The Federal Government has kicked off its first annual review of a whole-of-government policy that was criticised for mandating the use of Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML) file format in January.
The Common Operating Environment (COE) policy aimed to improve procurement, security and interoperability by consolidating more than 186 desktop software images.
It mandated the use of antivirus programs and firewalls, the IPv6 communications protocol and the OOXML format for productivity software.
Public criticism led the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) to open the issue to discussion in a blog post that defended its choice of file formats earlier this year.
AGIMO first assistant secretary John Sheridan wrote that agencies representing “the majority of the desktop fleet” had reported plans to move to either Microsoft Office 2007 or 2010 in a survey.
The COE’s OOXML standard, based on the ECMA-376 1st edition, had read/write capabilities in office products by Microsoft and SoftMaker, he wrote.
But OOXML documents had limited functionality in OpenOffice, IBM Lotus Notes, Kingsoft Office and Google Docs, which preferred the freely available OpenDocument format (ODF), and Apple iWork, which used a proprietary format.
Sheridan noted that the policy did “not exclude other formats from being used” but sought to establish a common format that could be accessed by all Government computers.
An AGIMO spokesman said this week that the COE policy was “a minimum requirement for agency interoperability”, and “not a limitation on agency choice”.
“Like all components of the COE policy, and in no way specifically, this [document format] will be subject to the review,” the spokesman said.
“We will seek comment through our blog during the review process. This choice does not affect the public in any direct way because it does not limit how the public interacts with government.”
Last month, Department of Defence chief technology officer Matt Yannopoulos revealed that 100 corporate staff had been using OpenOffice in a year-old, “semi-formal” trial.
He said he would consider extending the trial to more users in a bid to reduce Defence's $100 million annual software licensing bill but was concerned that staff would need to be trained to use the free office suite should it be deployed more widely.
The OpenOffice software suite has previously been deployed on 20,000 desktop computers at Singapore's Ministry of Defence, and on 80,000 desktop computers at the French Tax Office.
In 2009, the Vietnamese Government ruled that 70 percent of agencies were to use open source software including OpenOffice and Mozilla Firefox by the end of that year.
Spokesmen for both Defence and AGIMO said Defence’s OpenOffice trial, which involved about 0.1 percent of the department’s desktop users, was permitted under the COE policy.
The COE policy governed the construction of agencies’ Standard Operating Environments (SOE). Defence’s SOE used the Office 2003 productivity suite.
“[Defence] recognises that any future upgrade to this baseline would need to reflect the aforementioned COE policy requirement,” a spokesman for the department said.
Defence said its Chief Information Officer Group was an active member of AGIMO’s COE review committee.
The review was in the “initial stages”, AGIMO’s spokesman said.
“[The review] will cover all aspects of COE policy detail not including its application and scope,” she said. “We are aiming for an incrementally improved policy.”
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