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  • Enterprise IT, Featured, News - Written by on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 16:40 - 109 Comments

    Australian Govt re-kindles office file format war

    news The Australian Government’s peak IT strategy group has issued a cautious updated appraisal of currently available office productivity suite file formats, in what appears to be an attempt to more fully explain its thinking about the merits of open standards such as OpenDocument versus more proprietary file formats promulgated by vendors like Microsoft.

    In January 2011, the Australian Government Information Management Office raised eyebrows globally when it published the first draft of its Common Operating Environment Policy. The document contained a number of guidelines restricting how departments and agencies across the Federal Government should set up desktop PCs, including a stipulation that Microsoft’s Office Open XML file format become a standard.

    At the time, the move was criticised by some aspects of the community who pointed out that most alternative office suites — such as OpenOffice.org — could not write documents in the standard. Those promulgating rival standards have described Office Open XML as being riddled with Windows platform dependencies. Additionally, some organisations, such as the National Archives of Australia, have picked the ODF standard instead in the long-term. AGIMO subsequently defended its decision, stating it had no vendor bias.

    Last week, AGIMO first assistant secretary John Sheridan published a new draft of the COE policy. He noted the high degree of interest in the office document standard. Consequently, AGIMO last week also published several supplementary documents dealing with the document standard issue and comparing and contrasting the various formats available, alongside popular application suites supporting them.

    The master COE policy document, which had formerly listed Office Open XML to be the Government’s standard, now lists the area as “to be decided”.

    The two supplementary documents which AGIMO published dealing with office document standards, however, don’t appear to display a change in the agency’s thinking around the issue. In one, Microsoft Office 2010 is listed as being the only platform which achieves “high” ratings for both the key issues AGIMO considered in its analysis, being agency interoperability and business functionality.
    Office 2010, the agency wrote, provided “the highest level of compatibility, interoperability and functionality across all agencies”, provided “the highest level of compatibility for non document-specific functionality currently used”, and featured the “highest retention of document structure or information between agencies”.

    The ODF standard is listed in AGIMO’s table as only featuring “medium” level of agency interoperability and “low-medium” levels of business functionality. Various permutations of the standard also achieved similar ratings.

    In a separate document detailing read/write compatibility of various standards, AGIMO noted that only documents in the doc/xls/ppt or rtf/csv/pdf formats were able to be read and written across all of the various office productivity suites tested — including OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Google Docs, Office 2003, Office 2007 and Office 2010.

    However, the majority of formats are supported by the majority of office suites, with the standout problem suite being Office 2003, which supports only two of the eleven standards tested. Most of the other suites supported almost all of the standards, although only Office 2010 supported them all.

    In his blog post on the issue, Sheridan reiterated that in a survey conducted in 2010, a large number of agencies (representing the majority of the Federal Government’s 250,000-strong desktop PC fleet) had signalled their intention to eventually migrate to Office 2010 as part of their next upgrade.

    Perhaps anticipating further criticism on the issue, Sheridan asked readers to consider that licensing costs — which are not a factor with open source suites such as OpenOffice.org — are only “a small proportion of overall ICT expenditure”. “Any software change is likely to involve significant cost in installation, training and maintenance,” he said.

    “The intent of the standard is to mandate a file format to fully support the primary office productivity suites used within government agencies,” Sheridan wrote. “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.”

    Despite what appeared to be a continued push towards supporting Microsoft standards, one commenter, Stephen Norman, noted in a response to Sheridan’s post that the COE policy was confusing, as it didn’t cover issues beyond opening and editing documents, such as support for encryption, watermarking and look and feel of the same document in different applications.

    In addition, Norman stated that other factors, such as the legality of storing data offshore in Google’s Docs platform, had not been taken into account — and no mention was made of Mac OS X versions of Microsoft Office. “As with the overall COE document, the authors need to consider the need for platform agnostic choices and requirements, rather than simply mandating that’s it the Windows-way or the high-way,” Norman wrote.

    opinion/analysis
    It’s clear that Sheridan and others at AGIMO anticipated a colossal debate over the Government’s clear and continued focus on Office 2010 and associated Microsoft file formats. This is why AGIMO’s documents released last week are extremely tame and fairly open-minded, refraining from stipulating a clear format choice as they previously did. Perhaps that debate will still happen if this article, or one like it, ends up linked to from a major open source aggregation site like Slashdot ;)

    From my perspective, I believe that AGIMO is being too cautious. Frankly, the office productivity wars are over. OpenOffice.org and similar open source suites have absolutely no presence in Australia, Google Docs has similarly gone nowhere in the enterprise, and even powerful players such as IBM have been unable to make any headway in this area.

    Microsoft is the dominant, monopoly player in corporate office suites, and Australia’s Federal Government would be silly to choose any other standard than one supported strongly by Microsoft. As Sheridan alludes to in his post, as long as Microsoft remains fairly open and transparent, which it is these days, there are no business advantages to using competing suites. The use of something like OpenOffice.org is very much purely an ideological matter.

    Microsoft’s victory in this area has been assured through the completion of its powerful technology stack. SharePoint integrates with Office integrates with Outlook integrates with Exchange integrates with Windows Server. And so on. If you’re using something like OpenOffice.org, you simply don’t get this advantages. And Google’s refusal to allow users to host their documents in-country has damned its own (pretty decent, if feature-limited) Docs platform to obscurity, especially in regulation-sensitive government.

    Don’t get me wrong; I would love to see some competition for Microsoft Office arise and challenge Redmond’s dominance. But until that happens, the Federal Government should stop worrying about this issue, and focus on other areas where platform choice can make a real difference. Allowing users to install their own web browser — instead of forcing everyone to use old versions of Internet Explorer — would be a good start. Some of us like tabbed browsing. It seems like it’s here to stay.

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    1. Glenn
      Posted 21/02/2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink |

      “OpenOffice.org and similar open source suites have absolutely no presence in Australia, Google Docs has similarly gone nowhere in the enterprise, and even powerful players such as IBM have been unable to make any headway in this area.”

      It can be good for society if lead organisation (such as Governments) set an example and show people to higher ground.

      If enterprise still use MS office, then that is a failure of enterprise, government should not feel obligated to copy thier mistakes.

      This reminds me of how backwards Australia has always been with IT, if i rmeember my history, early on, Australia was one of the front runners with computers, then Whitlam directed CSIRO to redirect money from computers into cloud seeding.

      What decisions/policies have australian enterprise/government made that we can be proud of ?

      Good – NBN
      Bad – Censorship, spying,.Myki, ACTA, data retention, vendor lock in

      I guess there must be competant people in there somewhere, but it feels like australia has always had a culture of failure within IT.

      • Posted 21/02/2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink |

        Curious … how is using OpenOffice.org, which has much less features than MS Office (and doesn’t integrate with a wider stack like Office does), “higher ground”?

        I’d like to see you qualify this statement. I love open source like the rest of them, but this is about real business outcomes.

        • Glenn
          Posted 21/02/2012 at 8:52 pm | Permalink |

          A hedonist will do whats good now without considering tommorow. The “higher ground” in the IT field is to not do that, and make decisions that are good in the long term.

          I think this decision is entirely political, i expect any office product written in the last ten years should have the essential features business need, the field hasnt changed much from what i can see. But i dont see myself as an expert in this field, am i wrong?

          Using proprietry software and/or closed formats (vendor lock in) adds risks to buisness as their own survival becomes dependent on another corporations profitability.

