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Australian Govt Re-Kindles Office File Format War 119

Posted by samzenpus
from the list-of-reasons dept.
An anonymous reader writes "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."
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Australian Govt Re-Kindles Office File Format War

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  • Vendor Lock-in (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 24, 2012 @04:14AM (#39144935)
    How about the merit of even being able to re-evaluate their choice of file format because they aren't being locked in by their vendor?
    • Re:Vendor Lock-in (Score:5, Informative)

      by crafty.munchkin (1220528) on Friday February 24, 2012 @07:33AM (#39145725)
      Regardless of vendor lock-in, they're missing a crucial element - the employees of the Australian Public Service are terrible and impossible to retrain.
      • ... spoken proudly as an ex-employee of the APS! :)
      • by Gothmolly (148874)

        Don't you mean employees of ANY public service?

      • Don't you really mean: ... the employees of the Australian Public Service are terrible and impossible.

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        Bad governmental employees are not unique to Australia.

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          No, it's pretty much a universal joke, as in really only ever meant to be a joke, not really meant to label all of them just the typical grizzling about the unfairness of it all. Only the US went nuts and twisted the joke, maid it literal, all so low cost government activities could be privately contracted, and run into the ground with a focus on profits rather service. Bad corporate executives do far more damage than bad government employees, in fact bad corporate executives actually work to create bad go

  • by Anonymous Coward

    is always better than propriatary!

  • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Friday February 24, 2012 @04:24AM (#39144975)
    The message of the central article is, basically, the same as the old mantra. Microsoft has the widest office platform with Sharepoint and Exchange, therefore it is the right answer.

    What isn't being questioned is whether the question being asked is the right one. Despite the huge investment in "office" technologies, have they really increased productivity or effectiveness?

    For the opposite case, look at IDEs. In only 20 years, software development has gone from something where you trod a minefield of minor issues and only the highly skilled could safely write business logic, to something where an invisible, benevolent being holds your hand at every step, autocompleting, identifying deprecations, and allowing you simply to concentrate on getting the job done. As a result, programmers are more productive. It is interesting watching new graduates and realising that they have simply never experienced a world in which you type, compile, fix, type, compile, fix....with most of fix being minor problems that the compiler complains about, and then start actually to debug. In those same 20 years, has office technology got more efficient to the same degree in terms of actual work done? No. Exactly like the medieval monks, the basic task of transcribing the Bible has barely improved (spelling and grammar checkers? Look at the frequent homophones nowadays - car breaks, loose for lose, and the rest of them) and all the effort has gone into illuminating the title page and margins. Office 2010 is basically an illuminated manuscript generator, absorbing vast amounts of effort in decorating a piece of paper or a screen to conceal the fact that the actual content is mundane and boring.

    The really interesting and exciting stuff is happening in CMS-based websites where people post simple marked up text that stands or fails on the quality of its content, not whether it complies with the corporate standard for margin width and precise positioning of the logo.

    The new paradigm that is increasingly expected by younger people is a refocussing on the text. Viewed on small screens, decoration isn't much use. More important is immediacy and filing, and email, IM, BBM, even Facebook and twitter, are much better at these. The Australian Government should surely be looking at, for instance, how much of the decoration and formatting, how much of the Powerpoint, are actually wasted effort.

    The question isn't whether Microsoft blobXML or ODF is better; it is how many employed people actually really need to be using them at all.

    • This is exactly why I think simple plain text files are superior in many cases. I've seen people create Word documents just to store individual links. While a bookmark system would have been ideal, plain text would have been a much better solution. Like you said, marked-up plaintext is what powers CMSes and wikis. If the user really needs formatting, they can always use something like (La)TeX, and if they need something more than that, they can use Scribus or InDesign.
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Simple text files are never superior. Please stop being so damn backwards about this. And I know /. will probably even mod this funny, but I'm completely serious.

        • by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Friday February 24, 2012 @05:37AM (#39145241)

          I would like to know where do you find any word processor, such as Microsoft Word or even Libre Office Writer, to be superior to LaTeX in any aspect. It obviously isn't on the support for math notation, and it isn't on reference management, on colaborative work, on revision control, or on system requirements. It is also not in productivity, both by "advanced" users and specially in newbies.

