VA looks for Microsoft alternatives


With an eye on reducing ongoing software costs, the Veterans Affairs Department said it is exploring alternatives to Microsoft Corp.’s longstanding Office Suite productivity software that has dominated federal desktops for two decades.

The VA currently owns and operates the 2003, 2007 and 2010 versions of Office, which include Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and which are being used by more than 300,000 VA employees. Use of the integrated software suite has provided for interoperability between the VA’s many units.

However, as the VA looks for ways to cut the costs of licensed software installed on desktops, officials said one strategy is to examine the possibility of cloud-based and software alternatives to the desktop-installed Office software, according to a Feb. 17 announcement on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

Other government agencies, including the central government of Australia, also have taken steps to adopt more open architectures and open source and cloud software, partly for cost-cutting but also for ease of adoption to multiple mobile platforms, among other reasons. A recent factor that may be contributing to the trend is that while the Apple iPad has become more popular for government use, Microsoft Office for iPad is not yet widely available, which has driven some users to adopt alternative word processing and documents solutions.

The VA’s Office of Information and Technology said it 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, as well as Access, Visio, OneNote and Project.

The alternatives could include off-premises cloud systems such as Microsoft’s Office 365, Google Apps, LotusLive or others, the VA said. Generally such systems offer access to the cloud-based productivity solution on a monthly fee basis.

The solutions also could include an on-premises cloud based terminal server or application virtualization system, such as a system providing Microsoft Office 2010.

A third alternative could be a desktop-installed software that offers similar features to Microsoft Office, such as OpenOffice.org, which is a free, open-source product.

The VA has issued a Request for Information asking vendors to submit white papers by March 15 assessing the available options, based on their functional capabilities, per-seat costs, security, and interoperability with current applications.

The department intends to run a pilot project demonstrating the alternative choices to Microsoft Office.

“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,” the VA said.

Microsoft executives were not immediately available to comment on the pilot project.

Many business users also are adopting open source and alternative software solutions at a lower cost than office, according to a Feb. 8 article in ComputerWorld. It mentions OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice and Kingsoft Office Suite as potential alternatives to Office.

A number of governments around the world are using, or considering, adoption of the OpenDocument format for documents, which is an Extensible Markup Language (XML) format developed as part of OpenOffice.org, according to an article in Wikipedia.



Reader Comments

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 Click2Flash California

I support having the government, of all institutions, moving to the use of open standards for the exchange of information. Programs like LibreOffice are not hard to use, and the interface is similar to that MSOffice 2003. The retraining cost thus should not be that large.

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 Asheville, NC

Horrible idea. There are 4 legs to this stool. Software, Hardware, Support, and retraining about 300,000 people. Openend software is for small offices. How many people have training in OpenOffice.org tech Support? Or certificates. What about security. No one knows how many backdoors exsit in this code. Who is responsible for upkeep?

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 Olde Sarge DC

Open Office. It has a very intuitive user interface. It is fully compatible with the MS Ofice formats (import or export) and itself uses a fully open standard. It is platform independent and costs nothing. Support can be purchased form many vendors on a very reasonable per seat basis. With MS Office it is the equivalent of paying for the full license per user each year.

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