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Microsoft tells Labour not to mandate a single open standard for documents

Caroline Baldwin

Microsoft has told the Labour Party not to mandate a single standard for open documents, suggesting a future Labour government should recommend multiple open standards instead.

In a document submitted to the Labour Party, as part of its Digital Government Review, the IT giant said it “strongly supports open standards,” but would want a future government to ensure procurement policy be “technologically neutral and objective” by not ruling out specific products or suppliers.

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“This would ensure buyer choice and help departments deploy products that are interoperable and future proofed,” said Microsoft.

In January, the government announced a set of open standards that it hopes will be used for documents across government.

After gathering feedback from users in government, the preferred open standards selected were PDF and HTML for viewing documents, and ODF, CSV, TXT and HTML for using and sharing documents.

Much to Microsoft’s annoyance, the standards proposed do not include its preferred format, Open XML (OOXML).

“Enabling new suppliers to enter the public sector while reducing costs and aligning with government’s wider procurement policies is a worthy aspiration,” said Microsoft in its submission. “To deliver them it is essential that government does not become too narrow in its view of which technologies can help them get there.”

The dominant system in government is Microsoft Word, and Whitehall IT chiefs hope that by adopting PDF and HTML standards for viewing documents and ODF, CSV, TXT and HTML for using and sharing documents, other products will be also used, reducing the dependence on a single supplier.

Michel Van der Bel, area vice-president for the UK, Microsoft said in February: “Mandating one open standard for discrete document formats over another completely ignores benefits enabled by a choice of modern formats and is therefore likely to increase, not decrease, costs."

Microsoft has previously lobbied the government over its open standards plans, and claimed that adopting ODF would cost the taxpayer over £500m to move away from its current proprietary formats.

OOXML was created by Microsoft and controversially pushed through the International Standards Organisation (ISO) after lobbying by the software giant. Critics warned that an open standard controlled by one company could never be as interoperable as one that was independent and widely accepted.


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