          The only aspect where I see that word processors may appear to be superior is in table formatting and in managing figures. Yet, that apparent superiority doesn't go beyond the discovery that pictures can be dragged and dropped to a document. Once the user is forced to format those objects then all hell breaks loose.

          So, exactly where do you see word processors as being always superior to writing LaTeX documents through a text editor?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Well, normal people can use a word processor ?

            Come on, surely you can see the problem.

            • by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Friday February 24, 2012 @06:06AM (#39145351)

              I don't see why normal people wouldn't be able to write a LaTeX document. Setting up a new document may be tricky for a absolute newbie, but that's nothing that can't be taken care by a template with a half dozen lines, and learned in a couple of minutes. From there, basically the only thing a user needs to know is to use commands such as \chapter, \section, \subsection and the like, and know how to write. How is that hard?

              • by Zarhan (415465)

                ...and floats, and tables, and formatting of said tables, and different kinds of list styles, and,....

                I've written several papers using Lyx, which fortunately manages to hide most of the annoying things of Latex. But it's *not* friendly. And don't even get started on Bibtex..Not that MS Word's XML-based system is any better, but at least I don't have to worry about mystical compliation errors due to an extra comma.

                The only problem with MS Word is that unless explicitly configured to enforce usage of styles

                • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday February 24, 2012 @07:05AM (#39145589) Journal

                  I think the thing that you're missing is that most normal people can't do these things in Word either. Let's take the cross referencing example. I recently proofread a masters dissertation for a friend who is not a native speaker. She was using Word, and used Word in her day job. Yet all of the references to figures were done by explicitly typing 'See Figure 12'. When I suggested that she might want to add a figure, she said that she didn't want to because she'd have to renumber everything. I was pretty shocked by this, since that's exactly the sort of thing that computers are supposed to do - the boring and repetitive tasks. Surely, I said, Word can do this? Yes, it can, and actually Word's cross-referencing tool is more powerful than LaTeX's one (which is pretty primitive, although there are a few packages that improve it).

                  • I have gone to some effort during my Ph. D to educate people on Word's cross-referencing power.

                    The sad thing is, even lecturer's and academics are frequently unaware of it and go on to teach poor, manual techniques to students.

                    Regarding Lyx: I want to love LaTeX, I really do, but when I first started up Lyx I discovered that subscripts and superscripts were not in fact a standardized upon feature (that's since changed - still though). But looking down the barrel of a chemistry thesis, that was an immediate

                  • by Gothmolly (148874)

                    +1

                • by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:27AM (#39145957)

                  It really depends on what's your definition of "friendly". For example, I see BibTeX as the friendliest bibliography system there is, mainly due to the fact that when you use it you don't even need to be aware you are using it. You just pick your bibliography file and simply reference what you wish to reference. What's unfriendly about the following command?

                  \cite{some_book}

                  Managing a BibTeX bibliography is also quite simple and straight-forward. A user only needs to open a text file with a text editor and add an entry to a book. What's unfriendly about the following entry?

                  @Book{some_book,
                                  AUTHOR = {The author's name},
                                  TITLE = {the title of the book},
                                  PUBLISHER = {The publisher's name},
                                  YEAR = {some year},
                                  isbn = {a ISBN reference},
                  }

                  If we compare using BibTeX with the god-awful way Microsoft Word handles bibliographies we lose any reason to claim that word processors are somehow better at its job than LaTeX. So, why do some people keep parrotting that word processors such as Microsoft Word are somehow better at producing documents than LaTeX? This sort of claim simply goes against reality.

                  • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

                    by Zarhan (415465)

                    What's unfriendly about the following command?

                    \cite{some_book}

                    The fact that if I typo it to \cite{some_booky} it doesn't compile. And unless I rigorously recompile after every edit, I might not even catch that. Worse if the brace is missing.

                    What's unfriendly about the following entry?

                    It's in a separate file, for starters.

