OpenOffice boom in Belgium

The number of public administrations in Belgium that use the open source office productivity suite OpenOffice is rising steadily. And with it the use of the open document format ODF.

OVAM, Flanders’ Public Waste Agency, already adapted its back office to support ODF a couple of years ago. They are now awaiting the decision of the Flemish Minister of Environment to move the four hundred desktops to OpenOffice.


Ben van den Brande, a representative of the agency spoke in February last year at the ODF Workshop organised by NOiV, the Dutch resource centre on open source and open standards. Talking about the backend integration, Van den Brande said: “We immediately recognised the advantages of ODF.”

A second recent example is the administration of the city of Schoten. The city council is a well-known early-adopter of free software, and  migrated to OpenOffice this summer. They did postpone the adoption of ODF, however, because of internal pressure, according to sources close to the administration. The IT department donated to the OpenOffice community their collection of more than fifty videos on how to use the OpenOffice’s text editor ‘Writer’.

Furthermore, the city has created its own community consisting of IT-professionals from cities, schools, companies in the social economy sector and volunteer organisations and organises workshops to promote the usage of free software and open standards.

The Port of Antwerp started preparing the migration of 1300 desktops to OpenOffice earlier this year. The completion of the migration is expected around September 2010. The IT-department decided not only to move to ODF, but also to use ODF as their primary file format for communication with third parties.

In order to facilitate this policy, employees will have references to the ODF plugin for the proprietary Microsoft Office and to the OpenOffice website in their e-mail signatures. Ludo Nauws, IT-manager: “It’s a good time for us to move to OpenOffice. The alternative would be migration to Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft’s operating system Vista. That would require two days of training for our employees, just to start finding their way in the new software package. OpenOffice is very similar to our current office suite, Microsoft Office 2003.”


Most users are lifted from an average user level to an above-average level in just half a day, he says. “The standard migration training focuses on the differences between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice and explains trainees how to change their habits away from ad-hoc working towards a more structural approach, which speeds up their work no matter which office suite they are using.”

The fourth example, the Province of Limburg, found that correctly converting macros to OpenOffice was absolutely essential to move away from Microsoft Office. After several false starts, they recently found an IT service provider who could help them out with this problem.

The Province’s next step will be the actual migration of the desktops and the choice of a free document management system. According to local service provider representative Koen Goor: “More cities and local governments are expected to follow this example soon, as service providers have been preparing the integration of OpenOffice for the last two years. Roll-outs of new applications have started recently.”

More information:

OVAM presentation (pdf, in Dutch)

Schoten Hands-on Labs

OpenOffice Writer movies


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