and the only effect as far as I can see is that businesses won’t have to purchase a new version of Office every year because the vendor changed the format again.

  20. EU Citizen says:

    @":Libre Office Sucks":

    You might want to read this scientific paper which contradicts your statement:


    In case you’re too lazy to read, the papers state that Excel is one of the worst packages you can use for statistical analysis.

  21. Maddoka says:

    >To be very clear, we are not calling for the government to drop its proposal to use ODF. 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.

    To be very clear, you should be moving *your* products to support both, not expect others to cater to your shortcomings. Make *your* products support both formats. Make *your* products run on Linux. The quality of your products will speak for itself during the selection phase.

  22. Hunkah says:

    Microsoft created OpenXML as a way of causing further confusion to the ODF standard. They claimed that OpenXML would be open, but it never was. Thus the name OpenXML is a direct LIE!

    Weird how Microsoft would lie, why do you think they did that. They seem like such an honest company. OK, so that was a lie. They’ve been the most crooked and outright criminal organization for the last 20-some years.

  23. Frederick Zoller says:

    I doubt the pathetic troll “LO sucks” is interested in facts. But it’s a prime example for the quality of the arguments brough forward by the supporers of closed non-standards.

  24. Against fraudulent wannabe-standards says:

    Just google OOXML fraud to see on what level MS plays:

    The double standards are ridiculous. When was the last time MS complained about their file formats being the only accepted ones?

    ODF already existed before OOXML, which only goal seems to be the vendor lock-in via its horrible and vague documentation.

    Here’s a list of defects:

  25. Riking says:

    @EU Citizen
    You’re actually a little bit wrong. The appeal of Excel is not for “statistical analysis”, although some people do use it for that. What most people want out of Excel is *representing data in the form of a table*. The forumulas are just extra for them.

    We should try to make LibreOffice Calc a competitor in the tabular layout market, not the scientific calculations market – let stuff like MatLab, numpy, and FORTRAN do that.

    LibreOffice doesn’t ‘suck’ per se, but your rebuttal is for the wrong reasons.

    Somebody who is Enjoying the 150% Volume in PulseAudio
    — riking
    rikingcoding at google mail

  26. Roy Barnard says:

    ODF is a standard and if Microsoft wish to b standards compliant they could always fully support and implement ODF in MS Work. Going forward Microsoft products ONLY support one platform, their own Windows. ODF is supported on Windows and Linux through both OpenOffice and LibreOffice. I do not personally use Windows and hope this time the UK Gov has the guts to do the right thing and go Open Source.

  27. Andreas Kuckartz says:

    Thanks for not censoring comments. The vast majority here seems to support mandating Open Document Format (ODF) only. I agree with them. Allowing two different specifications is like having two incompatible “standards” for power plugs and sockets. And the needless complexity of Open XML (OOXML) makes it significantly worse than ODF.

  28. D.a.r.y.l says:

    Thanks for letting us know. I’d never knowingly miss a chance to put a boot into the side of convicted monopolist microsoft, and this is a perfect opportunity to do this. Comment posted to the UK gov!

  29. Alexander Wilms says:

    Wow, already 4 pages of comments on the proposal and except for 3, every single commenter voiced his support for ODF etc.

    Good job for popularizing this, Microsoft.

  30. John Malone says:

    Thank you everybody for not being shills and seeing that OOXML is actually not open.
    I hope microsoft reads this and stops being dickheads to the open source community and just switches to using ODF themselves. Unlikely, I know – but I can dream.
    Screw you microsoft.
    Sent from my Debian Linux laptop.

  31. YellowApple says:

    A truly open standard is absolutely necessary for the public sector; it means that electronic documents will continue to be useful and accessible for decades, if not centuries, provided that the files themselves are stored on adequately-maintained hardware.

    ODF seems to be just that: a truly open standard. OOXML, not so much; while it looks open on paper, Microsoft’s implementations tend to deviate from the standards, causing standards-compliant documents to look malformed in Microsoft Office – and Office-generated documents to look malformed in standards-compliant software.

    In other words: until Microsoft gives up its time-old “embrace, extend, extinguish” mantra, a Microsoft-oriented standard is nowhere near the best candidate for an environment where openness is paramount.

  32. KG1234 says:

    People that want to open ODF files will just have to download LibreOffice, OpenOffice, SoftMaker Office, Abiword Caligra Docs, or just open it in Google Docs. Microsoft should just move along and support ODF correctly and abandon the strategy of making obscure hacks to ensure their ‘open’ OOXML format only opens correctly on MS Office.

  33. Oscar David Torres says:

    I hate this blog, only can see it on interner explorer, 5 minutes to charge the page, i have 10Mb bandwidht, Free Software Rulez!!!!