                    Also, you need to run Latex *twice* to get it working properly (the first time generates the .aux and then you can do it again). Oh right, creating a makefile is apparently easy for everyo

                    • Oh come on, get an IDE*. Typo in BibTeX key? It will jump to the offending line and highlight the error. Multiple passes? It manages the compilation process for you.

                      * Perhaps should be called IAE -- intergrated authoring environment. Personally I use vim-latex but please don't burn me for not using Emacs.

                    • by oursland (1898514)

                      The fact that if I typo it to \cite{some_booky} it doesn't compile. And unless I rigorously recompile after every edit, I might not even catch that. Worse if the brace is missing.

                      Reminds me of a quote I've read:

                      On two occasions I have been asked,—"Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
                      —Charles Babbage, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher

                      Typos in a document are unprofessional. LaTeX at least will give you the luxury of informing you that you've made typos in your markup before you've made an ass of yourself.

                    • by Zarhan (415465)

                      Like I said in grandparent, I have been able to make using Latex tolerable by using Lyx. Only problem is that if there's some newfangled class that doesn't have a corresponding Lyx layout I have to somehow try to make one...and that's not really all that easy.

                    • I think LyX is mostly focused on the WYSIWIG aspect. Your problems (automatic completion of bibtex key, automatically managed "make" process, and debugging in context) are better solved in something that work like an IDE. Perhaps you can look for one that suites your needs.

                  • Because I find that system inferior to Zotero (which is pretty much the endgame IMO) - I can simply browse to the reference I want online, push one button and have it fully downloaded and synced to my system, with a useful interface for sorting and organizing.

                    My database has hundreds of references - will probably have thousands by the time I'm done, and I don't necessarily know which ones will be appropriately relevant when I'm actually writing up.

                    Word may not implement the necessary functionality itself, b

            • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 24, 2012 @07:31AM (#39145713)

              They can do some of it, but when the WP decides that the figure goes on the next page, they won't be able to find out how to tell it not to. When they want a paragraph starting on the next page, not split over two, they'll use returns to add blank lines. When the font used gets changed, they'll be adding another font tag inside a now unused font tag. When they need a contents or index, they'll either type it all out by hand or try the wizard and get an answer they don't like (and therefore go and make one by hand again) because how to get it to do what they WANTED, not what they were given, is not possible for them.

              In fact, in all the ways they know how to use Word, they know how to use Tex. And in all the ways they don't know how to use Tex, they don't know how to use Word.

              • by noh8rz2 (2538714)
                Jebus you thnk people are real idiots, don't you? I can't imagine being married to you. Everybody in my work group uses office for some seriously tricked out documents and spreadsheets, and we all get by jut fine. 95% of time is spent on content creation, and we can share and edit group docs with no problem. We're not all fucking retards just because we prefer a GUI to a command line.
                • by tqk (413719)

                  Jebus you [think] people are real idiots, don't you? I can't imagine being married to you. Everybody in my work group uses office for some seriously tricked out documents and spreadsheets, and we all get by [just] fine. 95% of [the] time is spent on content creation, and we can share and edit group docs with no problem. We're not all fucking retards just because we prefer a GUI to a command line.

                  Not all of you, no. As for "getting by jut fine", I beg to differ. I dare you to hand off one of your "jut fine" docs to me. No, just because this is a throwaway post on /. doesn't get you a pass. For some of us, correct composition always matters. We care about those who're going to read it because exact comprehension often matters.

                  I've seen very competent IT people create files that were a simple, single list of lines, in a spreadsheet program (Excel)! They can't even choose the correct tool to use

        • by crutchy (1949900)
          there are more "simple" text files in the world than microsoft word documents. try writing any sort of programming in Microsoft Word... good luck! most programming is stored as simple text. so are web pages, css, js, linux configuration files, xml, and even pdf to some extent. Microsoft Word and FrontPage are both shit for web page authoring. word/excel/etc has all sorts of "advanced" features... that are completely useless bloat for majority of users, and the remaining users that use them could/should be u
        • For many purposes, simple text file is indeed superior due to, well you guess, textuality. Put it this way: you can't grep an ODF file, but you can grep in a text file with insane efficiency (most of the time).