          Open source gives users so much control thats its hard to “blame someone else” if they stuff up, which i suspect is why a lot of the “decision makers” shy away from it, its culturally difficult for business to understand where its coming from.

          Open standards should be a minimum requirment (compromised) as without it proprietary vendors can take legal action against competitors, allowing them to avoid competing on equal terms.

          What are these buisness outcomes that MS Office can provide that others cant, what features or integration are lacking in OpenOffice/LibreOffice and how essential are they to buisness ?

          The great thing about open source is that end users have more influence over the future direction of the product, it doesnt have so many layers of middlemen between users and programmers, so if you can identify weaknesses its easier to get them addressed.

        • asdgsafg
          Posted 24/02/2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink |

          [...]and doesn’t integrate with a wider stack like[...]

          lol.. please stop… you are trying too hard to talk buzz…

    2. Ausgnome
      Posted 21/02/2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink |

      I’m with you Glenn, Why does Australia always take the backward step, it appears to me that the ” Nobody got fired for buying IBM/Micrsoft ” mindset. especially IT bureaucracies like CenITex is the prominent thought pattern .

      • Posted 21/02/2012 at 7:17 pm | Permalink |

        I would agree with your sentiments about just going with the herd … were it not for the fact that MS Office 2010 and the rest of the MS suite is a technically superior solution than OpenOffice.org or LibreOffice. The open source office suites do the basics well … but when it comes to the more advanced enterprise functionality which major organisations like AU govt agencies need, that functionality is simply not there. If it was, I have no doubt more organisations would have switched already. The lack of licensing costs would be an extra incentive.

        • Ausgnome
          Posted 22/02/2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink |

          How many Government departments or enterprises really use those features..

          Most once they get into that area use specialist publishing software that does an even better job
          than the office suite

          • Posted 22/02/2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink |

            Hi Ausgnome,

            We appreciate the effort you are making to take part in this discussion.

            The challenge is that if at least some people use advanced features then their legitimate business requirements must be met. If one accepts that the OSS versions don’t have these features then we’d have to run more than one system/application. Consequently costs rise and may exceed those of maintaining one fully featured suite.

            Regards,

            John

            • Ausgnome
              Posted 22/02/2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink |

              Then the question would be are those requirements outside of the norm, does the majority of IT users within Government really need those features at that price let alone the ongoing conversion of the files overtime in archives. PDF especially. That why open standards make more sense for ongoing storage rather than day to day usage. Having to work in this environment daily I have seen the issues propriety file formats cause on long term data access.

              As you say a case of weighing up the cost benefits. Super features for a few or ?

        • alex
          Posted 25/02/2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink |

          “technically better solution” – for me that’s a failure of a reason. A Government should be about doing what is best for people and most specifically its people. So who cares if product A is the most whiz bang ever is it the best solution for society?

          The ODF supporting tools such as LibreOffice avoid lock in, are freely available to every member of the public meaning that every person who has access to a computer has the ability to read and write documents in the format Government uses. As a Linux user I would not be able to provide documents to Gov or read them without having to pay money to an organisation that I personally find ethically wrong. That ethical dimension can largely be avoided by firstly using a properly Free format.

          Additionally if organisations like Governments don’t adopt a standard like ODF the likes of Microsoft (particularly them as the dominant player) have no incentive to make their tools properly and out of the box support ODF.

          • Gav
            Posted 25/02/2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink |

            Just a minor response to the point of ‘lock-in': although it’s true that by using an open format you’re not locked into the choice of software package, I would argue that some ‘inertial lock-in’ will still develop. By this I mean the way users become familiar with the software and are thus resistant to change, and the associated training costs, and retargeting of any commerical or in-house tools that target that specific software package e.g. imagine LibreOffice and OpenOffice fork to the extent that an application plugin written for one does not work with the other… the redevelopment cost may be minor in this case, but it is a cost nonetheless. It is, of course, this same inertia that is playing a large part in keeping people on Microsoft Office.

            • Posted 25/02/2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink |

              This is an argument in favour of LibreOffice – it looks and feels a lot more like Office 2003 than Office 2007/2010 do. Good idea for you to note that.

        • jiero
          Posted 26/02/2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink |

          In case the features are not there yet; never the Government hire some IT experts to write their own needs using Free Suite like LibreOffice.

          Question time: why not leave the job for Australian IT? It is also good for Long-term.

          They ask Microsoft for support continuously and pay for the price based on unit/purchase.

          Its a great way to use money.

          PS: I’m not Australian, neither good at English.

    3. Abel Adamski
      Posted 21/02/2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink |

      Glenn, in fact it was the Conservative Governments of the 60’s that cut funding, there was a CBA done in the late 50’s early 60’s, after CSIRAC was built the Conservatives cut funding to reasearch and development in that area. In fact in the 60’s when semiconductors were in their infancy the CSIRO and Australian Uni’s headed by the WA uni sought funding from the Government to build a semiconductor/IC research and development and prototyping facility to be based in WA headed by the WA university , we would have had silicon valley in WA and a manufacturing industry at loaded with patents at the leading edge. (yes even then IC’s were an item , I still have some of the earliest IC opamps and gates that I paid top dollar for at the time ). Unfortunately once again the Libs/CP could see no future value , Denied. I was peed off at the time. It was the Libs that cut funding from the CSIRO research and made them seek program specific funding from the private sector. The Conservatives by that stupidity crippled our manufacturing and technology sector. NOW – DejaVu and here we go again – all up to self serving short sighted private sector

      • Glenn
        Posted 21/02/2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink |

        Abel, fair enough, i had heard about whitlams ‘cloud seeding is more important to australia than computers will be’ story, but had not heard about the IC story you describe.

        I wasnt trying to blame it on one side of politics, i think its a colective failure of all side of politics and of industry.

        IMHO Senator Scott Ludlam is the only politician worth listening to about IT.

    4. Charles Bassett
      Posted 21/02/2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink |

      Why would anyone use inferiorand overpriced Microsoft anything, if an alternative existed?
      LibreOffice opens more files, handles better all round, despite it being newish. And its free.
      So why are our agents spending our money on rubbish? Do they prefer Closed offices?
      You are right. Australian decision makers let us down every time.

      • Posted 21/02/2012 at 11:07 pm | Permalink |

        Hi Charles,

        I’m responsible for this work. I was wondering whether you had yet had the opportunity to read our blog posts and discover that we were asking a question not stating a preference? I don’t think we are at the letting you down stage just yet.

        Regards

        John

    5. BrownieBoy
      Posted 21/02/2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink |

      Sorry, Renai, but some of the sentiments that you’ve expressed here are simply appalling.

      Microsoft is “the dominant, monopoly player in corporate office suites” so we should all do everything to keep that going, is that it?

      Office is “technically superior solution”? Sure, as long as you’ve got half a day to work out how to keep a graphic or a text box in the same place on a page! And the ribbon UI is a design abortion; it’s near impossible to find anything you need on it. Such a mess is the ribbon that there’s a whole cottage industry developing tools solely to get rid off it!

      The whole “SharePoint integrates with Office integrates with Outlook integrates with Exchange integrates with Windows Server” blah blah is a circular, self-reinforcing argument that’s straight out of the Dilbert Pointy Haired Boss’s Handbook. Sure Microsoft rubbish integrates well with other Microsoft rubbish, but what good is that if every individual part of the jigsaw is a) complete crap in its own right and b) horrendously expensive to boot? I don’t care that every clueless CIO in Australia (pretty much all of them then) swallows it down whole.