  34. Jamie Bulmer says:

    I have just tried to save my presentation slides for tomorrow in Open Document Format (I never really tried it before!) and there are “some features” that are apparently missing, including comments on slides, some animations, document encryption and SmartArt (which I know is not everyone’s taste but works for me) Can someone just clear up if this is able to be corrected by Microsoft in ODF specification or if this is something that is simply not able to be described and supported in the standard ? which would be pretty poor… I assume legacy and current feature support is the reason for the huge size of the OOXML specification? and the reason that it came about in the first place?

  35. Alexander Wilms says:

    @Jamie Bulmer:

    Did you save them as ODF in MS Office?

    If one creates a presentation e.g. in LibreOffice, one can add comments anywhere on each slide and so far I haven’t noticed any animations that did not work.

    If you enable password-protection when saving an ODF file, you can afterwards unzip the file and take a look at contents.xml, which will be encrypted.

    The reason why OOXML was introduced at all rather seems to be the possible vendor lock-in. Apparently the ODF standard’s specification is less than 1/6th of the size while describing basically the same concepts:

  36. Mark Wood says:

    Perhaps MS ought to get behind the genuinely open standard of ODF, rather than running a thinly veiled smear/PR campaign to preserve vendor lock under cover of concern for UK citizenry. Over the years as a Mac user I’ve watched Microsoft bend, abuse and break just about every standard they’ve touched, and winced in dismay at the complete failure of portability of MS Office documents from PC to Mac versions – even current ones. Leaving any form of ‘standard’ to the whim of a business which will happily break it to keep the monopoly bandwagon rolling – irrespective of damage to users – is unacceptable. I’m tired of paying Danegeld for something that really should just work. I think I’ll add to the consultation in favour of ODF – I would have missed it but for this post, so thanks for something at least, I guess, even if it’s not for your lousy software.

  37. paul says:

    I feel ODF is a better format (than OOXML) that Governments must follow.

    Microsoft Office does not work on many Operating Systems (for example Linux based), however ODF is supported by other office suites that are truly cross platform and these office suites are free in every sense (unlike MS Office).

  38. Andy Hamilton says:

    There is not enough room for my full reply so I have shortened it to just my personal view, my professional view is available on the forum.
    regards Andy

    The proposal premise is flawed.

    Personal Opinion

    The users are being compromised by this overtly technical discussion over proprietary versus open formats that seems to have been sparked by this Cabinet Office challenge.

    For the average user, there is no distinction around document formats.

    • The Government department user wants to be able to create, collaborate and distribute the most effective and well formed information internally and externally to citizens and business users.

    • The citizen wants to be able to respond and interact with the Government in the simplest and most effective way.

    The choice of appropriate software for both user groups is governed directly by these fundamentals, not by the type of document format that is produced. Until now! By positively discriminating against the Open Office XML format, The Cabinet Office is proposing to force tens of thousands of users (internal & citizens) who have older versions of MSFT office to upgrade or to find alternative Office type software. As a citizen I do not just interact with the Government, I have work to do and social activities which require interaction and collaboration too. Am I supposed to also start creating documents for sharing with my local club and demand that all participants also upgrade or otherwise change their software to access these open documents. The answer is yes if this proposal in current form gains any further traction. Please stop and think hard about the short to medium term consequences of this proposal.

    Professional Opinion.


    Finally, whilst I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate, I am very concerned that this consultation does not appear to be far reaching and has therefore attracted a tightly formed, vociferous minority voice, which has no basis on which to make fundamental policy change the like of which is being proposed here. The vast majority of individuals that I have spoken to are simply unaware of it and are therefore excluded from giving an opinion. We need to have a much wider user based forum which extends well beyond the mainly technical discussion that has raged here. Perhaps this is the intention and of so I would welcome that wholeheartedly.

    In conclusion, I would submit that there should be a longer period to extend the consultation and consider more fully the wider implications of this proposal. My combined personal and professional opinion is that we should conclude that the proposal should extend to include the widely adopted MSFT OOXML format to allow the best and widest option for maximum user satisfaction across all users that this proposal will affect.

  39. mauricio narvaez says:

    Que brutalidad tener que ver este articulo con SU explorador. Uno escoje que xplorador se le ajuste a sus necesidades como tambien el sistema operativo

  40. Fool me once, shame on you, fool... says:

    you may have fooled australian govt but you wont fool the uk, oh, wait, maybe you will, i guess it depends how much they get from you

  41. Phil Weir says:

    The proposal to mandate availability of government documents in open, standardised formats is a significant step forward for the UK, providing consistent interoperability and accessibility to important resources for all British citizens and businesses.

    To be successful, it is essential that these formats are readily available, commercially sustainable and vendor independent. This would bring the UK’s open standards policy in line with a growing number of European countries.

