The Office Open XML document format exists purely because governments demanded it, according to Microsoft, which is hoping the format will become an international standard by the end of this month.
Speaking to ZDNet Australia last week, Microsoft's public-sector lead information worker, Greg Thomas, said the company's pursuit of an international standard rating for its Office Open XML (OOXML) document format was motivated largely by customer demand from within the public sector.
"A significant amount of public-sector customers were asking for it to be made an international standard," said Thomas.
However, John Brand, analyst at research firm Hydrasight, said he doesn't understand why that would be the case. "In theory there's nothing wrong with using OOXML, but I don't see any great benefit in that format over any other for a government agency."
Brand's comments were disputed today by John Ruckert, managing director of South Australian-based integrator Oconics, the firm responsible for recently converting South Australia's parliamentary Hansard to OOXML.
Ruckert said the format had a "far more powerful search capability" than the alternatives on offer and that the capacity for the "extraction and manipulation of data with the format far outweighs anything I've seen".
"What we're trying to do is make information more accessible, and we do that by targeting areas to search or find specific information with greater speed, which is what I believe this format is effective for," said Ruckert.
Hydrasight's Brand was critical about the way document formats are chosen by governmental departments. He said that OOXML's adoption in government was too often based on project work, such as that involved in Oconics' partnership with the South Australian government.
"I think that's the wrong way to think about it. What tends to happen with this kind of work is that a whole lot of money will be invested into building applications to support the format after the project, so you end up getting a very complex environment around one format," said Brand.
"At the end of the day, it's just a document format," Brand added.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) will vote on the fate of Microsoft's format by 29 February, 2008.