        • by tsa (15680)

          If you had given a reason for your claim you might be considered Insightful, but now your post is just a stupid remark.

      • If the user really needs formatting, they can always use something like (La)TeX, and if they need something more than that, they can use Scribus or InDesign.

        LaTex is awesome. It really and truly is. The trouble is that you're absolutely never going to get typical office workers to even read things like this [techscribe.co.uk], let along actually use what you're recommending.

        • Of course not. 99% of office users might have gone on a course of a day or so, and then they learn from other people, getting shown by example. You may remember a year or so ago the US Federal Government looked at an agency that still used more or less a text based front end to a database, running SQL queries to get reports. It was suggested they would be more productive with an Excel front end. The study concluded that it was quite easy to train people to use the SQL-based front end, which did everything n
          • What I was hinting at, but didn't actually just come out and say before, is that the problem is bigger than this. Take your typical sales or marketing department at any given midsize to large company. Walk in and try any angle conceivable to convince the employees in that department that using something like LaTeX is worthwhile. You'll have a serious problem on your hands. So perhaps you try to go up one level and convince their management. That won't work out well, either. Perhaps you go up another level a

            • The Sales and Marketing Department is where Office belongs. The content providers need InDesign or whatever. No argument at all. But most office workers do not work in Sales or Marketing ( which is one reason why business continues to function). Often what they actually need is Excel plus a simple, straightforward email client, and even this is really overkill.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          If the user really needs formatting, they can always use something like (La)TeX, and if they need something more than that, they can use Scribus or InDesign.

          LaTex is awesome. It really and truly is. The trouble is that you're absolutely never going to get typical office workers to even read things like this [techscribe.co.uk], let along actually use what you're recommending.

          Its output is pretty but the language is a complete mess. Packages are designed without much forethought and are sometimes incompatible with each other. It is really difficult to achieve fine control over the formatting unless you are a latex guru. Error messages are incomprehensible. Basic things like the occasional overlong lines are hard to fix. It's definitely not awesome, at best it's a necessary evil if you want high-quality papers.

          Lyx makes latex a bit more bearable, but if you want fine control y

          • Mod parent +<a lot>: He has got it in one.

            I have learned LaTeX at least 3 times in the last 20 years, and forgot it immediately afterwards. Arcane does not even begin to describe it, and there is no way any of that effort is needed if its not going to a learned publication I could probably do the job faster setting lead type on a letter press, if you include the learning overhead and the hacking of the various scripts. .

            Government departments need to learn to use plain text if they don't want to ha

            • The problem is not the packages, it is that TeX is a case study in how not to design a programming language. It is evidence that you should only listen to Knuth when he talks about theory, not about implementation. The language has no concept of scope! Creating a programming language that has no support for structured programming is simply inexcusable. The other problem with LaTeX is that there is no separation of content and presentation. The input file is just a turing machine tape.

    • by vAltyR (1783466)

      The Australian Government should surely be looking at, for instance, how much of the decoration and formatting, how much of the Powerpoint, are actually wasted effort.

      Almost all of it. The entire purpose of typesetting systems such as (La)TeX is to make it so the users didn't have to worry about such things.

    • by kestasjk (933987) *
      I work in a large EPCM (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction Management) company, which builds mainly iron ore mines, and Excel is absolutely vital.
      Of course we have strictly templated work documents, we give presentations, we do visio diagrams, (and we have an intranet, and a software dev team), and they're all important, but they don't come close to Excel.

      For all its flaws, and the inevitable difficulties when it comes time to scale spreadsheets up into database driven software, the business wou
      • I am amazed at the number of people who post on Slashdot and assume that because their niche works like so-and-so, so does everybody else's.

        Excel is fine where it's needed. So is Word. Someone has actually probably found a use for Powerpoint other that as an insomnia cure in meetings. But most Government workers are not technical specialists, and that was rather my point. That, and the tendency of people to do too much decoration.