      People buy MS Office for one reason and one reason only: because it can guarantee to open their existing MS Office documents flawlessly. Sadly, no other product can do this. Microsoft saw to that by keeping their file formats as undocumented, binary formats for so many years. OpenOffice et al had to reverse engineer those formats to have a chance at all.

      The rise of ODF, which is a proper, fully-document XML-based spec, forced Microsoft’s hand into creating the Office Open file formats. These too are XML-based, and supposedly an ISO standard, but the spec is a mess, littered with legacy, proprietary classes, such as AutoSpaceLikeWord95. Microsoft doesn’t even support their own “standard” properly in Office 2010! It only supports the transitional version of the OOXML standard, which ISO’s trying to get rid of.

      And when did ideology become a bad thing, anyway?

      • Posted 24/02/2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink |

        “People buy MS Office for one reason and one reason only: because it can guarantee to open their existing MS Office documents flawlessly. Sadly, no other product can do this. “

        Citation needed. In my experience, even MS Office isn’t MS Office-compatible. It literally reformats documents according to the current printer settings. LO/OOo is way more reliable and can open a wider variety of Word documents than Word itself can!

    6. Charles
      Posted 21/02/2012 at 9:02 pm | Permalink |

      People (management) often complain about the changeover and retraining costs of migrating to a different Office Suite (usually Open/LibreOffice). However the same people don’t have an issue with the same costs when they apply to upgrading Office 2003 to 2007. Those two versions were so radically different that it may as well be a different product. Not to mention all the staff having to learn how to use the ribbon interface (which was fine… but “OpenOffice is too different”).

      Did anyone involved in this report consider using Office 2010 and defaulting the file format to ODF types as a viable alternative?

      • Posted 21/02/2012 at 11:02 pm | Permalink |

        Hi Charles

        I’m the person responsible for this work. The solution you propose would be option 8 in our table (http://agimo.govspace.gov.au/files/2012/02/Document-Standards-Options-for-Consideration1.pdf). I’d encourage you to read the documents if you have time. I think you might find we have considered this concept carefully and are now consulting with the public to see what other ideas might be around.

        I think many people would agree that the jump from Office 2003 to 2007 was significant. The fact is though that this is now generally a sunk cost. The jump to 2010 from 2007 is not as big – but, I contend that it may well be bigger than 2010 (increasingly in use) or 2007 to LibreOffice.

        We’d welcome your contribution on our blog.

        Regards,

        John

        • Charles
          Posted 22/02/2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink |

          Hi John,
          It is great to see someone from AGIMO taking part in these comments!

          The document you linked refers to the file format themselves, but not necessarily the software. I’m surprised to see that ODF ranks lower than ECMA 3rd ed (assuming this is docx/xlsx etc?) in interoperability. The ODF formats are fully documented and publicly available, whereas the docx formats have some proprietary components.

          In addition to this, I don’t think there is a single major office suite which can not read and write ODF formats. By definition, surely ODF is more interoperable?

          • Posted 22/02/2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink |

            Thanks Charles,

            The format is the first question – because we are trying to avoid picking applications. The challenge is that the installed base is an anchor on change. (But please note that anchors can be good and bad – they stop boats drifting into rocks!)

            Also, while ODF documents can be read by many suites, the functionality of some applications is lost in translating the files to ODF. This is particularly an issue in spreadsheets. Some applications provide useful formulae that don’t have an ODF version. Similarly, macros can be lost, severely limiting capability.

            • cobaco
              Posted 24/02/2012 at 9:32 pm | Permalink |

              Also, while ODF documents can be read by many suites, the functionality of some applications is lost in translating the files to ODF. This is particularly an issue in spreadsheets. Some applications provide useful formulae that don’t have an ODF version. Similarly, macros can be lost, severely limiting capability.

              odf is handsdown the most widely implemented standard, I mean even MS itself doesn’t claim to actually support the actual ISO OOXML standard atm, they’ve merely promised implementing it for office15. There’s a reason that wikipedia doesn’t have a list like this one https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Document_Format#Worldwide_adoption on the OOXML page

              I’d say that where odf is possible it’s the best choice, and there’s nothing that says you can’t specify odt for word processor and xslx for spreadsheets if needed.

            • Dwayne
              Posted 25/02/2012 at 12:38 am | Permalink |

              You mean even after ODFF in ODF1.2 the is no coverage? The ODFF spec must be the most well specified formula document in existence. Or are we confusing standards vs implementation again which seems to be the most obvious thread in this article and in the comments.

              What I find amazing in government input in these processes is how much governments see themselves as clients not as drivers. My guess is that government is one of the largest consumers of IT in the country but behaves a bit like the poorest kid, quite happy for whatever the vendor hands down to them.

              Has anyone factoring in the fact that ODF has a very open process. All of the missing functions that are listed are things that can be implemented. My guess is that it would be cheaper in the long run for the Australian government to be a player in ODF specification, implement features in a product like LibreOffice. That ensures interoperability and breaks a vendor lockin. Unless any government is serious about breaking their dependence on a current vendor this is just the same old same old. My guess is that the above suggestion would lead to more adoption of ODF compliant apps as well as I would guess cheaper long term costs for their locked in products – because they can now move more easily.

              • Gav
                Posted 25/02/2012 at 1:54 am | Permalink |

                OpenFormula is fairly new… is there a 100% thorough Excel Formula to OpenFormula converter yet? That could be useful. Microsoft seems to be supporting OpenFormula (at least to some extent) in Office 15, so maybe they’ll do a good enough job. At least it seems they’ll stop writing formulas for ODS in Excel Formula language.

                • Gav
                  Posted 25/02/2012 at 1:57 am | Permalink |

                  By fairly new, I mean as a part of the ODF spec. I know its been drafting for years.

    7. Chuq
      Posted 21/02/2012 at 9:05 pm | Permalink |

      People (management) often complain about the changeover and retraining costs of migrating to a different Office Suite (usually Open/LibreOffice). However the same people don’t have an issue with the same costs when they apply to upgrading Office 2003 to 2007. Those two versions were so radically different that it may as well be a different product. Not to mention all the staff having to learn how to use the ribbon interface (which was fine… but “OpenOffice is too different”).

      Did anyone involved in this report consider using Office 2010 and defaulting the file format to ODF types as a viable alternative?

      • Chuq
        Posted 21/02/2012 at 9:08 pm | Permalink |

        Renai, are you aware the mobile theme version of your site will sometimes claim to have failed posting when it has actually done it successfully? :P feel free to delete the parent post (and this one!)

    8. Nobby6
      Posted 21/02/2012 at 11:10 pm | Permalink |

      The cost of 250K desktop copies of office licences is shrugged off? wow … typically out of touch as usual… personally I’d rather see my taxes go to the aussie health system and not a U.S. company called microsoft.

      By the way I think you’ll find Telstra not en mass using M$ office.

      • Glenn
        Posted 22/02/2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink |

        Probably $50 per sear, by 250,000 seats, is $12.5 Million, they could hire dozens of software developers with that money and have them improve LibreOffice to make it meat their standards.

        • Charles
          Posted 22/02/2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink |

          Something else that is not taken into account – even if the total cost was the same, which is better -$12.5 million going to an American Corporation, or $12.5 million going to Australian employees?

