Australia Finance Department, in its recently announced desktop policy, has asked all its agencies to choose Office Open XML as their standard document format. This move by the Australian Government has ensured Microsoft Office Suite will continue to be part of the Government policy documents.  This comes as a surprise for international community when majority of the governments are embracing open source desktop publishing suites to cut down on costs.

The Whole-of-Government Common Operating Environment has made it mandatory that an agency productivity suite  should have the capability to read and compile in Office Open XML which is the file format endorsed by the Government. The desktop policy document also states that the productivity suite should be compliant with the ECMA-376 version Office Open XML (OOXML) standard.

The Australian Government decision of favoring OOXML has not gone down well with international community. Many experts have questioned Australian Government decision as the ECMA-376 version Office Open XML (OOXML) standard was disapproved by the International Standard Organization (ISO).  The reason given for rejection was OOXML has many Windows-platform dependencies make it less compatible with other similar formats. The Open Document Format Alliance which is backed by Google and IBM has also warned governments globally against adoption of ECMA-376 standard. The ODF Alliance  in its document titled “ What Government needs to know” has specifically mentioned that user of ECMA-376 standard OOXML will eventually tie the user to using Microsoft Office Suite only.

The Alliance has also pointed out that  ECMA-376 standard OOXML had several Windows-platform dependencies an in order  to get the product approved for ISO-29500, Microsoft was asked to remove the Windows platform dependencies which the developer has not been able to do till date. Hence, in this scenario, the ECMA-376 standard OOXML stands rejected by ISO.

The directive from Australia’s Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) is surely going to limit agency choices as many of the rival productivity suites have the ability to import and read Microsoft’s OOXML format which is denoted by .docx extension for Word files, but only few have the ability to write in that format which prevents the agencies to use other office suites. This  government directive leaves agencies with no choice but to use Microsoft Office Suite.

The ODF alliance was surprised when the ODF format was not even mentioned in Australia’s Government Information Management Office policy. They have cited an international example where both the formats, ODF and OOXML were clearly mentioned in  2009 UK open document format policy the UK government giving room for both formats.  The biggest surprise for ODF Alliance was Australian Government did not even mention ODF standard in their The Whole-of-Government Common Operating Environment desktop policy. They have also mentioned that ODF was standard format selected by National Archives of Australia back in 2006.

AGIMO has clarified that it has selected OOXML to make the exchange of information easier between the agencies. Australian Government has clarified that their desktop policy is aimed at securing Government data and reducing possible leaks. The desktop policy makes it mandatory for Government offices to use Microsoft Office suite only.