Government of Australia Revists Document File Formats

The government of Australia previously expressed a desire to standardize aspects of 250K seats to enhance reliability of IT. They had stated that M$’s OOXML would be the standard file format and received a wave of comments.
Unexpectedly, it resulted in the largest number of comments we have ever received on a single post. The surprise was compounded as we had sought comments on the draft policy twice in the preceding months, to little effect.
They have reopened the debate but refined the background a bit in a post on a blog.
Licensing costs are a small proportion of overall ICT expenditure. Any software change is likely to involve significant cost in installation, training and maintenance.

Clearly, the Australian government cannot do the maths. While changing from previous formats to M$’s 2010 might cost less than changing to ODF, the cost is one time instead of forever treading on the Wintel treadmill. x is less than Ny for reasonable values x and y. Just think of N being 10 or 20 or 30. So cost is always an issue for any change. Small one time is large done enough times. How many times has M$ forced a change in file formats? How many times do you think M$ will change file formats in the future? What will you do when some department starts sending you documents in the next wonderful file format M$ has invented? Why does M$ not follow the OOXML standard that it forced on the world? What about security? (4 million hits for M$ and 700K for OpenOffice.org)

Then, we have the clear and well-documented example of the City of Munich with 15K seats finding migration of the whole environment cost a lot less than expected. They now have lower operating costs forever. Big difference… The reason Munich migrated was M$’s forced change from NT. The cost of migration was estimated to be similar to migrating to XP and it turned out cost of training was less than expected. In the process they did a lot of things right in the migration to modernize the whole system compounding the benefits. Would they have been better off migrating to XP and now migrating to “7”? Can you think double the original cost??? You bet your boots cost matters. Licensing matters.

Clearly, the Australian government, not unlike many others is not high on expertise in IT to even consider taking another step on the Wintel treadmill. They need educating and perhaps this latest round in requests for comments will educate them. We can only hope.

I recommend organizations consider Debian GNU/Linux for their IT. It works for me and it worked for my employers. A migration to the next release is as simple as issuing a single command to all machines in the system. A migration is even easier if thin clients are used. Then one only needs issue the command to the terminal servers.

apt-get update;apt-get dist-upgrade solves a lot of problems. With a good local cache or file-server, the migration can be complete in 20 minutes… That’s far less time that it would take just to do the paperwork to please M$’s licensing dogs. If the network is configured properly one does not have to walk around to do the upgrade. The command can be scripted from a single station securely. Sure, there’s still planning and testing the migration but that’s small when you consider the labour of installing on thousands of seats. Smaller still when you consider all the restrictions M$’s licensing places on the operation. Why should any government be a slave to M$?

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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