          • Posted 22/02/2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink |

            This idea does not take into account several other factors:
            – procurements over $80k are subject to the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines and the Free Trade Arrangements. Such purchases need to be tendered openly and non-Australian citizens and companies could apply.
            – at the heart of this argument is the government taking on a very significant set of expenses: procurement, coordination, change in systems, etc. All of these wouldn’t necessarily provide greater capability. They would incur greater risk.
            There aren’t simple solutions to such matters.

            • Glenn
              Posted 22/02/2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink |

              What about hiring one or two developers as a seperate project to bring LibreOffice upto government standards.

              Perhaps it might take a few years, but its hard to see how it would be wasted money in the long run.

              • Gav
                Posted 22/02/2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink |

                Yes, lets spend Australian tax dollars on improving a product that can be used globally and freely. Or… let Microsoft and their hundreds of Office developers ‘improve’ Office and buy the results of their labour. How a ‘couple’ of developers can ever keep up the pace with them is quite beyond me.

                You may argue that the focus will only be on specific ‘good’ features, but everyone has a different list of what is ‘good’. Office grew by features being added like a hundred paint guns fired at a canvas… i.e. it was a mess. Office 2007 was an honest attempt to do something about the feature creep problem, and it was a genuine problem because even minor features are relied upon by tens of thousands of people.

                You could argue that an office app should have a baseline of features and then all others are added via plugins. This, remember, was the idea behind Firefox, and it is also the selling point behind mobile OS’s like Android. Just go find whatever feature you need! Firefox still managed to get bloated so people are switching to Chrome. The various App Stores have HOW MANY Apps??? ‘Innovation’ has been so successful that now discoverability is a nightmare. People don’t develop apps and plugins in the Unix tradition of one-app-per-feature, so you have a crossover of features between apps and you either end up with sub-standard quality in one feature or multiple apps that do the same feature. At least in MS Office there is somebody orchestrating the feature creep and at least thinking about how to keep things usable and discoverable… even if they sometimes do a poor job of it.

                Your comments about the risks of vendor lock-in are also ignorant of the fact that projects die more than companies, and companies die a lot. Free, published specifications for file formats at least simplify conversion (versus unpublished binary formats) to new formats when the owner of the old format goes broke. If you can negotiate source code access for maintenance purposes in the case of the supplier discontinuing the product or going broke, even better! You only need the source code when you want to make changes, and you need to support the changes you make.

                Finally, of course, how many people KNOW Open/LibreOffice vs Microsoft Office? The pool of trainers and informal information sharers is infinitely smaller. The informal support base can be more important than the formal support, and it’s part of what helps keep Microsoft’s dominance… that and the fact that for most people, their products are pretty damn good…

                • Glenn
                  Posted 22/02/2012 at 4:33 pm | Permalink |

                  ‘How a ‘couple’ of developers can ever keep up the pace with them is quite beyond me. ‘

                  Thats easy, a couple of developers here, a couple there, it all adds out, OSS is a global collaboration, there are many times more programmers owrkign on OSS than microsoft (or any other single company) employ.

                  But you dont have to believe me, the proff is there, OSS exists, it didnt need the proprietary model.

                  ‘projects die more than companies’

                  Projects might die, but there software doesnt, if a companies gets greedy they can easily screw their users, MS are known to Embrace, Extend, Extinguish open standards, they can also use patent claims to stop people using their formats. There are great risks of using ‘standards’ controlled by a corporation.

                  I point you back at my original post, the closed minded views, ignorance, selfishness, and lack of responsibility from government and industry are a blight on this country.

                  • Gav
                    Posted 22/02/2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink |

                    I understand Microsoft’s historical practices, but they have been far better behaved in the past few years, not just with the Office file formats, but also things such as fixing IE’s standards support. Nobody would call them perfect, but they do deserve at least a little credit, even if things like court orders gave them a good prod in some cases.

                    Although overall OSS may have more programmers than any single company, I’d wager very few OSS projects have more developers than their largest closed source competitors.The success of OSS projects is a tribute to those who work on them, but issues can still arise and forks result, which can be an issue if, for example, the fork is not a superset of its parent.

                    My point about projects dying more though, is aimed at the fact that you can still be left in the lurch. If one or more key developers leave a project, then those who rely on it may need to pick up the slack to maintain the project. Having the possibility of doing something is nice, but it will come at a cost, particularly if you do not already have the capability to do something in-house.

                    Also, one thing that does bother me with OSS is that it tends to involve programmers alone. I know a lot of people are multi-skilled, but having dedicated designers involved in a project will make it nicer for the average end-user. Not too many OSS projects have this kind of involvement, though of course some do… more need it.

                  • alex
                    Posted 25/02/2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink |

                    “keep up the pace”

                    What do they have to keep up with. Surely it’s a matter of making sure that the tool has the core set of features to meet the Government needs. What do they need the other 90% or so of the features for? Who but for a tiny number of people use more than the most basic features of almost any set of office programs?

                    This all shows the deluded mentality that governments meant to be chasing the cutting edge of whizzy stuff rather than looking after its peoples interests in the most efficient manner.

              • Posted 22/02/2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink |

                Hi Glenn

                Without meaning to be glib, I note that this is an argument to pay taxpayers’ money to people to do something that the OSS model suggests they would otherwise do for free. It’s pretty hard to justify that, leaving aside the ongoing costs of procurement and coordiantion, etc.

                I acknowledge that this is something of a circular argument but, again, it’s a difficult choice.

                Cheers

                John

                • Glenn
                  Posted 22/02/2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink |

                  I think you misunderstand the OSS model, it is supposed to be more inclusive than the proprietary model, stakeholders are supposed to get involved.

                  OSS doesnt magically appear, people who use the product but want extra features do it themselves, that makes them part of the development cycle.

                  Spending ‘taxpayers dollars’ that saves money in the long run is an excellent investment, if multiple people/organisations want the same feature, and they play some mexican standoff hoping the other party will do their work for them, then eveyrone loses.

                  If its too much to actually do the the work you want done, how about just clearly identifying the deficiencies in LibreOffice and sending them a request. Even providing good feadback can be very usfull to OSS projects.

                  • Posted 22/02/2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink |

                    I think this raises another interesting point about the OSS model. LibreOffice versions are often defined by catching up to MS Office versions. A lack of functionality is seen as not having a function Microsoft has. Indeed, some of the argument on this post has been around whether such features are actually required by most government users.

                    Decisions by government procurement delegates need to be made in accordance with value for money over the total cost of ownership – implementation, development, maintenance, interoperability, business process change, etc. While government policy is to consider open source properly (http://www.finance.gov.au/e-government/infrastructure/open-source-software.html), it doesn’t mean at any cost.

    9. jason
      Posted 22/02/2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink |

      If Microsoft are so open, perhaps they can look at making Office 2010 a bit more compatible with wine & Linux, or release a linux port or install routine.

      In any case, I agree the ribbon interface is much harder to use now, forcing me to create quick access bar shortcuts for the features i use the most. Winodws 8 with the metro style UI looks and feels horrible to me as well, so this may only rekindle interest among home users at first in LInux/Open Office as an alternative, similar to when Vista was released. However I realise that just like with vista, what is more likely is that people will just with Windows 7 and the office suite they have now.

      Plus it’s worth the author of this article considering what Openoffice/LIbreoffice has done in such a short space of time in development. If it continues at that pace, it will superior to Microsoft Office in a few years, but of course Microsoft will just copy any new innovative feature that Libre/Open create anyway.

      I’d much rather be using Linux and LibreOffice on my desktop at work, but unfortunately the federal government isn’t the only institution in Australia with an addiciton to everything Microsoft.

