One Simple Thing

At the UK ODF Plugfest the UK Govt deputy CIO asked me to follow up my suggestion for one simple thing that could be done to help level the playing field for all types of software in Government

I suggested that DCLG should remove the embedded code from electronic office documents used for data exchange with Local Authorities. Here’s the follow-up:

Even if the ultimate solution were web based data entry the embedded code could be removed now, for several reasons:

  • the two solutions are not mutually exclusive
  • when would the web solution happen and what happens until then?
  • an office document, e.g., a spreadsheet is a convenient mechanism for “store and forward” unlikely to be rendered obsolete by a web form, which itself could just be cost with few, if any, overall productivity benefits

Issuing the documents without the embedded code is something that could be done quickly, send messages and unlock several advantages:

  • it shows Government is serious about levelling the playing field for different types of software
  • while it might impose some cost on central Government it would enable cheaper solutions across over 400 Local Authorities and goodness knows how many councils below that tier
  • it would enable acceptance of ODF as a standard within the public sector
  • it would reduce pressure to upgrade existing office productivity suites by “ratchet”
  • who knows what other innovations it would unlock?

At the same event we heard from Bristol City Council explaining that these electronic documents were one factor in the decision to resile from its decision to use OpenOffice

We recently received the following enquiry (anonymised):

“I am on a small town council and am trying to interest it in changing from Microsoft to Open Office. If it did it would still have to communicate with the rest of the world using Microsoft.”

“You can receive an Excel file and open it in Open Office. But when saving an Open Office file back into Excel you can only do so in an early version of Excel thus losing complex formatting and macros.”

“How do you get round this? Where can you go to get answers to practical questions like this without paying experts much more than what you might save by making the change?”

Easy, have central Government focus on interoperability and not product features

— Gerry Gavigan, Chair, 28 February 2011

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