US Veterans’ Administrations Looking at Alternative Office Suites

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.

LibreOffice in action on my desktop:

UPDATE
I discovered NASA is doing the same with their web sites and web applications.

  1. We will strive for vendor independence through the use of open source software.
  2. We will prefer COTS, GOTS and Open Source solutions over custom built solutions. This includes cloud offerings.
  3. Open standards based solutions will be utilized over closed proprietary solutions.
  4. All applications will expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.
  5. At a minimum, data access services should be provided by RESTful technologies.
  6. 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.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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9 Responses to US Veterans’ Administrations Looking at Alternative Office Suites

  1. Phenom says:

    Very large spreadsheets are just about irrelevant in the world of office productivity

    Classic. YouDon’tNeedThat(TM).

    Well, actually, companies need that. We speak of a hundred thousand records or so, Pogson, not of 500 milion. All your recommendations are a simple overkill. Strange, weren’t you the guy who defended the notion that companies do not want excessive equipment?

    Excel happens to come along with a pretty nice set of financial functions, which no database out there supports by default. It also can perform these calculations on some hundred thousand records without much trouble on a mediocre CPU.

    Not only that, Excel also has quite good statistical tools, which come very handy, too.

    Using and processing that data in a database calls for a custom sofware. Which needs to be developed, tested, and supported. Why not simply use Excel, which can do the job for a hundred bucks?

    The tools, more powerful than Excel, cost a lot.

  2. Phenom wrote, “It took OO / LO quite a long time to support very large spreadsheets.”

    Very large spreadsheets are just about irrelevant in the world of office productivity. They are an indication of incompetence in IT. Such objects should be on servers in a database. Databases have the advantages of speed, compactness, locking, sharing, reliability that are lacking in office suites running on PCs without RAID, ECC RAM, gigabit/s networking, etc. They usually show that someone failed to make the right decision years ago during the evolution of the object.

    Phenom wrote, “90% of all LO installations run on Windows, and 5% – on Mac”. That’s a good sign. It shows 95% of the world’s installations could be getting ready to migrate to GNU/Linux because there’s nothing holding them back.

    Unfortunately, Phenom lied. This is what was written on arsTechnica:
    LibreOffice has seen particularly broad adoption on the Linux operating system, which accounts for 15 million of the program’s users. Of LibreOffice’s other 10 million users, 90 percent use Windows and 5 percent use Mac OS X. Counting all hits to LibreOffice download mirrors, the total download count exceeds 22 million.

    Notice, that’s 90% of usage other than GNU/Linux, not 90% of all usage.

    I expect those numbers are sadly out of date as LibreOffice is growing rapidly and many distros now use it. I don’t know how they count the GNU/Linux usage if it comes from a distro. I doubt most grandmothers using GNU/Linux will download direct instead of taking the default installation that came with their PC.

    This is what TDF wrote,
    Downloads since January 25, 2011, the day of availability of the first stable release, have just exceeded 6 million from 81 TDF mirrors, and amount to 7.5 million when you add external sites (like Softpedia) offering the same package. In addition, there are many more users who install LibreOffice from a CD burned from the ISO images available online or bundled with a magazine. TDF estimates that there are 10 million users worldwide having installed from downloads and CDs. Over 90% of those are on Windows, with another 5% on MacOS.

    Linux users, in contrast, get LibreOffice from their distribution repository. Based on IDC reckonings for new or updated Linux installations in 2011, TDF estimates a subtotal of 15 million Linux users, as LibreOffice is the office suite of choice for all Linux distributions.

  3. Phenom says:

    if they use LibreOffice consistently throughout the organization they will not need to do anything with documents from Excel

    Did it hurt, Pogson?

    It took OO / LO quite a long time to support very large spreadsheets. In 2011. Before that, OO / LO were irrelevant for financial calculations. Further, MS Office macros are not fully compatible with OO / LO macros. Therefore, “consistently” in your case actually means “not using many useful features the competition has”. And, that is, without coupling Office to other systems like Sharepoint and Exchange, which still have no feasible alternative in the FLOSS world.

    Btw, according to The Document Foundation, 90% of all LO installations run on Windows, and 5% – on Mac.

  4. gewg_ says:

    LibreOffice 3.5 can import Visio files into Draw and Impress.

  5. Kozmcrae says:

    “At least Office 365 can render content of complex documents and excel sheets properly.”

    At least if they allow themselves to remain dependent on Microsoft they will stay dependent on Microsoft and pay for the pain of staying with Microsoft.

  6. Phenom wrote, “At least Office 365 can render content of complex documents and excel sheets properly.”

    LibreOffice has no problem with complex documents and of course if they use LibreOffice consistently throughout the organization they will not need to do anything with documents from Excel so Phenom’s comment is wrong and/or irrelevant.

  7. Phenom says:

    If they really use those a lot (and not just superficially), then Office365, GoogleDocs and LO/OOo won’t take them far

    At least Office 365 can render content of complex documents and excel sheets properly. Which, sadly, can’t be said about the others.

  8. ch says:

    “Access, Visio, OneNote and Project”

    If they really use those a lot (and not just superficially), then Office365, GoogleDocs and LO/OOo won’t take them far. My predictions: Eventually the VA will get a better volume discount, nothing else will be changed, and everybody will live happily ever after 😉

  9. oe says:

    “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.”

    Well if your converting the Halloween Documents and the Anti-Trust trial PDF’s and making a real dent getting them into text searchable, open standard form as a hobbysit with 1/2 page of bash code; think of what the VA will be able to do with hiring a couple of full time FOSS wizes, it’s not like they couldn’t use perhaps 1% of the savings in license fee’s from getting off that Other OS to hire such folk….

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