      • Gav
        Posted 22/02/2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink |

        http://office.live.com – that’s your ‘compatible with Linux’ version. Microsoft has now released a OneNote app for iOS and Android, so they’re no longer totally against supporting other platforms. They’ve long supported Office for Mac, and may even be releasing Office for iPad. It’s just a fact that the market for Android and iOS is many, many, many times larger than the market for desktop Linux. Desktop Linux not being huge is as much about it’s own failings as those of others. It’s still great on a server though…

        • ~MIRV~
          Posted 24/02/2012 at 10:17 pm | Permalink |

          LibreOffice will win out in the end, regardless of what the Autralian government does. It’s just unfortunate that the Australian government will, as usual, trail behind the rest of the world in its adoption. The reason for this is that the Australian government doesn’t have to make a profit and be competitive and innovative. They exist to spend taxpayer money, and getting value for that money is of secondary importance.

    10. Posted 22/02/2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink |

      While I agree that MS Office is technically superior and better to use than OOo (I even like the ribbon; I must be the only person in the world that does), open source office software is only going to get better. More important than the quality of the software to me is interoperability and reduction of costs. Microsoft are all about vendor lock in and as a taxpayer I don’t want government spending millions upgrading every few years just because Office got a few new bells and whistles and, oh, accidentally broke compatibility with different document versions so now everyone HAS to upgrade.

      Office is too big a cashcow for MS to have any other approach really, but it has a deadline. Our office uses Google Docs almost exclusively now because the advantages of collaboration far, far outweigh the feature list of Office.

      • Posted 22/02/2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink |

        Hi trog,

        The COE policy is reviewed annually. If new formal or informal standards evolve, they can be incorporated. As explained previously, Microsoft software is not mandated. Agencies and their procurement delegates must make decisions about procurement based on overall value for money. This necessarily involves an understanding of the total cost of ownership.

        Regards

        John

        • tom
          Posted 22/02/2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink |

          “As explained previously, Microsoft software is not mandated.”

          If the government is mandating a document format that is only (and can only) be supported by Microsoft software, then that is effectively mandating Microsoft software.

      • Gav
        Posted 22/02/2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink |

        “open source office software is only going to get better” – so, presumably, is closed source office software.

        “I don’t want government spending millions upgrading every few years…” – all those old Linux servers running Red Hat 6 are as much of a problem as Windows desktops on XP. New bells and whistles is not the only reason to update software… the environment changes and so must the applications. I was recently involved in the upgrading of an IBM product, and the cost certainly wasn’t in the licences, it was in making sure everything still worked the same!

        Open source doesn’t mean you suddenly don’t need to upgrade your software, or that you can just install the update and not worry about it impacting anything. These are general software problems, and although online services like Google Docs hide the upgrade process from us, they don’t remove the potential for future interop issues because its very difficult to make changes without impacting somebody adversely sooner or later.

    11. tom
      Posted 22/02/2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink |

      The problem here isn’t using Microsoft Office, but mandating “standards” such as OOXML. OOXML does nothing to promote “openness” and exists solely to promote vendor lock-in for the Microsoft Office software suite. Vendor lock-in should not be part of government IT systems when there are open/standard replacements widely available.

      • Posted 22/02/2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink |

        Hi Tom,

        I’ve touched on standards and choices above in reply to trog. Any degree of lock in must be measured against the costs of changing, particularly if the change cannot be complete and two (or more) systems/applications need to be maintained. Licensing costs, the major benefit of OSS, are not the largest portion of these costs.

        Regards

        John

        • BrownieBoy
          Posted 22/02/2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink |

          > Licensing costs, the major benefit of OSS, are not the largest portion of these costs.

          Measured over what period, John?

          If you’re only looking a the next year or two, then fine. But what about licensing for the the next *ten* years? And what about licensing for the *last* ten years come to that? Have you costed all that up too?

          The move to Open Source may be a cost in the short term but once it’s done, it’s done, and you’re home free!

          • Posted 22/02/2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink |

            I think that is a reasonable question and one which the delegate must consider. But things change over time, particularly in volunteer areas. Who predicted the Open Office / LibreOffice forking? What could have been lost if one had invested in the wrong one? There are risks in all such matters. Nothing in IT lasts forever … except change.

            • BrownieBoy
              Posted 24/02/2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink |

              @John,

              > Who predicted the Open Office / LibreOffice forking? What could have
              > been lost if one had invested in the wrong one?

              The forking of OpenOffice to form LibreOffice did not result in the disappearance of the former. OpenOffice still has the backing of Sun/Oracle and IBM, to name just two heavyweights. So I don’t think you’d have lost anything in that case. And even if both of products disappeared on you, the source code (or codes, I guess) are there for everyone with the resources to pick it up.

              Compare and contrast to the proprietary world. What if Microsoft went bust or canned Word? Okay, neither is a likely prospect, but they are both theoretically possible, and how screwed would you be then? Maybe you could ask the many thousands of Microsoft Money customers who got the shaft when Microsoft killed that product off. No upgrade/transition path was offered, and no source code was made available. They all had to start again from scratch with something else.

              • Nobby6
                Posted 25/02/2012 at 2:55 am | Permalink |

                Actually, Oracle did not want to keep openoffice, mid-late last year, it was given to the Apache Software Foundation, so it wont be going away anytime soon, and it is in very good hands now.

          • Gav
            Posted 22/02/2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink |

            As in my reply to trog’s post, you can’t just install software and never have to worry again. If you install something and don’t update/upgrade/reconfigure/replace software for 10 years, you’re doing it wrong! You’re never ‘home free’, and that isn’t a comment on closed vs open source, it’s a comment on software.

            • cobaco
              Posted 24/02/2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink |

              the difference is that with blax-box software like MS Office if the MS decides to stop supporting version X you’re shit outta luck.

              if on the otherhand the free software project you use decides to stop supporting version X, you can get together with whoever you can find with programming skills, and contract them to do the future supporting. yes not ideal, but hell of a lot better then the same situation with black box software.

              i.e. you’re not at the mersy of a monopoly supplier, and one who’s been convicted for abusing it’s monopolypower serveral times (it’s what, about a dozen or so, worldwide now for MS?)

        • tom
          Posted 22/02/2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink |

          I never said there was any problem with using Microsoft Office, and I never mentioned anything about OSS. The problem with using a proprietary data format is that you are “forced” into using a particular software package to access your data. The government can mandate an open format such as ODF and still hop on the Microsoft Office bandwagon, or that of any other proprietary software that supports ODF.

          If Microsoft were to ditch their Office suite tomorrow, you would stuck with your data in a format that you can’t access. Having the data in an open format allows you to avoid this problem.

          • Gav
            Posted 22/02/2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink |

            Believe me, it really is not that difficult to write a basic parser for Office 2007-2010 documents. Advanced features, sure, they get complex. But the spec is ‘open’ so you can do whatever you like. Yes there are some issues with Office 2007 and 2010 with their compliance to ISO:29500, but these are ‘transitional’ vs ‘strict’ issues that can be solved in future. The Strict schema is a subset of the Transitional schema, with legacy features removed. Transitional is designed to give the most faithful reproduction of the old binary formats, so it still allows things like VML rather than DrawingML, and various text formatting rules that were used in Word 6, 95, and 97 etc. It obviously takes time to write converters to faithfully reproduce every element of the old file formats in the new, so Microsoft stuck with Transitional in Office 2010 because they couldn’t get all the work done in time.

