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Jury still out on govt document standards

The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) is still undecided on whether it needs to mandate the support of ODF alongside Office Open XML as an alternative document format in agencies.
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Written by Luke Hopewell on

The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) is still undecided on whether it needs to mandate the support of ODF alongside Office Open XML as an alternative document format in agencies.

When the government released the first draft of its whole-of-government Common Operating Environment (COE) document — designed to standardise government IT use for security and interoperability — a row broke out over AGIMO's decision to standardise government agencies onto a Microsoft-centric document standard known as Office Open XML. The open-source community highlighted that alternative office suites like Open Office can't write documents in the Office Open XML format, which would exclude them from use in government as the sole office suite.

AGIMO reopened the issue for comment last January and received a flood of responses, many critical of the government's decision to select a Microsoft-dependent document format.

In the second draft of its whole-of-government COE document, released today, AGIMO said that the final document standard to be used across government was still "to be decided".

"Document format under further consideration," the agency wrote.

John Sheridan, first assistant secretary of AGIMO, wrote today that the follow-up blog had the most comments AGIMO had ever received on a single issue.

"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," Sheridan wrote, adding that new documentation had been prepared for community consideration.

"Recognising the interest in the document standards issue, the Working Group has given this component of the COE Policy significant consideration and is yet to make a final decision. A Document Standards Options for Consideration Paper and a Document Standards Read/Write Comparison Table have been produced for this consultation."

Sheridan reiterated the point he made last year in defence of the Office Open XML format, saying that the majority of agencies have flagged an intention to move forward with Microsoft kit in the future.

"The intent of the standard is to mandate a file format to fully support the primary office productivity suites used within government agencies. Based on a survey conducted in 2010, a large number of agencies (representing the majority of the desktop fleet) have signalled their intention to move to Microsoft Office 2010 as part of their next upgrade. Importantly, the policy does not exclude other formats from being used, but seeks to ensure that, at a minimum, one common format can be accessed on all Australian government computers," he wrote.

Other changes in version two of the COE policy see more emphasis placed on developing application whitelists to decrease the number of unauthorised apps running on government machines and a clause that requires all operating systems to support Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6).

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