Feds propose agency requirement to support Open Document Format

By Julian Bajkowski

The once mighty proprietary influence of Microsoft over government software and operating environment standards has been dealt a further blow after the Australian Government Information Management Office revealed that it now wants the Open Document Format to be supported as a file standard in productivity application suites used by most federal agencies.

The proposed move to require most agencies to support ODF effectively draws a line under decades of preference for Microsoft created standards thanks to the now fading dominance of the Office range of products and the Windows client and server operating systems.

“I would like to highlight that further consideration has been given to the common document format to be supported by office productivity suites in use by Government agencies. The new draft now requires that office productivity suites must provide support for at least version 1.1 of the Open Document Format for Office Applications (ODF) as defined by ISO/IEC 26300:2006/Amd 1:2012.” Australian Government Procurement Coordinator and Chief Technology Officer, John Sheridan said in an official blog post.

The federal government had previously used Microsoft’s Office Open XML format, a move which drew criticism from both users and competitors alike because of the potential for proprietary dependencies to be built into file formats.

The move to open software standards rather proprietary ones is a crucial issue for records management in government agencies because of the potential for electronic documents to become inaccessible or unreadable in the event that vendor support for a format ceases.

Archivists long cautioned that software and records standards need to ensure that documents held as electronic files must remain accessible long after they are created, including the careful management of proprietary dependencies as a business risk.

The requirement to support ODF does not mean that agencies will have to dump Microsoft products as many of these already support ODF. However it does create the potential for Microsoft’s challengers to gain a better foothold in what has sometimes been a homogeneous operating environment based on Windows and Office.

“The adoption of ODF as the preferred supported format is consistent with a guiding principle of the WofG COE [Whole of Government Common Operating Environment] Policy, namely, that the COE will be based on common standards and, where practical, these will be based on open standards,” Mr Sheridan wrote.

“Support for ODF is available from a wide range of office productivity suites across a variety of operating system platforms, in both open-source and proprietary implementations, allowing agencies a great deal of flexibility in selecting a product which conforms to the COE Policy standard.”


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