            • tom
              Posted 22/02/2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink |

              So if people save their documents in this “transitional” format, then they aren’t really saving in an open format? What’s the point of saying “we should save documents in an open format with OOXML” if there is no software that actually implements this “open” format (ISO/IEC 29500 Strict, not transitional)?

              • Gav
                Posted 22/02/2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink |

                Your document can be saved in the ‘transitional’ format but have no legacy features, and thus be perfectly convertable to the ‘strict’ format. Like I said, strict is a subset of transitional.

                Office 2007 SP2 and Office 2010 have read-only support for the strict format. Office 15 will have read-write support for strict, though it hasn’t been announced if they’ll backport the write support to previous versions (I think its likely they will, at least to 2010).

                Transitional is still an open format, but it does have greater leeway for including legacy features that you may consider less open. Still, these legacy features are documented in the ISO standard, so you can implement support for them if you wish.

    12. Posted 22/02/2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink |

      Long term preservation policies, designed to avoid the difficulties of changing formats, are described by the National Archives here: http://www.naa.gov.au/Images/Making_Keeping_Using_tcm16-47297.pdf

      Over time, it is possible, and IMHO likely, that other vendors will also be able to support OOXML – transitional or strict. We see this in the upgrading of OSS suites to handle newer formats (.docx over .doc for example).

      • tom
        Posted 22/02/2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink |

        Wake me up when they get 100% support for OOXML formats. Currently, not even Microsoft Office has read/write support for ISO/IEC 29500 Strict.

        “Over time, it is possible, and IMHO likely, that other vendors will also be able to support OOXML” – That is an assumption, and one that can’t be guaranteed today.

        • Posted 22/02/2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink |

          Regarding your last statement – That’s right – which is why we review the policy annually.

          • cobaco
            Posted 24/02/2012 at 10:09 pm | Permalink |

            seriously?
            – on one side’OOXML, which we assume will be properly implemented in the future’
            – on the other side ‘ODF, already implemented by dozens of programs today, and with active programs like http://odfplugfest.org/ to actually test and improve interoperability’

            but somehow OOXML is considered better supported? consider me … baffled

            • cobaco
              Posted 24/02/2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink |

              note by the way, that plugfest interoperability is being hosted by … drumroll… MS (yet I haven’t come across anything similar for OOXML, gives one pause to think no?)

    13. tom
      Posted 22/02/2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink |

      I’m still not sure why anyone would trust Microsoft on anything “open”, considering “Embrace, extend and extinguish” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embrace,_extend_and_extinguish), the Halloween Documents (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween_Documents), and some of the comments from Comes vs. Microsoft (http://www.groklaw.net/staticpages/index.php?page=2007021720190018), specifically http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20071023002351958.

    14. tom
      Posted 22/02/2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink |

      Another point on this…

      If the government are producing documents that are to be viewed by the general public, then there is an expectation that people should not be forced into any particular platform to view the documents. Distributing the documents in OOXML format would be akin to saying “You must use Microsoft Windows in order to do business with the government”.

      • Posted 22/02/2012 at 4:01 pm | Permalink |

        That’s why we don’t do that. Documents provided online must be accessible. As our blog post showed, government usually does this by posting both pdf and rtf copies and often HTML as well. You can read about this in the accessibility section of our web guide (http://webguide.gov.au/accessibility-usability/accessibility/).

        As our original post says, this matter is solely about the format for documents being exchanged between government agencies.

    15. getitstr8mate
      Posted 22/02/2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink |

      What is the broader cost, and agility being sacrificed by this decision. If this becomes the Standard it is almost automatic for an agency to expand to Exchange, Sharepoint, Lync, etc. What is the additional cost of locking into propriety software for all of these services? How does this effect Governments ability to deliver better services, or innovate? This seems another step towards Microsoft securing a Monopoly in Australian Government. It would be interesting to hear what efforts have been made in these early stages to engage with the Open Source community or other Vendors? I know this is thinking well beyond the nature of this conversation however it would be interesting to understand the broader impacts and how these are being considered.

      • Posted 22/02/2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink |

        Most of these questions are addressed in our documents and discussion on the blog. I’d encourage you to read them. http://agimo.govspace.gov.au/2012/02/17/reviewing-the-common-operating-environment-policy/

        I’d be happy to continue the discussion on the blog once you’ve had a chance to review the detail.

        • Michael
          Posted 25/02/2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink |

          Hello, this is slightly off-topic, but related, please forgive me.

          I’m an American who works in a large company (300,000+ desktops) that’s going over this same debate, and one huge sticking point that may make us move from Microsoft is changes to there document search application (FAST). It’s primarily used for indexing / searching web pages, but it (supposedly) supports OOXML and ODF via plugins.

          The sticking point is, to use the next version of FAST, you will HAVE to have enterprise SharePoint and a couple of other services in order to run it at all.

          Though I agree with your arguments that you need to consider compatibility for the present and future, this right here kind of makes the points of others in these comments stand out. That is, what happens if, in the future, Microsoft decides OOXML needs an expensive plugin to work in Office 16? I know this is reviewed annually, and that would definitely probably change the game for the Australian government, but by then, you’ve already spent millions over the course of a few years keeping up with Microsoft licenses, upgrades, etc.

          However, choosing ODF now (which I agree isn’t as feature rich as it could be – yet!) means you have already-supported read-write capabilities (Office 14 / 2010 doesn’t support their own format yet), and an open marketplace to choose from, should you decide to switch from, say, OpenOffice to LibreOffice – or a home-grown adaptation. With Microsoft, you now have to consider document conversions, if possible, complete re-training, a rather large deployment – in short, a nightmare.

          Either way, it will be an issue of TCO instead of direct license costs, and those are often WAY underestimated by the lay-person in cases like these. So yeah, it would be more expensive, possibly, to switch right now, but it will very likely be MUCH cheaper than switching 2-3 years from now if/when forces the situation.

    16. Contrarian
      Posted 22/02/2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink |

      Given Microsoft supports ODF in Office and is even adding support for it in SkyDrive, why exactly is there any conflict between picking ODF and picking Microsoft? All AGIMO is doing is guaranteeing Microsoft’s lock-in forever. With a simple format choice they could level the playing field, allowing other solutions to gain traction and become more mature while still leaving themselves the space to make career-safe choices in the short term.

      • Posted 22/02/2012 at 10:47 pm | Permalink |

        Please see my comments above. The fact is that there are functions in the Microsoft formats that do not translate into the ODF formats. To the extent that these exist, and they are used by some subset of users, ODF does not provide full interoperability. We have also seen that other vendors develop support for OOXML over time. The choice before us is what to do this year. Comments here and on our blog have been informing that choice. But there have only been a relatively small number of people providing them – not quite a groundswell, but useful nevertheless.

        And just before I finish, do you really think that if “career-safe choices” were the order of the day, we’d be conversing like this?

        • Posted 23/02/2012 at 1:34 am | Permalink |

          Hi John,

          My attention was drawn to this discussion from afar, I hope you will forgive the intrusion from a foreigner. I’ll try to contribute constructively; please don’t treat these comments as hostile, I very much admire the work that’s been done on opening up procurement in Australia as you may recall. In case you’re concerned, I am no longer associated with any vendor.

          > The fact is that there are functions in the Microsoft formats that do not translate
          > into the ODF formats. To the extent that these exist, and they are used by some
          > subset of users, ODF does not provide full interoperability.

