To some, this might not seem that big of a deal. But if you've been following the standards war between Microsoft and the open-source community, you know that this is, without a doubt, a big deal. Just what is this big deal? The UK government declared that all official office suites must support Open Document Format (ODF). Why did this happen? The answer to that is quite simple, but you have to look beyond your own scope of perception and reality:
Not everyone uses Microsoft Office.
That's right. Even though we, in the US, tend to assume that everyone on the planet does things exactly the way we do... they don't. In fact, take a look at this list of entities using LibreOffice:
- German city of Munich
- Spanish autonomous region of Valencia
- Italian province of South Tyrol
- The city of Largo
- Spanish city of Las Palmas
- Greek city of Pylaia-Chortiatis
- Hospitals in Copenhagen
- The administrative authority of the Île-de-France region
- The Irish city of Limerick
- French military police
The list goes on. But now, a major government power has made a shift and a statement. With this change, the government will save the UK over 2 billion dollars (during the life of the current Parliament).
2 billion dollars.
Let that sink in. By simply allowing users to employ open-source office suites, such as LibreOffice, the government will save 2 billion dollars.
The open standard is something that can no longer be ignored. For businesses to claim the ROI of using open standards does nothing for cost effectiveness and savings is flat out wrong. Switching from Microsoft Office to a suite such as LibreOffice saves money. Period. And this decision by the UK government will have a major impact on decisions made by other large entities across the globe. Not only will other organizations seriously consider the switch to the ODF format, but all other office suites. At the moment, Google Docs does a fairly good job of supporting ODF (it can convert .odt documents into the Google Doc format and then export to .odt). But being able to open a document isn't exactly fully complying with a standard.
This may not make a huge difference to those who already use open-source software. In the end, however, it will make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things. This isn't just a welcome reception for open-source standards — this is an opening of a giant doorway for open source as a whole.
Linux has been slowly building steam for some time now. Having such support for the flagship office suite will go a long way to continue pushing Linux into the spotlight. Of course, this doesn't mean that, all of a sudden, government entities will start adopting Linux wholesale. It does, however, remove yet another hurdle to adoption.
This adoption is more than business and RIO. This is about embracing, inclusion, and freedom. In the US, there's a serious problem with schools insisting that students submit their homework in a supported digital format. Even school systems suffering from budgetary issues (with students living at or near the poverty level) often require a format that's only available in Microsoft Office. This becomes a serious issue when a cross section of the enrolled students cannot afford the tools necessary to do their work. The decision by the UK government could easily open the door to solving this issue.
This decision is as much about empowering citizens as it is about saving money. By embracing the open format, anyone with a computer can work with a document. Anyone. You no longer have to be concerned about getting your hands on a copy of Microsoft Office... just to do your homework, collaborate with a government document, or do your job. Any software that supports the open document format is good to go — and you can get your hands on such software for free.
It's been a long road for the open document standard, but all that work has paid off. To everyone who has had a hand in developing and improving the open document standard... I applaud and thank you.
Has your company adopted the open document standard? If not, what prevents them from making the switch? Share your experience and thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Keep up with the open source world by automatically subscribing to TechRepublic's Linux and Open Source newsletter.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.