The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) has looked to accommodate criticism of its Common Operating Environment policy by re-opening the matter for public input.
The policy, developed in mid-2010 and released for public view earlier this week, aimed to harmonise desktop hardware and software across Australian Government agencies to save the Government in terms of procurement and support costs.
But a select few of AGIMO's choices rang alarm bells - no more so that the
choice of the ECMA376 version of Microsoft's OOXML as a standard word processing format.
The iTnews report highlighting this part of the policy has attracted international attention.
AGIMO first assistant secretary John Sheridan was surprised by the reaction. He said the draft of the policy document had been produced on AGIMO's blog in July 2010 - missed by the staff at iTnews - and had subsequently recieved zero submissions.
Analysts such as Gartner's Andrea DiMaio has argued that making the document available wasn't enough. Such a key piece of IT policy should have proactively been disseminated by the Government to ensure stakeholders were informed, he said.
Subsequently, AGIMO has re-opened the policy for public discussion on its blog to ensure the wider community has a full opportunity to understand AGIMO's position and make comment.
The agency has also done its homework on the OOXML issue, publishing a comprehensive list of the .docx read and write capabilities of most of the world's largest office productivity software suites.
"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," Sheridan blogged.
He also backed the policy with the results of a survey of agency IT requirements.
It identified that of the 265,000 PC operating environments across Australian Government agencies, "more than 99.5 percent are Windows based operating systems.
"MAC-OS, Solaris and Linux were also represented but each had less than 0.5 percent combined representation," he noted.
As for office productivity software, Microsoft Office was used on 86 percent of PCs, with IBM's Lotus Symphony on 13 percent and the rest combining for the final one percent.
The survey respondents also identified Microsoft's Windows 7, Office 2007 and Office 2010 as potential future upgrades, without identifying any other office productivity suites.
"The results of this survey highlighted that the majority of agencies are already using or planning to upgrade to the standards identified in the COE Policy," Sheridan said.
The COE policy has otherwise been broadly supported by industry analysts and was defended in some unexpected places.
Open source advocate Jeff Waugh told iTnews yesterday that AGIMO accidentally stirred the pot by using the words "ECMA-376 standard" in its policy document - a standard ridiculed by the IT community.
He defended AGIMO's decisions as being part of the usual thankless drudgery of developing standards.
Waugh suggested AGIMO might have attracted less attention by simply asking for compatibility with Microsoft's .docx format. It might mean the same thing, he said, but nobody in the IT community wants to write the word "Microsoft" in a standards document.
Editors Note: I applaud AGIMO for not backing into a corner on this issue, and for that reason I'd like to encourage readers to provide their view not only here at iTnews but also on AGIMO's official blog.