          Interoperability is a pipe-dream. No format – including OOXML – can faithfully represent the functions of all software in the market in its domain of function. It is impossible for any two applications to be 100% interoperable; they are always interoperable only at the level of their overlapping commodity function. Striving towards “interoperability” is striving towards maintenance of the lock-in of the dominant function provider.

          The correct solution is to provide staff with the best tools they need for their job at the price their work justifies, and then define a common format for interoperability that allows all tools to interoperate at the level of identifiable commodity function. There are certain to be gaps; MS Office does not 100% interoperate with Adobe Photoshop, for example, yet the level of interoperability allows Photoshop to be used collaboratively in the same organisations as MS Office (and LibreOffice).

          This is the inevitable destination of BYOD strategies, by the way. A strategy that defines open standards like IMAP and ODF rather than specifies applications (directly or by proxy) opens the path to flexibility and the resulting reduced costs for those willing to take it.

          > We have also seen that other vendors develop support for OOXML over time.

          Other vendors have developed support for subsets of OOXML, and that support has been used by Microsoft to validate their format. But leaving Microsoft in control of the format like this simply allows them to dictate your market from abroad. Why would you want that?

          > The choice before us is what to do this year.

          Naturally I encourage you to specify PDF as your preferred format for information interchange, with ODF for interchanges where serial editing is essential.

          May I draw your attention to the great value of hybrid PDFs? LibreOffice (and the rest of the family to which it belongs) can create a PDF that is universally readable but also contains embedded within it the editable ODF, for those who require it. Hybrid PDFs offer a single format that meets both needs for file distribution.

          > Comments here and on our blog have been informing that choice. But there have only
          > been a relatively small number of people providing them – not quite a groundswell, but
          > useful nevertheless.

          It’s a pretty esoteric issue, and those capable of a rational dialogue on the subject without commercial bias are very rare! I’m impressed you have had as much comment as you have; it’s a sign that technology issues are no longer the exclusive domain of industry lobbyists and evangelists.

          S.

          • Michael
            Posted 25/02/2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink |

            Sorry for geeking-out here for a minute – but I think one of the biggest mistakes Oracle made was not bringing you in and having you continue in your role. I was sad to see OpenSolaris go, though the forks have shown some promise. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being angry at Oracle over their handling of SUN’s opensource projects. At least OpenOffice has a good home, now.

    17. Posted 24/02/2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink |

      The reasoning employed to get to OOXML reminds me of a boss’s boss I had who wrote up a requirements doc that mandated investigating antivirus software for a Solaris server hooked to a bunch of Solaris workstations. It’s really easy to tell when a document has been produced by writing the bottom line first and writing the justification later.

      • Gav
        Posted 24/02/2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink |

        Right now I guess the two best reasons for OOXML are:
        1) ISO 29500 Transitional has the best chance of faithfully representing all the legacy Office 97-2003 documents that are out there.
        2) Microsoft Office has the larger install base by a country mile, giving it greater familiarity with users. This currently implies OOXML.

        Office 15 appears to have ODF v1.2 support, though I’ve no idea if this will be backported. ODF may well be the interchange format of choice in the future, but right now OOXML is the best we’ve got. By all means work on improving the market penetration of ODF, but I don’t think government is really the best place to be getting all ‘early adopter’. Remember that the COE policy is updated yearly, so there’s hope for the future.

        • cobaco
          Posted 24/02/2012 at 10:30 pm | Permalink |

          @gav Right now I guess the two best reasons for OOXML are:
          1) ISO 29500 Transitional has the best chance of faithfully representing all the legacy Office 97-2003 documents that are out there.
          2) Microsoft Office has the larger install base by a country mile, giving it greater familiarity with users. This currently implies OOXML.

          regarding 1), seriously, I have yet to see an upgrade of Office that didn’t have conversion problems with documents from the previous version (let along that 1 further back). It sorta works for the common cases, but at time of writing quite frankly Libreoffice has better support for old .doc versions then MS office does. MS has absolutely no credibililty here.

          regarding 2) that’s some serious misinformed comment, there’s a Office plugin from both MS and oracle adding ODF Support to MS Office (for that matter MS is hosting the next odfplugfest in april, where the interoperability between the various ODF supporting apps gets tested and improved. Strangely there’s no similar event for OOXML, the reason, MS Office is essentially the only one really trying to support more then the common case nothing special OOXML doc)

    18. ShadowBoxer
      Posted 24/02/2012 at 9:24 pm | Permalink |

      I have just come back from europe and Open office does have a significant and growing presence over there.
      We all KNOW why that is – costs, long term access, cross platform support etc.

      Australia should look to the future and not to the past. Many organisations do NOT like Office 2010 and LINUX now controls the data centres, and android now has 50% of the mobile OS market share.

      MS is fading – and that in itself is a great reason to choose truly open standards like ODF.

      I have worked for organisations in Australia that have moved to open source OS and Office programs and in all cases only a few users needed MS OFFICE. The cost savings were enormous, the increase in security and performance significant. All have been huge successes.

      The Australian Government SHOULD move to the future – NOT look to the past.

    19. OS1
      Posted 24/02/2012 at 11:30 pm | Permalink |

      I think the point has largely been missed. The real point is not using Libre or Open or MS Office. You pay your money and you take your choice. The real point is will the document still be readable in ten years time. The real issue is MSs flat refusal to support full ODF compliance for fear, and probably justified fear, that users will migrate away; the lock in will end. It’s not even about open source, it’s actually about open standards which is a different thing entirely. Has anyone tried opening an old MS Works document lately? The proprietary MS Works document format lies almost forgotten, how long will it be before .doc, .xls and even .docx formats suffer the same fate? At least with an open standard if push comes to shove and the document is important enough a reader could be created to render the content.

    20. Daniel
      Posted 27/02/2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink |

      Aside from the benefits of free licensing with open-source applications I think an even bigger advantage in the enterprise is the reduction in cost due to not having to manage licensing.

      Advantages of no licensing for open source software:
      – No need to try work out the best licensing options (individual license, group license, site licenses, etc)
      – No licensing negotiations necessary with the vendor
      – No need for anyone to wade through pages of legalese to ensure they fully understand the licensing terms
      – No need to do this all over again for every upgrade of the software
      – No need to track licenses within the enterprise to ensure that there are sufficient licences for the users
      – No need for licence audits
      – No risk of a disgruntled employee informing the application vendor of licence violations (even if the employer was not aware of it)
      – No risk of lawsuits or fines for violating licence violations

      To me, these issues are a huge advantage to any business.

      • Posted 27/02/2012 at 10:23 pm | Permalink |

        Daniel makes an interesting and valid point which is why the government undertook a coordinated procurement for Microsoft software under the Volume Sourcing Agreement. This moved from 42 contracts covering 41 agencies to one contract that now covers over 80 agencies and more than 280,000 PCs. The contract arrangements simplify licensing, auditing, etc. The cost doesn’t disappear but it has been very considerably reduced.

        • Daniel
          Posted 28/02/2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink |

          Thanks for all your replies here and through other channels John.

          What about all the businesses and members of the public who need to exchange documents with government? Will they be able to send and receive ODF documents to and from government agencies, or will you require them to bear the cost and hassle of a proprietary licence format?

          I have looked at your publications but have not seen that addressed anywhere.

          Also, is the licensing contract a once-off payment for perpetuity, or is it going to be an ongoing (and even increasing) regular payment? I get the impression that the decision has been made based primarily on the partial lock-in that has already taken place rather than looking forward and taking this opportunity to break free of lock-in.