        • Excel is my Go To program as well. Besides "Sales and Marketing", it runs a lot of Finance stuff. I have promoted the use of Excel over Word in a lot of cases in my company because Word is starting to really tick me off with its aggressive Paragraphing & Listing defaults. I'm no newbie but I burn fifteen minutes a whack trying to get someone's Word letterhead template to quit trying to send 8.76 X 11.02 invalid paper sizes to the printers, (which then hoses the print queue in the middle of the print run

    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      Dude are you stoned? And are the mods smoking the good stuff too? Geez these kids today don't remember their history! For those that obviously have forgotten THIS [sfwriter.com] is the kind of crap we USED to have. notice how its got 50 damned keyboard commands? Well guess what? they were ALL different on EVERY program! We used to have fricking cheat sheets taped up all over the damned place just to keep up with the crap!

      You may not like MS Office, hell i personally hate that damned ribbon and kill that thing right off

      • Yes those old programs were difficult. I'm relieved I don't have to use vi any more, and I actually remember people trying to write Fortran in, ffs, Edlin. But the truth is that most office workers probably need no more than Wordpad and basic spreadsheets. Which are not open to your objections.

        You give yourself away by referring to "Times New Roman blandness". TNR is designed to be legible - i.e. easy to read. Conventional formatting is better for understanding large amounts of text. That's why books that p

    • by subreality (157447) on Friday February 24, 2012 @07:50AM (#39145787)

      For the opposite case, look at IDEs. In only 20 years ...

      20 years ago I was using Borland C. Nothing since has ever touched the beautiful integration of editing, compiling and debugging that BC had. The write-compile-test cycle was breathtakingly fast and convenient.

      I'm not saying we haven't made progress. The editor I use now creams it, and I'm not looking to go back. But from a pure IDE standpoint, no, things pretty much peaked in the early to mid '90s.

      • Yes, in fact up till 12 years ago so was I.

        The simple fact, looking at my current project hierarchy, dependencies, third party libraries, product forks and the rest is that Borland could not have handled it and presented it all as a neat, easy to understand structure through which I can navigate easily. To be more provocative, a good developer today can handle a project, or set of projects, that would have required a team in 1982. That's possible largely because of the tools.

    • by RoboJ1M (992925)

      Agreed.

      I work in an office where all the management and non-technical people live in a world of Word, Excel and Outlook.
      They store all of their plans, designs, proposals and, well, everything in those formats.
      We have staff members who's entire job is manually shuffling identical data between Word documents in various managers personal style preferences.
      We have screens that display information that has to be manually copied and updated from other word documents.
      Most people use email as an information filling

    • by Gothmolly (148874)

      ... to something where an invisible, benevolent being holds your hand at every step, autocompleting, identifying deprecations, and allowing you simply to concentrate on getting the job done. As a result, programmers are more productive....

      More productive at WHAT?

      Ironic that this article is on the same front page as the 1995 "buy a computer with 8 MB of RAM" article. Now my workstation has 8 GB of RAM. Am I running code that is 1024x better than it was in 1995, courtesy of more productive programmers? O

    • by MtViewGuy (197597)

      I think people who think going to the Open Document Format is a good idea must realize a BIG problem: Word files are so widely used that it has become a "de facto" standard anyway, and you need a program that can at least READ Word files.

    • Ahh, those were the days - a line to use the keypunch, then two day turnaround to find out you put a comma instead of a period. Then, find the card among 400 others, repunch the card, and wait two more days. That was how it worked at my school at crunch time. The machine had a 1 megabyte hard drive with a mean seek time of 1 second, 16K of 16-bit core, and a 1MHz clock, and a 15 minute max time before the job got dumped automatically. If you used nested macros in your assembly program it might well tak

  • What's really stopping adoption of things like Open Document Format [wikipedia.org]? I understand the limitations regarding change tracking, but this seems like something better handled by revision control [wikipedia.org] systems anyhow. In my view, a document should be treated as a token, and modifications to that token should be handled by external systems. Maybe I'm approaching it from a perspective that's too "UNIXy" for some purposes; can someone help me out here?

    • What's really stopping adoption of things like Open Document Format [wikipedia.org]? I understand the limitations regarding change tracking, but this seems like something better handled by revision control [wikipedia.org] systems anyhow.

