Opposition to Openness: Obstacles to Open Office in Government IT

I have been working on a presentation on XAMPP for my LUG meeting Thursday–just a basic introduction about what it is, what it does, file structure, and a few utilities.

I have finished the take-away handout, though I’ll probably fine-tune it over the next couple of days as I discover the typos that spellcheck missed. I will work on the slides next–most of the show will be live demo from my laptop, but I have decided to use a few slides. (I didn’t need an outline, because I know the topic very well, so the handout is doubling as my outline.)

I note that what a lot of people do is design their slides first, then build the presentation around them, which is completely backwards and which is why many persons say that powerpoint is evil–presenters let the medium, a piece of slideware, drive the message, when, in fact, the message should drive the medium.

(I also refuse to use copies of slides as handouts. That’s lazy and inconsiderate of the audience. Paper and the display screen are two different media and should be treated as such.)

I am doing all of this in Open Office.

So a column in today’s Guardian about the obstacles local British governments face in trying to move to Open Office, which is free, open source, and multi-platform, seemed quite timely.

Despite the potential saving millions of pounds in software licensing fees, they are finding an uphill battle, not least because businesses and vendors are heavily invested in Microsoft Office. An excerpt (the “Maxwell” in the item is Liam Maxwell, the councillor responsible for IT policy at the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead):

“Only the Cabinet Office can set this standard. It does sound a bit wet [to be waiting for that instead of just doing it in the council] but this is what’s actually stopping it happening. There’s a huge saving to be made. If just half of councils moved half of their employees from Microsoft Office formats to ODF the cost of running desktops could come down dramatically – it would save £51m. If all of the councils moved all of their employees off Office, the savings would be £200m, though of course you’re not going to get that happening.”

What’s tying them into Office? As Maxwell put it to me, “you assume Office is only used for, well, office-y things like writing a letter or doing a presentation. Sadly it is not that simple, if it were £300 Office licences would have gone years ago (because it is a commodity, there’s an open source version of it).

“However, because Microsoft Office is integrated into the applications our officers use (when they want to write a planning letter they have to use Microsoft Word because it is coded that way in the planning application) we are stuck with it. So engineering our way out of that is pretty complex.”

By the way, after I give my presentation, I’ll link to a *.PDF of the handout. Open Office has included export-to-PDF capability for I-can’t-remember-how-long over five years.

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