The Danish Århus University Hospital in Risskov, a long-time user of OpenOffice, says there are no problems at all exchanging ODF-based documents with other hospitals using Microsoft's proprietary Office 2003.
The trick is to have Microsoft users install the free Sun Microsystems ODF plugin. "Once that is installed, there are no more problems in exchanging ODF-based text documents", says Jens Christian Damgaard one of the hospital's IT administrators.
"And these are not just simple documents. Even large documents with indexes and footnotes are exchanged without problems. There is no data loss and there are no significant formatting issues. The only thing that does not work, is exchanging macro's, but no user expects that."
Damgaard says that until 2007 there were lots of problems when exchanging documents between competing office suites. Once the hospitals that use Microsoft Office 2003 began employing the Sun plugin, these issues disappeared. "Now, for the first time we actually have a open document standard that really works. We prove that it is possible to exchange documents between competing office suites."
The hospital's positive report on the use of ODF sharply contrasts the results of a recent study by Denmark's Competition Authority. The competition agency earlier this month wrote the minister of Science that there are lots of issues when exchanging documents with office suites using either ODF or Microsoft's proprietary alternative.
Staff instead of licences
The hospital, with 270 beds, has two thousand desktop users, says Damgaard. It has been using OpenOffice for five years now. At first, many of the hospital workers protested, for the earlier versions of OpenOffice did not handle Microsoft's proprietary document format very well. "In those days the head of the IT department was very unpopular. His counter argument was that using OpenOffice helps the hospital to save millions of Kroner, which are used to hiring extra nurses and doctors. And the staff understood that."
Problems with importing documents have long gone, says Damgaard. The hospital keeps up-to-date and currently runs version 3.0.1 of the open source suite. The staff have also gotten used to OpenOffice, regularly applying features that are not freely available to Microsoft Office users, such as the option to save documents in PDF (Portable Document Format)
The hospital is also using OpenOffice Writer as the editor for its electronic patient journal. "This means that now several thousand of hospital employees in the region are using OpenOffice Writer."
OpenOffice is not the only open source tool in use in the Danish hospital. Asterisk is used for the hospital's Voice Over IP (VOIP) network, several of the hospital servers run on the GNU/Linux distributions Suse, Fedora, Red Hat and Ubuntu. "Whenever we need tools, we will first look at open source", says Damgaard. The IT department recently organised a survey among the hospital staff using LimeSurvey and the IT workers use MediaWiki to maintain a knowledge base of the hospitals IT.
Damgaard says the administration in Region Midtjylland is very interested in Open Source solutions. He says these days several of the other hospitals are also starting to use OpenSource software. In some of the other hospitals employees themselves ask for OpenOffice to be installed on their workstation, because they use it on their home PC.