I previously touched on some basics of Microsoft’s Open Office XML format. As mentioned in the introduction to Open Office XML, open source alternatives to Microsoft’s popular Office suite support the OOXML format. The major office suites supporting OOXML was possibly a contributing factor to the Australian Department of Finance mandating that all documents be in the OOXML format. Oddly enough, the official release of this policy was distributed in PDF. Is mandating a required document format a good idea, and if so, should you choose one that is not even accepted by the International Standards Organization?
What makes this decision by the Australian Department of Finance interesting is their choice of the particular OOXML standard to adopt. The ECMA-376 OOXML standard is highly controversial in the industry, and has no official ISO acceptance because of the dependencies of the format on Microsoft Office. Although alternatives can still read this OOXML standard, Microsoft Office is the the only viable option for safely and accurately saving these formats. An itnews.com.au article discusses this issue in more depth.
As noted above, the official release of this policy was released via a PDF. The PDF format has become the international standard for document exchange (at least from a reading perspective), and thus why it would be prohibitive to force a company into using only one specific electronic document format. itNews.com.au referenced that the United Kingdom’s 2009 document format policy allowed for both the OpenDocument Format (ODF) and OOXML. Although this Australian policy does not include any mention of ODF, it does not specifically prohibit the use of other formats either.
With Microsoft Office being the dominant office application software, this policy may have little to no bearing on the government’s day-to-day operations. However, the precedent set could adversely affect other businesses or agencies following their lead. With the great strides alternative office productivity applications have made to be cross-compatible with both each other and Microsoft Office, it seems that these types of regulations are moot and only have potential downsides.
What do you think? Post your thoughts in the comments.