U.K. gov embraces Libre Office, kicks Microsoft into touch

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The U.K. government has made a deal to make the open-source office suite Libre Office available across its public sector, in what seems to be an effort to ween itself off of Microsoft Office.

The U.K.’s Crown Commercial Service (CCS) said this week that its agreed a deal with a company called Collabora Productivity Ltd., to make its GovOffice software available to public sector organizations. GovOffice is a fork of LibreOffice designed especially for government use, and is said to offer “considerable cost savings” when compared to proprietary alternatives like Microsoft’s Office suite.

Microsoft has good reason to be concerned about the deal, because it’s a pretty comprehensive one that also includes a product called “CloudSuite” that’s currently in development. CloudSuite provides users both cloud and mobile access to GovOffice, allowing for documents to be viewed and edited by collaborators locally, on mobile devices, and via Web browsers. In other words, it provides the same kind of critical functionality that Microsoft offers with its cloud-based Office 365 platform.

The deal underlines how Microsoft’s is finding it increasingly difficult to sell licenses for its software in the age of open-source. Collabora isn’t actually selling anything, but the CCS will pay it for technical assistance and support. While still not completely free, it’s much cheaper than paying Microsoft’s license fees.

“UK Government buyers have signed a new commercial deal for Open Source office applications on desktop, mobile, and cloud. The ‘Cloud Transition Agreement’ between the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), an executive arm of the Cabinet Office, and British Open Source software firm Collabora Productivity, states the Government’s commitment to Open Source and Open Document Format, and offers major cost savings for public sector bodies,” the CCS said in a statement.

One problem that many departments will face is that they’re still obligated to Microsoft under existing licenses, so it’s unlikely they’ll see those “considerable cost savings” for a while. Even so, it’s clear that there’s a definite trend among U.K. government departments to consider alternatives to Microsoft. Last March for example, the U.K.’s Cabinet Office switched its 2,000+ users to Google Apps, and its example was later followed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

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