Government wants to drop Microsoft Office for open source alternatives

By Danny Palmer
29 Jan 2014 View Comments
Microsoft Office 365 staircase

The government is looking to save millions in taxpayers' money by dropping the "oligopoly" of Microsoft Office in favour of open source alternatives such as Google Docs and Open Office.

That's what Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude told journalists at a government event designed to showcase new online services as part of its "digital by default" efficiency drive. It's estimated government departments have spent over £200m on Microsoft Office applications alone since 2010.

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"The software we use in government is still supplied by just a few large companies. A tiny oligopoly dominates the marketplace," said Maude.

"I want to see a greater range of software used, so civil servants have access to the information they need and can get their work done without having to buy a particular brand of software.

Maude argued that switching to open source software will make collaboration between government departments, and collaboration between Whitehall and the general public, simpler to achieve.

"In the first instance, this will help departments to do something as simple as share documents with each other more easily. But it will also make it easier for the public to use and share government information," he said.

"So we have been talking to users about the problems they face when they read or work with our documents - and we have been inviting ideas from experts on how to solve these challenges."

The government also showcased improvements to other digital services, something it claims is on track to make £1.2bn in savings. Tasks made more efficient - and better value for money - by being made online include voter registration, visa applications, viewing driving records and organising prison visits.

"Digitising public services is all part of our long-term economic plan to save hard-working taxpayers money and to give people peace of mind through high-quality public services which they can use when and where it suits them," said Maude.

Mike Bracken, executive director of the Government Digital Service, said that at 200 days into a 400-day plan, "departments are rapidly getting the skills and resources they need to deliver digital services that rival the best in the world. We're making digital public services as easy and convenient as online banking or booking a ticket online. Digital by default is becoming reality right across government."

However, not every government digital project has gone smoothly. The Universal Credit welfare programme has faced a series of delays and has wasted millions in taxpayers' money, one former Department for Work and Pensions employee told Computing.

The Public Accounts Committee has also slammed the DWP for "alarmingly weak management" and a "shocking absence of control".

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