Reviewing the COE Policy - office productivity suite file format discussion

John Sheridan - FAS Technology & Procurement

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In order to evaluate options for office productivity suite file formats against relevant standards, as well as assess their functionality and interoperability, comparative data was compiled for the consideration of the COE Review Working Group:

[Update 17/2/12: PDF for Options paper corrected to match DOC]
[Update 21/3/12: All files updated to correct erroneous ECMA edition reference]

Comments relating specifically to the COE Policy office productivity suite file format can be made on this post. Comments relating to other aspects of the COE Policy can be made on the main post: Reviewing the Common Operating Environment Policy.


Comments on this blog are now closed. Please let us know if you would like to discuss this post or have any general comments.

Comments (8)

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For further information on the review of the Common Operating Environment Policy, please see the latest post.

AGIMO Blog Admin

Hello again, Stephen,

Thanks for these comments too. When considering the suitability of a document format, we are focusing on cross-government interoperability. The aim is to ensure that any government owned personal computer, which is built using a SOE based on the COE, can read and modify documents sent in the common format from another such computer in another department. This doesn't necessarily mean they have to have the same software installed.

Due to the way the various applications interact, between manufacturers and even between versions, we've had to consider this in some detail. And, of course, it's not just about text documents. Agencies interchange presentations and spreadsheets too. The latter often involve macros and detailed, multi-level formulae. Despite professing to produce documents in a format with the same suffix, not all applications can be relied on to translate such detail reliably.

As regards security of documents in the cloud, you have identified an important challenge. The COE Policy is endorsed by DSD. DSD has published guidance about this issue.

The evaluations in the documents standards read/write comparison table were conducted on what would be the most likely document standard to be used across government agencies. Information on software-specific functionality and interoperability was provided in order to evaluate each standard against the applications currently, or soon-to-be in use across Government by the majority of agencies. Due to the limited number of agencies reporting current or intended use of the Mac OS X version of Office, it was not reflected in the information we posted.

Finally, I want to make it clear that Windows is not mandated for government use. Agencies remain able to decide which operating system to use. Such procurements are conducted in accordance with the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines, which require overall value for money to be the principal consideration.



This document is somewhat confusing as it doesn't provide an idea on where AGIMO would like to head in regards to the default file format mandated for agencies.

The file format for consideration needs to be more than "can all agencies open and edit the document". It needs to take into account the ability of the software to open, read, format and save the document and the capabilities of the format itself.

For instance, does the format support encryption to the level required by the ISM?

Does it support watermarking?

Can it be opened and look the same in different applications?

The best starting point for this would have been to come up with the list of required features that a format needs to have, then list off the various file formats and how they meet these requirements, rather than simply putting the "preferred" choice (i.e. Office) without considering what the file format itself is actually capable of.

The document also does not take into account other requirements specified by the ISM. For instance, agencies should not be storing sensitive or classified information on Google Docs because the data may be stored outside of Australia's borders and therefore not be held to the same laws and regulations as it would be inside Australia.

There is also no mention of Mac OS X versions of Office, which currently do not support the ODF format for documents, but does support the same of DOC/DOCX etc. as the equivalent Windows version.

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.

Documents have been updated to correct ECMA edition references.

AGIMO Blog Admin

Sorry I meant Windows Office 2010, typo on my part.

Microsoft Office 2010 can only read ECMA-376 3rd Edition / ISO 29500 documents, it is not the native format and it cannot write this format.
Please update to reflect this.
This is probably why MacOS Office 2011 files are not compatible with Windows Office 2011 files.

Specifying a specific version of office software, to suit a specific operating system from any vendor is of course going to be compatible with itself, regardless of how unusual or non standard the file format is.
I feel it would be better to standardize on a file format supported by multiple vendors, namely ODF.
There are plug in(s) for Microsoft Office that allow compatibility with ODF;

There may be instances where needed functionality is only available with specific vendors, but as a common universal read or write anywhere file format ODF should be available, even if it is not the default.

"Windows is not mandated for government"

Simple point if you mandate Office 2010. This does not work in wine so now no government department can use Linux because you are mandating Office 2010. Office 2010 is not platform neutral.

Please don't say virtual machine. Because that is still a copy of windows to the machine.

Mandate MS Office 2010 without another option is Mandating MS Windows. Sorry to say even "Mac OS X version of MS Office" run into issues where there version of MS Office is not compatible with windows version. Most people don't notice this is that Mac OS X MS Office is in fact MS Office 2011. There is no MS Office 2010 for Mac OS X. Yes MS Office 2011 is altered and extended compared to MS Office 2010 this does bring file incompatibilities.

The big problem here is MS Office 2010 is quite simply not cross platform it only exists for windows it exists for no other OS. So you are mandating use of MS Windows by proxy. The proxy being MS Office 2010. It is against the rules to do this. You are not meant to force a bias against any other OS in the COE selections.

So you should have tested at a min the compatibility of OS X running MS Office 2011 because that is a completely different program.

You compare is also invalid. There should be no such thing as “odt/ods/odp” and ECMA 3rd Edition this was a non approved combination by standard of ODF. So you should not use it for comparing anything producing that is producing invalid documents to standards no ODF process program should produce files contain this combination at this time. There will be a later revision number of ODF that should contain that ECMA 3rd.

So test says that MS Office 2010 produces invalid document that cannot be opened by other Open Source Office suites because its an invalid document so should not be opened.

Why not mandate both installed. LibreOffice and MS Office. There is no extra license cost. So this way out going documents can be checked in a Office suite that is free. So MS Office issue don't leave.

Really best is Libreoffice mandatory MS Office optional. This way if a department wants to run Linux or Apple they can.

You do have options like instead of sharepoint. There are other options instead of exchange as well.

OpenOffice has not done a recent release so it can be removed from the list for now.

There is a way out of this without breaching the rules. But it means deploying two office suits if you wish to keep MS Office so people using non MS platforms are not having issues.

If you want someone to audit this stuff for technical errors I would consider taking a contract.

You really need to go and get a OS X machine to complete out the MS Office tests properly.

Last updated: 02 August 2016