      It is, especially, if you're a government, or even a big corporation, and don't want your PR department to inadvertently issue press releases along with their edit history (as even Microsoft has done in the past).

      In my view, a document should be treated as a token, and modifications to that token should be handled by external systems.

      That's all well and good for technically-inclined users, but if you want non-technical users to be adopting revision control systems (which are not hosted on some cloud, the less paranoid non-technical users will have gone to the cloud already), you'll probably want to make such a revision control

    • Re:What about ODF? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Bert64 (520050) <bert@NoSPaM.slashdot.firenzee.com> on Friday February 24, 2012 @05:35AM (#39145233) Homepage

      Yes change tracking is most definitely better served by revision control systems... Many organisations have had the change tracking systems in programs like word come to bite them in the ass pretty badly as comments they thought had been removed were still visible...

      What's really stopping ODF tho, is MS... They technically support it, but their support is of an older version, is generally poor and they have made bad faith moves by exploiting loopholes in the spec to intentionally create incompatibilities.

      • by nxtw (866177)

        Yes change tracking is most definitely better served by revision control systems... Many organisations have had the change tracking systems in programs like word come to bite them in the ass pretty badly as comments they thought had been removed were still visible...

        Sometimes people want to easily communicate changes and comments with others. Accidental use of change tracking features is not a valid reason to prescribe the use of external RCS instead.

      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        The problem in fighting the Microsoft machine is that they've made this all so seemless that an external program simply adds needless layers of complexity.

        Yes change tracking in word by itself sucks. But then from within word you can access the sharepoint resources, preview previous versions of documents, view changes side by side, etc.

        Compared to the way things were done at my old company which was a marriage of a third party document control system with a web interface which broke down if people didn't fo

    • by nxtw (866177)

      but this seems like something better handled by revision control systems anyhow.

      Integrated change tracking is a form of revision control system, embedded into some document formats and applications. It serves a different purpose than a traditional revision control system, and is useful in combination with a traditional RCS or a document management system with its own file-level revision tracking and approval systems (such as SharePoint or Alfresco).

      Change tracking systems log a sequence of actions that led

    • by Apps (21158)

      I recently installed MS Office 2010 on my fathers laptop

      It gave me the choice of using ODF as the default format for saved files!!!
      (I didn't use it because he needs to send files to others who may have old versions of Word for his business)

      • It's been there since 2007 SP1. But it's not perfectly compatible with OpenOffice/LibreOffice, especially in spreadsheet department, where formulas do not roundtrip.

    • by nxtw (866177)

      In my view, a document should be treated as a token, and modifications to that token should be handled by external systems.

      Involving an external central repository is a lot more complex than storing changes inside a document, which can be easily copied, sent via email, etc. And as described in my earlier comment, RCS doesn't provide anywhere near the level of change detail and metadata-dependent approve/deny/comment abilities as integrated change tracking.

      Inline change tracking allows me to write a documen

      • I certainly respect your views on this topic, but I have to say that I just cannot agree with most of your points. I've worked with systems built upon traditional RCS components that enabled every feature you've described to be applied to any document, regardless of source format, extremely easily. These were internal systems, but they do exist. Given this, I'm afraid I have to stand by my view that everything you've described belongs in properly designed document management systems, and does not belong in
        • by nxtw (866177)

          I've worked with systems built upon traditional RCS components that enabled every feature you've described to be applied to any document, regardless of source format, extremely easily. These were internal systems, but they do exist.

          I'm not sure if I can believe you. Such a system would have commercial value, and you should be able to refer us to the vendor.

          Such a system would also need to have some awareness of the source format to approach the level of detail of change tracking in Office. For example, fo

          • I'm not sure if I can believe you. Such a system would have commercial value, and you should be able to refer us to the vendor.

            Unreasonably accusing someone of dishonesty is a terrible way to start a reply. Have you considered that the majority of the software ever written isn't for public consumption, isn't designed or intended for external distribution, and is written to satisfy specific internal business requirements for companies? Yes, the wheel gets reinvented a lot. However, some really useful new systems get developed as well. Sure, many such systems might have significant commercial value, but most companies aren't software

            • by nxtw (866177)

              Unreasonably accusing someone of dishonesty is a terrible way to start a reply.

