From the VA’s Request for Information:
“to lower cost VA wishes to pilot alternatives to the desktop installed versions of the Microsoft Office productivity suite of applications. VA Office of Information and Technology intends to solicit proposals for alternative architectures for providing an office productivity suite with similar functions that are offered in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and where available Access, Visio, OneNote and Project. The alternative architecture may be provided through an off-premises cloud system such as Office 365, Google Apps, LotusLive or others. Or it could be provided through an on-premises cloud based terminal server or application virtualization system providing Microsoft Office 2010 as an example. Or it could be provided through a desktop installed version of a lower cost office productivity suite such as OpenOffice as another example. The purpose of the pilot is to understand the issues such as security, supportability, interoperability, ease of use, end user satisfaction, speed, network requirements and compatibility with Microsoft based products over a diverse set of users within a large enterprise setting.”
Cool. Notice the term “similar functions” instead of features of M$’s stuff. Once people consider what they actually do with computers the need for M$’s monopoly disappears. People create, find, modify and display information instead of propping up M$’s monopoly on the desktop. It’s all good.
I have been using OpenOffice.org and lately LibreOffice for years with no ill effects and plenty of benefits like working well with PDF and using proper open standard file-formats. The only problem the VA will have if it switches over is what to do with the bulk of archived documents in M$’s various formats. My recommendation is to convert as many of them as possible to PDFs and leave them as archives. They rarely have to modify old documents. They should be able to do that using their present software and some “print” function. The cost of the migration would largely be the cost of processing those archives. That cost should be chalked up as a mistake of the past because it will not be an on-going cost.
Munich found its largest pain was converting a lot (21000 forms and macros) of interactive things like spreadsheets using scripts. That was a huge mistake to use such things because they are M$-only. Where I lasted worked, I used unoconv to get OpenOffice.org to convert a raft of report cards in a few minutes. Debian GNU/Linux and other distros have it for LibreOffice. One can use scripting to get it to loop over a whole file-system converting everything in its path automatically.
Likely, the VA will have to budget the conversion process for old documents over years to avoid spikes, but at the same time a release-cycle of their existing software would have a similar expense so the average lifetime of a PC or installation of that other OS would be a good time-frame.
I discovered NASA is doing the same with their web sites and web applications.
- We will strive for vendor independence through the use of open source software.
- We will prefer COTS, GOTS and Open Source solutions over custom built solutions. This includes cloud offerings.
- Open standards based solutions will be utilized over closed proprietary solutions.
- All applications will expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.
- At a minimum, data access services should be provided by RESTful technologies.
- Applications that require authentication will integrate with Agency authentication services.
It looks to me as though the doors for FLOSS are opening wide in the US government.