Comments on UK government’s consultation on document standards

The UK is currently inviting comments on the standards it should use for “sharing or collaborating with government documents”. Among other things, the government proposes to make ODF the sole standard for office-type documents.

FSFE has submitted its comments on this proposal, which we believe is very positive. Just now, in the final hours of the process, Microsoft has submitted a lengthy comment, urging the government to include OOXML in its list of standards.

We have filed a short response to Microsoft’s submission. While it should appear on the consultation page shortly, I’m publishing it here right now.

If you, too, believe that the UK government should in future rely on Open Standards alone, please hurry up and file comments of your own.

The lengthy discussion Microsoft offers here essentially boils down to a single demand: That the UK government should in future rely on OOXML simply because it’s what Microsoft’s products support.

This claim is diametrally opposed to the significant efforts that the UK government has recently made to break free from vendor lock-in and stop the IT procurement gravy train, and to the progress that it has made in this direction. Microsoft’s claim also ignores the great extent of preparation which has gone into this proposal, and the thorough analysis of user needs which the government has conducted, and on which the present proposal is based.

Competition takes place on top of standards, not between them. OOXML fails the UK government’s Open Standards definition, in that it is clearly dependent on a single supplier: Microsoft itself.

Whenever a government breaks out of the status quo, and takes bold action to improve matters for the long term, it is easy to manufacture fear, uncertainty, and doubt. We would hope that Microsoft will instead embrace competition, and ensure that all its office products work well with ODF. The company could then rely on the strengths of its product portfolio, rather than on the lock-in strategies that have made it the target of competition regulators around the world.

We are confident that when assessing Microsoft’s response, the UK government will keep the question of “cui bono?” firmly in mind.