          • Posted 28/02/2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink |

            Hi Daniel

            On the issue of documents to and from the public and business, this policy does not affect them directly at all. The manner in which government publishes documents on line is covered by the mandatory accessibility guidelines in the Web Publishing Guide (http://webguide.gov.au/). Agencies usually specify the manner in which they want to recieve documents (particularly for tender responses) but that is not mandated centrally.

            As regards licensing, the Microsoft whole of government Volume Licensing Agreement is a modified Microsoft enterprise agreement. Government has perpetual licenses for the Microsoft desktop suite (operating system and Office principally). This agreement expires in June 2013. In broad terms, government could then use the current version of these products into perpetuity without paying any more fees.

            At the risk of being contradicted, I don’t view the situation as being locked in – partially or wholly. I can imagine a range of scenarios in which government could move in this area.

            • Phill
              Posted 28/02/2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink |

              And many of the smaller Government bodies – and Quango´s are not covered by that licensing – (so shifts the costs out of the Bigger Departments and helps hide them but Ironically those are the organisations that struggle as a result – Again huge cost in management and productivity.
              I have been in that position myself. OF course they use MS office because the Big departments they deal with make them – so they have to waste money and resources (and employ people or organisations to manage licensing for them)

              A false economy but the stats SOUND good.

              • Posted 28/02/2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink |

                Sorry but that’s not correct. While FMA Act agencies (all 110 of them http://www.finance.gov.au/publications/flipchart/index.html) don’t have to use Microsoft software, if they use it, they must buy it through the VSA. CAC Act agencies (so called quangos) can choose to use the VSA and several do. The cost per user/desktop is the same regardless of the size of the agency. Over 80 agencies use the VSA now.

                • Phill
                  Posted 28/02/2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink |

                  Experience tells me otherwise. There is small print which makes a significant number many of the smaller Organisations (such as Quangos, etc) not eligible
                  Even if they want to – they cant.
                  but thats just my experience . Often the PR doesnt match the reality.

                  • Posted 28/02/2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink |

                    I’m the First Assistant Secretary Agency Services at AGIMO. Since I was the lead negotiator for the VSA for government and my division administers it, I think I’m in a reasonable position to know. I’d be happy to hear from any agency incurring difficulties with it.

    21. Phill
      Posted 27/02/2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink |

      Its a hidden cost to Licensed Software and – its a really HUGE cost.
      Ive worked for organisations that have several staff JUST to manage MS licences, Forget othe licences for Databases and other software. Also the cost of NOT being able to whip up new PCs, or servers because of licences – or even because of the cost of the licenses – are a hidden cost in productivity.

      I´ve worked in organisation that use Just ¨free¨ – as in freedom – software and there have been times when we have been able to set up a new server or database and solve a problem. Other times I´ve worked for organsations when the cost for a new SERVER and DB license have prevented that and its taken much longer to fix issues as a result. How do u cost that lost productivity – and cost to the business – I´ve never seen it costed so maybe you cant – but it IS a significant cost. Ive seen it many times.

      • Gav
        Posted 27/02/2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink |

        Sometimes you can’t “whip up new PCs, or servers” because you don’t have money for the hardware too… just sayin’.

      • Posted 27/02/2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink |

        The government open source software policy is described here: http://www.finance.gov.au/e-government/infrastructure/open-source-software.html

        There is considerable use of open source software across government where it makes sense to do so. The AGIMO govspace platform (www.govspace.gov.au) supports some 50 government blogs and websites – it is built on WordPress (http://wordpress.com/). OSS is much less used on desktops, as is the case across the world. Research worldwide shows that less than 3% of desktops ran Linux in 2010 and less than 5% ran OpenOffice or its siblings. By way of contrast, about 1 in 5 servers are not Wintel based.

        I do note that the readers of this august journal don’t appear to reflect these statistics :-)

    22. Phill
      Posted 27/02/2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink |

      True – sometimes you cant get the hardware – but when your just troubleshooting an issue or doing a POC – or just proving a point or testing an idea – often a well spec´d PC (for example – Ive worked for banks where you can just order a Trading PC – and get one on loan for the duration – very cheaply – out of stores as it were – but the Killer will be the SERVER OS and Database) Also these days – VMs can frequently be used (and are) for such work.
      Sometimes it wont help – Ive seen issues that are not replicated because Production used optical connections to SAN and non prod equipment use copper and that was enough to cause issue – but they are rare.

      Also in the organisations Ive worked for here and in Europe – that are all Free software – the Enormous money saved has often gone to better hardware – WIN WIN there and of course – in any organisation – ordering a server running CENTOS and MYSQL versus a server running Oracle and Windows Server – theres a HUGE saving which means getting the hardware is easier and more likely to get approval./

      • Gav
        Posted 27/02/2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink |

        (if you click Reply next to the comment it will make a thread)

        True you can get better hardware up-front, but gosh I feel nervous about software companies basically being support organisations under a purely open source model (you are what you make your money from e.g. Google is an ad company).There would potentially be a perverse incentive to create the need for support via dodgy software.. yes anyone can fix it, but at their own cost, and if they’re a vendor, would then not be able to profit from supporting what they have fixed.

        It does seem, however, that companies are starting to use open-source software as a low-cost collaborative platform that they can build their business on (see http://blogs.the451group.com/opensource/2011/12/19/the-future-of-commercial-open-source-business-strategies/). That report also suggests that companies are preferring licences without copyleft provisions, meaning they are free to add value and control (via software fees) who makes can use that software. I’m not sure whether to view this as a free-rider phenomena or a happy social collaboration that raises the basic standards of society. There is a risk for open source that the free-rider view becomes dominant and this ‘platform’ suffers from a lack of innovation, with all the money being made on ‘fixing’ the platform.

    23. Posted 27/02/2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink |

      I’m reading a lot of comments here regarding “Exchange, Sharepoint, Lync, etc” that make “MS Office better”. Could anyone clarify what it is that is better?

      Also (and I must confess to this too) many people here are humbly apologizing for missing missing features in OO/LO… are any of these features even used? What are they? I’ve encountered small layout differences but have never had a document fail to open or render at all, am I the only one?

      Apparently my place of business uses all of these servers too (at least Exchange and Sharepoint), but I see no benefit and have switched to LibreOffice anyway. What are the supposed benefits?

    24. Posted 27/02/2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink |

      And in further news, Intel has joined the Document Foundation and is actively distributing LibreOffice. I can sure understand Gav’s qualms about a tiny fly-by-night like Intel getting involved.

    25. Posted 28/02/2012 at 1:10 am | Permalink |

      Ah, you meant internally. OK :-)

    26. Gordon Edwards
      Posted 28/02/2012 at 5:30 pm | Permalink |

      Ummm… What a marvellous idea!

      This means that the Feds can’t talk to me (I use Lotus SmartSuite) and — Oh Glorious Day!!!!!!! — I can’t talk to them (they don’t have Lotus SmartSuite)…

      I ain’t gonna change (despite what IBM trumpets about Symphony, which doesn’t support the best office productivity suite ever developed), and they ain’t gonna change (despite all the comments about MS inferiority) so…

      Does that make me a cyber-terrorist? Or just an IL person?

    27. Posted 28/02/2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink |

      Renai – I see this post has over 100 comments now. Is that your biggest number for an non-NBN post?

      • Posted 28/02/2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink |

        It’s up there, but I doubt it’s at the top ;)




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