Government releases open source document standards

The government has released a set of standards setting out open source file formats which will be the new standard for government bodies.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude today announced that the standard formats will be PDF/A or HTML for viewing government documents, and Open Document Format (ODF) for sharing or collaborating on government documents.

The government says the move will save public bodies and businesses money as well as creating a level playing field for small and large suppliers.

Maude said: “We have listened to those who told us that open standards will reduce their costs and make it easier to work with government.”

Mike Bracken, executive director of the Government Digital Service, said: “Using an open standard will mean people won’t have costs imposed on them just to view or work with information from government. It’s a big step forward, and I’m delighted we’re taking it.”

However, the move was criticised by large ICT supplier Microsoft, which said that it was “unproven and unclear” how UK citizens would benefit from the decision.

In a statement it said: “We actively support a broad range of open standards, which is why (like Adobe has with the PDF file format) we now collaborate with many contributors to maintain the Open XML file format through independent and international standards bodies. 

“We also believe that giving users a choice of standards is an important spur to improvement, competition and consequently, innovation.

“The government’s stated and laudable strategy to be cloud-first in the provision of its services to citizens depends on nurturing, not constraining such innovation.”

The new standards will come into effect straight away for all new procurements which are subject to the open standards principles. GDS will work with departments to publish guidance and implementation plans.

Steve Nice, CTO of open source consultancy firm Reconnix, said: “Adopting open standards is a step in the right direction, but a more important step will be the wholesale adoption of open source software across government. 

“There is currently a major cultural barrier to open source adoption in government, and those making the purchasing decisions need to break the habit of going straight to the traditional big suppliers.”

Colin Marrs

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