Binary as a standard
Summary: A format which is detrimental to preservation, control and inter-operability is being picked by the Australian government
WHEN Microsoft was corrupting standards bodies all across the world we wrote about it a great deal. There were numerous formal complaints from nations, too, including very large nations. It is sad to see that Microsoft’s atrocious behaviour persists with apparent entryism. Based on the latest from Australia, OOXML, which is proprietary, is being considered as a format for government use:
Just over 12 months ago, we published the first version of the Whole-of-Government Common Operating Environment (COE) Policy on this blog. Unexpectedly, it resulted in the largest number of comments we have ever received on a single post. The surprise was compounded as we had sought comments on the draft policy twice in the preceding months, to little effect.
Most of the discussion was on a small aspect of the policy: the prefered document standards for interoperability within government. This was a little frustrating as only a small number of correspondents identified that the policy neither drove any new expenditure nor affected citizens or business. Readers will see that we have tried to better explain the situation this time.
Clearly, the Australian government, not unlike many others is not high on expertise in IT to even consider taking another step on the Wintel treadmill. They need educating and perhaps this latest round in requests for comments will educate them. We can only hope.
The Australian Government’s peak IT strategy group has issued a cautious updated appraisal of currently available office productivity suite file formats, in what appears to be an attempt to more fully explain its thinking about the merits of open standards such as OpenDocument versus more proprietary file formats promulgated by vendors like Microsoft.
In January 2011, the Australian Government Information Management Office raised eyebrows globally when it published the first draft of its Common Operating Environment Policy. The document contained a number of guidelines restricting how departments and agencies across the Federal Government should set up desktop PCs, including a stipulation that Microsoft’s Office Open XML file format become a standard.
However, most alternative office suites cannot write documents in the standard. The ODF Alliance, which is supporting a rival format, claimed last year the Office Open XML format was riddled with “Windows-platform dependencies” and essentially tied users to Microsoft Office, and some organisations, such as the National Archives of Australia, have picked the ODF standard instead in the long-term. AGIMO subsequently defended its decision, stating it had no vendor bias.
On Friday last week, AGIMO noted in a blog post that its policy was now complete, but it wanted to re-open the debate about the issue, as this might inform future policies. The result was a sea of criticism directed at the agency for its decision to standard on Office Open XML instead of the rival ODF format.
We have had some discussions about this in IRC. In short, this decision should not be permitted because it makes the nation a hostage of one overseas company — one with a very abusive past and deals that are economically unsound. Since at least one of the people deciding ‘on behalf’ of Australians used to work with Microsoft, there’s room for complaints here. We hope that our Australian readers will take action. █