Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The truth about Bristol City Council and Open Source Software

I've been contacted by someone who is trying to get a perfectly reasonable comment past the moderators on The Register for this article which almost reads like an advert for Bristol City Council's IT department. The fact they're not letting this comment through speaks volumes.

So what is this information?

Well, it concerns this:

The council has been seen as something of a poster child for open source public sector contracts in the past. In November 2004 it declared plans to shift 5,000 workers off proprietary desktop software over to Sun Microsystem’s StarOffice 7, in a move it said at the time would save £1.4m by 2009

I'm told this is not how it went down. Apparently, there were a number of terrible decisions made with this roll-out, chief of which was to not set the default file type that it opened/saved to Microsoft Office, instead keeping it at OpenDocument Format. Apparently this was done because it's the "European Standard" (never mind that it's not any kind of standard, given that nearly all companies use MS Office), but this decision, combined with poor communication and training of staff resulted in many,many staff thinking that they wouldn't be able to open and save the MS Office documents they and external companies used, so they applied for an "Exception", ensuring they could still use Office.

So what's the outcome of this?

At the end of the StarOffice roll-out, there were more individual MS Office licenses purchased and in use than before.

So instead of saving £1.4m they actually lost money.

Nice to see they're so honest about it.


Forest Pines said...

An organisation of BCC's size - the biggest employer in south-west England, I'm told - will get huge discounts from Microsoft so long as they promise to stay with Microsoft. If you're a customer of that size, and you announce that you're now a Proud Supporter Of Open Source, especially Open Source that is produced by one of Microsoft's major commercial competitors, you shouldn't be surprised to find that your per-license price for Office suddenly goes up. And your per-license price for Windows, too (no wonder the council don't look to be moving beyond XP in a big way any time soon).

seebag said...

One needs to be careful about presupposing any competence in negotiating and decision making at BCC. This episode follows hot on the heels of the recent World Cup stadium fiasco.
Sadly they will not see themselves as accountable to us mugs who pay Council Tax.

Anonymous said...

I've been using Star Office for spreadsheets, charts, mail merge etc for 3 years without any "compatibility problems" internally or externally.

Most problems can be overcome with a bit of knowledge and thought.

The reason Open Source has failed at BCC is because staff just refused to migrate to Star and were never made to. Instead on the thinnest of excuses they were handed a pointless Microsoft licence.

BCC also has no Star Office training available and nowhere to go for advice.

It's like Open Source was set up to fail.

Bristol Dave said...

Anonymong: agreed.

One of the main reason staff refused to switch is due to a lack of communication and training about StarOffice. Had the default file format been set to MS Office, and had it been adequately explained to users that they could still use StarOffice in exactly the same way as MS Office for most operations (though I would contend that StarOffice's MailMerge is SHIT and particularly unintuitive), then there never would have been a problem.

Anonymous said...

ffs i must be the only libertarian who isn't an I t proffesional. Boring! My own line of work, pensions being highly interesting of course.

Chalcedon said...

I use Open Office, a freebie from Sun Micro. You can save in ODF or as an MS Word doc and of course it opens MS Word docs and Docx!

Have these people never heard to training or training the trainer before they went ahead with this? Ah well, it's only tax payers' cash so it doesn't count.

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Use Microsoft office 2010 Word and had to have the new version so my documents would open correctly. Enjoy the freedom of using Office 2010 from more locations on more devices.

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Printer running costs / John Robertson said...

I can't comment on all the interesting spam links and may get back to them later, but this move looks like a successful experiment to show what to do next time. Set defaults to MSWord, obviously. Follow-up the excuses to stick with word, obviously. And hire sensible staff: I think that if all new council staff had to prove they could ride a bicycle, there would be a much better approach to risk and problem solving in council offices after a few years.

I have a bit of a blog about another economy: the great Garamond of Grey font debate:

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