              I agree completely. But you still haven't explained how a RCS can determine the sequence of user actions performed within an application that led to a new state without being programmed to interact with the application, or the application being programmed to interact with the RCS.

              The example in my previous comment demonstrated two different sequences of events that both lead to the same result given the same original state. How

              • From my understanding, it wasn't the RCS that determined the sequence of events, not in the scope you're discussing. That was done one layer up. However, the changes were indeed tracked properly. It should be noted that I don't pretend to understand how this was done, as I didn't write the code that did it. Just as a stab in the dark, maybe it utilized keystroke logging as part of its sauce; again, I didn't have any hand in creating the system. What I do know is meaningful diffs, represented as native file

    • The problem with storing these things in a revision control system is viewing the diffs. If I have source code, which is plain text, stored in a revision control system, then I can do svn diff (or whatever) and see what changes someone has made. More importantly, I can use tools like viewvc and have a side-by-side syntax-highlighted view of the before and after files.

      Now what happens if you put a Word or ODF document into the revision control system? The diffs are not human readable. You need another

  • by ancienthart (924862) on Friday February 24, 2012 @04:32AM (#39145007)
    I find it interesting that the author of the article states that he'd "... love to see some competition for Microsoft Office arise and challenge Redmond's dominance." yet recommends that the Australian Government "... would be silly to choose any other standard than one supported strongly by Microsoft." How does he expect the competition to occur if every government user (which is a MASSIVE userbase in Australia) doesn't have the option of using alternatives?

    I'm finding the argument about:
    "... 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"

    a little confusing considering the statement that several departments were:
    "... signalled their intention to eventually migrate to Office 2010 as part of their next upgrade."

    As a teacher in an Australian school currently being switched to 2010, I'd say that using Microsoft Office 2010 would involve a HIGHER retraining cost than LibreOffice or OpenOffice.

    And I still can't understand why the government didn't decide "Microsoft Office 2010 is the preferred Office Suite AT PRESENT, but files must be saved in OpenDocument Formats."
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I recently received an XLS sheet, it wouldn't open (I have Excel circa 2003). It's silly to call Microsoft's formatS one format just because of the extension.

      After playing with the XLS, I discovered that it actually was their XML format in a zip archive. They seem to now be calling that XLS instead of XLSD (?). I found I could open it only in OpenOffice (I wasn't going to do a major expensive upgrade of MS Office just to open this one weird file), I renamed it XLSD and simply opened it.

      And that was the end

      • by kestasjk (933987) *
        The person who sent you that probably made a mistake when saving the file extension..
      • After playing with the XLS, I discovered that it actually was their XML format in a zip archive. They seem to now be calling that XLS instead of XLSD (?).

        Then it had been misnamed by someone, because Microsoft use a variety of different extensions [wikipedia.org] for their new file format (depending on whether it contains macros), and XLS is not one of them.

        You can get the compatibility pack [microsoft.com] for previous versions of office to allow you to open the new file format in your version of Office and a lot of the earlier ones (it is not listed, but the pack works back to at least Office 97). It works pretty well, and means that you are not forced to upgrade with "a series of endles

      • by MBC1977 (978793)
        This seems like beating a dead horse, but I'll do it again...

        Microsoft provides toolkit for Office 2003 to open MS 2007/2010 formatted files. (Without buying an upgrade).

        Here is the link [microsoft.com].
  • by Robert Zenz (1680268) on Friday February 24, 2012 @04:40AM (#39145033) Homepage

    ...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...

    So the author of TFA suggest to stop worrying about such things as interoperability and longevity of Federal Documents and just go with MS Office, and instead worry about the real issues...like Webbrowsers...

