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File standards, goodbye Microsoft

Open Technology.

Open source and standards is the current and important initiative in organisations but how many are actually living the dream.

More and more, if GOV.uk is to be believed. Recently the UK Government has dropped using proprietary file formats and moved completely to open standards.

You probably recognise the problems of trying to open a Word 2007 document on any computer other than the exact configuration it was created on. It may open, it may even appear to work but in a lot of cases content is mis-formatted or just plain incomplete.

We’ve been driving to supporting open document standards for a number of years, and have dropped .doc and .xls formats some time back. For documents we prefer HTML5, plain text, RTF (Rich Text) and if you need pin sharp layout control then PDF/A is what we encourage.

We plan to phase out support for RTF by 2016 and encourage HTML5 as the base standard for viewing documents.

We also recently we’ve adopted the Open Document Standard for editing and that gives us access to:

  • .odt (OpenDocument Text) for word-processing (text) documents
  • .ods (OpenDocument Spreadsheet) for spreadsheets
  • .odp (OpenDocument Presentation) for presentations

These only apply if a document being sent to us requires us to edit it. If there is no edit need then plain text or PDF works just fine.

Are we being difficult?

Yes and no. A little short-term pain will help everyone in the longer term. Besides, if it’s good enough for the government then it’s good enough for us. Besides, Microsoft is no longer the dominant platform in the enterprise it once was.

Will we still accept documents in other formats? Yes, but we won’t be held accountable for errors and may make a time charge for conversion. Here is the discussion on the GOV.uk blog.