    The suggestion that the standard allow ODF to be set aside if a document was produced in OOXML (Transitional/Strict) instead would retain the status quo the standard is intended to resolve. Most office suites, including Microsoft Office, have good support for legacy formats; there is no chance that government departments would suddenly or slowly become unable to produce documents for older MS Office systems. By contrast, lack of broad development input, substantial vendor-specific reworking of the ISO standard and weak interoperability with other existing standards have left OOXML, as it is generally produced by Microsoft Office, poorly supported in comparison. Older MS Office versions do not support Strict ISO OOXML.

    In other countries that mandate open, independent formats, gradual internal adoption and improving Microsoft support for ODF has demonstrated the inaccuracy of cataclysmic scenarios. Nonetheless, with growing adoption among groups who do not have the funds to access full-featured, top-end Microsoft Office distributions, a definitive version of any document in a format comprehensively supported by freely available office suites is a developing necessity. This will be a greater liability moving forward, if government bodies are not encouraged to provide equal access through ODF reference documents.

  42. Dave Lane says:

    Wow, MS, you’ve just had your ass handed to you, resoundlingly, in these comments. It’s very comforting to see you finally being put in your place. ODF is the only standard we want or need for productivity data. Your apps can either support them fully, and be considered, or you can be relegated to oblivion. I certainly won’t miss you. MS-free for 20+ years.

  43. Brighton resident says:

    Open XML is a devious attempt to lock people in to using Microsoft Office.

    This news article says it all:

    “Standards Norway, the organization that manages technical standards for the Scandinavian country, took a serious blow last week when key members resigned in protest over procedural irregularities in the approval process for Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML) format. The 23-person technical committee has lost 13 of its members.”

    From by Ryan Paul – Oct 3 2008, 8:02pm GMTDT

  44. From Kent says:

    ODF seems to be the more sensible choice moving forward as the majority if not all office suites support it now. If Microsoft still wishes to tie in end users to DOC or DOCX then it’ll only be damaging itself as the vast majority of the user base are wanting to move to ODF purely because it is widely accepted by so many applications.

  45. ODF-Boy says:

    If OOXML is an open standard, where can we see the full documentation of it (all the features used in ms-office)?

    I’m sorry that you will fail with providing a such documentation, so therefore a lot better to go with an open standard which isn’t depending on a lazy and greedy company who most likely just uses open source code released under MS-EULA instead of the original GPL.

  46. Beavis says:

    OOXML is “open” in the same way my gaping butt-hole is open: The owner may love it, but nobody else wants to use it.

  47. tom says:

    Every program seems easily able to implement ODF. MS try to mishandle it but everyone else seems to manage it consistently just fine. With their MS Office 2013 they finally seem to have managed what everyone else has been doing for years.

    On the other hand almost NO program seems able to implement the OOXML in any consistent way and none implement it as per the ISO spec. Each version of MS Office itself seems to have trouble with files created in any other version. Apparently MS Office 2007 and 2010 both used “transitional” versions of their format (but each one was different and neither appear to have been properly written out so that others can implement either). The Mac 2008 version seems to be different again.

    Also the spec for ODF seems to be around 1,200 pages with the one for OOXML being about 6 times larger. So OOXML seems to create extra complexity and appears to be unable to deliver on the promise of interoperability.

    Is there anyone outside of MS that is;
    a) expert enough to notice when OOXML implementations are outside of the ISO spec
    b) able to force MS to comply with their ISO version

    ODF is created by a 3rd party organisation which has representation from many different companies including MS. So it is not entirely dependant on the whims of a single profit-making company.

    Also i find it interesting that the OOXML format came out just after MS abandoned it’s RTF format (well, suddenly stopped developing it after it apparently losing a court-case). MS’s promises for OOXML seem much the same as their promises for RTF and their excuses for it not quite achieving those promises seem much the same too. I wonder if there will be a court case around OOXML as there apparently was for RTF.

    Regards from
    Tom Davies

  48. j1d says:

    The only OOXML tha can be called al open standard is Strict OOXML, conformant to ISO/IEC 29500-2:2012 Strict.
    I’ve never seen an official Microsoft statement about MS-Office being presently compliant with ISO/IEC 29500-2:2012.

  49. Anonymous says:

    Vote up!


    Vote down!


    From the «open-and-shut docx» department: Title: England’s Open Standards Plans May Not Sit Well with Microsoft

  50. Juan says:

    I’m happy about how wonderful it is that more and more goverments are moving to free alternatives, saving thousands of millions in software licenses and using them for other purposes such as education or health services. I’m from Spain, and it would be
    nice if my goverment did the same. Unfortunately, the Spanish government sucks and the only reason they could think to do this is to retain that money for them 🙁

  51. tomtyi says:

    27 Jun 2014 1:28 PM
    Spanish government may suck, but Valencian do not. Nor Extremadura’s. 😉

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