Google, Microsoft, and Collabora speak to Government hosted Plugfest


This morning British and American businesses are gathering for a strategic two day conference targeting the compatibility of documents used in Government. Under discussion is Open Document Format (ODF) — the family of Open Standard file formats used by LibreOffice by default. Although this is the 10th ODF Plugfest event organised by The OpenDoc Society, and the third to be held in the UK, this is the first time such an event has been hosted by central Government. The Government Digital Service (GDS), which is the in-house IT unit of the Cabinet Office, has provided premises, hospitality, and representatives for speaking. 50 Attendees from a range of international organisations are today hearing from leaders of the field, including:

  • Chris DiBona, Google’s Director of Open Source
  • Magnus Falk, Government Deputy Chief Technology Office
  • Graham Taylor, Chief Executive at OpenForum Europe
  • Chris Rae, Standards Professional at Microsoft
  • Michael Meeks, Vice President at Collabora Productivity
  • Dr. Steven Pemberton, National Research Institute, Netherlands
  • Boris Devouge, Senior Cloud architect at HP
  • Svante Schubert, Committee chairman at OASIS

Work on advancing the compatibility of ODF between supporting applications comes at a critical time for British technology policy. Having adopted the format as the defacto document standard for all departments, the question is now how and when public bodies will become compliant with the requirements. The move to ODF is driven by a shift towards Open Standards in the public sector, in order to realise the many benefits that they offer. Because of that, the degree to which files in ODF format work across the many applications that support them is crucially important. Improving compatibility is the purpose of Plugfest events, as Linda Humphries of the GDS writes:

“Plugfests provide both vendors and organisations implementing the standard with knowledge about ODF and the software that supports it. The aim is to help vendors to improve their products so that users have a better experience when they exchange documents… Speakers will share lessons learned. Developers also have the opportunity to engage in testing and coding to fix interoperability issues in private sessions.” — Linda Humphries, UK Government Digital Service

After a year of calls for greater flexibility and value for money from ICT services, the push for Open Standards has never been stronger. In January Chief procurement Officer Bill Crothers promised to end the “appalling” behaviour of some software suppliers to Government, proclaiming that an “oligopoly” of companies “have had it too good for too long”. Government Paymaster General Francis Maude echoed this sentiment in May, stating “Government must be militant about interoperability standards”.

ODF is a key standard for the public sector as it encompasses formats for exchanging the most commonly used documents, including reports, spreadsheets, and databases. Being vendor-neutral, free of license and patent fees, and supported by more than 20 different server, desktop, and mobile applications, it offers the freedom and independence that Whitehall now demands.

Two of today’s presentations come from Collabora staff: Product Manager Andras Timar and Vice President Michael Meeks. They’ll share interoperability experiences from working on LibreOffice-From-Collabora, the results of which are all included in stock LibreOffice releases from The Document Foundation. As the second largest contributor to LibreOffice (the world’s most popular Open Source ODF implementation), we’re one of the many ODF stakeholders participating in today’s Plugfest, working together to deliver the industry’s best — and most open — document formats.