    'nuff said.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Meanwhile outside of the MS Office environment people are still reading in data files unchanged from the 1980s because they were written to published and easily available standards. That's not in any sort of "commie" environment but something as capitalistic as the oil industry.
      People already had answers for compatibility issues before Microsoft even existed. The main perpertators in the software world are Microsoft so it's surreal that their material is chosen "in the interests of compatibility".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is the only reason. As soon as you get a OSS that can 100% reliably open an excel sheet then you will win. Such a vast amount of time and money is invested in these spreadsheets - because Excel really has no peer in the marked. You wouldn't believe how much it costs to redevelop and test the working sheets of even a modest company.

    • Such a vast amount of time and money is invested in these spreadsheets - because Excel really has no peer in the marked.

      So you're actually saying that lots of data is trapped into proprietary formats? That's exactly what governments should prevent from happening to their data. And companies as well, if they're smart enough to realize that. But unfortunately short-term thinking seems to be the norm.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The problem with this sort of appraisal is, that it originates from people with little to zero competence in software design and programming. The evaluation of the competing standards, ODF vs. OpenXML, fails to take future development of IT systems into account.

    The problem with Microsoft OpenXML is, that it depends heavily on Windows and on the way today's computer architectures work. Those architectures, especially Windows, are outdated from a software design point of view (even more consistent/elegant des

  • Submitter here (Score:3, Informative)

    by wirelessduck (2581819) on Friday February 24, 2012 @09:14AM (#39146195)

    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.

    I don't buy the reasons from John Sheridan for leaning towards OOXML. His main argument for going with OOXML over ODF appears to be that "ODF doesn't have 100% compatibility with legacy file formats". If they're going with Microsoft Office, can someone explain which features are not supported in ODF but are supported with OOXML? I find it hard to believe that a large percentage of people will use these "features" that don't exist in ODF.

    And, without seekng to defend any vendors, I note that OOXML is an open standard recognised by ISO and IEC as ISO/IEC 29500.

    Perhaps someone should enlighten him on the "committe stacking" and "bribery" allergations surrounding the OOXML standardisation process with ISO.

    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.

    Why would you need to maintain two systems? If you choose ODF, you can still use Microsoft Office. The only lock-in here would come from choosing OOXML.

    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).

    Let me know when there's 100% compatibility on OOXML between Microsoft Office and LibreOffice. Also, transitional OOXML is the one that ISO rejected/deprecated for containing the "features" from legacy Microsoft file formats. I could also make the same claim here about Office 12 supposedly getting support for ODF1.2 (better late than never eh?), which would make ODF more widely supported than OOXML if it isn't already.

    And from another commenter on TFA:

    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.

    Not sure how the install base of Microsoft Office relates to requiring OOXML, since Microsoft Office supports ODF and OOXML.

    If you want to make your voice heard on this issue, AIGMO are accepting comments on their blog posts here [govspace.gov.au] and here [govspace.gov.au]. Please note that this policy is for internal documents only. As John said in his comment on TFA, documents provided online for the general public to access are normally posted in both PDF and RTF formats and often HTML as well.

  • The main reason they let things like this "leak out" into the public, is to put pressure on places like Microsoft to give the gov't a discount. It's happened before ...several times... and it'll happen again. Altho occasionally a gov't/company will actually end up going with open standards, it's rare.
  • I love Australia. It's a great country. Sydney, Melbourne, the Blue Mountains, the Outback, Perth, Brisbane. The people are terrific.

    In terms of population and influence, though, it is not able to rekindle any kind of debate on technology standards on its own. Not even close. The United States? Yes. The EU as a body? Yes. China? Perhaps. Australia? No.

    The Australian Relativity Theorem is the inverse of the Chinese Relativity Theorem, which states, "Whatever the rest of the world thinks is a good

    • by tqk (413719)

      It's not a value judgement, guys, because Australia as a country exceeds most others. But as a place with enough gravity to influence standards? No, no it isn't.

      Perhaps not alone it isn't. However, cumulatively along with the likes of Canada, Poland, Brazil & etc., it might begin to add up.

      I'm still trying to wrap my head around that comment above about this merely being another iteration of the repeated exercise in beating MS over the head in order to get a discount.

      Well, get off the treadmill, already!

  • How come the Visio file format that Microsoft bought and included in MS Office is still proprietary and so closed it hasn't been reverse engineered for use by other diagramming software?

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