Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Australian Whole-of-Government Common Operating Environment

The Australian Department of Finance and Deregulation, has issued a "Whole-of-Government Common Operating Environment Policy" (WofG COE). The most controversial part of this is the mandating of the Office Open XML file format (as used by Microsoft Office), rather than the Open Document Format (as used by and other office packages).

National Archives of Australia developed its Xena open source archiving software to convert documents to ODF format for electronic archiving. Unless Archives decides to change the format used, each document will need to be converted from OOXML to ODF for long term storage. Prudence requires the original version of a document to be kept, along with the converted version, so this will increase the amount of storage needed.

However, what might be more significant is the lack of web standards from the COE. An "Internet Browser" is included as a standard application, but there are no versions of web document formats mandated, such as HTML or CSS. Also there is no mention of ebooks.

In my view the use of office applications suites, be they producing OOXML or ODF, are of questionable value. These applications encourage authors to create poorly structured, hard to read documents which waste system resources.

The COE also specifies the ISO/IEC 32000-1:2008 version of PDF (equivalent to Adobe PDF 1.7). The "Australian Government’s study into the Accessibility of the Portable Document Format for people with a disability" recommended the continued use of alternate formats to PDF. In my view packaged web formats such as the ePub ebook format, would be preferable to PDF.

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