Australian Democracy is “Microsoft Compatible”

Here is the Australian Electoral Commission documentation on how to register a political party [1]. It includes the requirement for “A Microsoft compatible electronic membership list (and paper copy) providing the following information“.

So a prerequisite for registering a political party appears to be the ownership of a PC running Windows. While it may be the case that I could create a plain text file on a Linux machine and append some CR characters to each line, or create a CSV format spread-sheet/database file the most common interpretation of this is likely to be that MS-Office is required.

Such blatant promotion of a software vendor in a government document is unacceptable. Anyone who wishes to use other software for their political activities should be permitted to do so without restriction.

10 comments to Australian Democracy is “Microsoft Compatible”

  • I think perhaps you are reading a great deal more into what is being said here. “Microsoft compatible” just means that it’s a file which can be open by a Microsoft product, which is presumably what the Australian Election Commission has purchased. I mean, they have to run *something* and they need to be able to open the stuff applicants send them. Seems like a reasonable requirement.

    What “Microsoft compatible” doesn’t mean is “doc[x]” (never mind that OpenOffice can read and write that format). It just means something that MS Office can open, which includes not only TXT files, but also RTF. Certainly not a challenging rule to comply with, and puts the onus on the applicant to use some sort of reasonable file format instead of some strange format that was only readable by software written in 1979.

  • alex jurkiewicz

    So you’re deliberately misinterpreting the requirement as stated and taking it as an affront to Youre Libberties?

  • etbe

    probonogeek: Are you sure of that? Can you cite a reference?

    alex: What evidence do you have to support the claim that my interpretation is incorrect?

    Even if you could prove that my interpretation was wrong, the wording on the AEC web site would tend to encourage political parties to use MS software instead of alternatives. That should not be done.

  • alex jurkiewicz

    “Microsoft compatible” refers to the submitted document, not the creation tool. So your first theory that it refers to the Operating System on your own machine is quite clearly impossible.

    The definition of a “Microsoft compatible” document is obviously up for interpretation, but I don’t see how you could claim this is seen as any sort of endorsement of Microsoft products beyond the implicit “we use something that supports this format”. That is hardly blatant either.

  • Jon

    I interpret “microsoft compatible” to mean, compatible with microsoft. A plain text document with UNIX-style line endings should, I believe, open fine with MS word. If this interpretation is incorrect, they need to define “microsoft compatible” more precicely.

    P.S.: If I put into the website box openid auth is attempted and fails. It works ok with other sites but I’m not sure whether that’s a happy accident and I’ve declared something wrong or whether you have made a mistake.

  • Joe Buck

    My family runs Linux at home, and my wife interacts with people who use Microsoft products. She has no trouble giving them a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet, using OpenOffice, or reading one that they generate. Sometimes there are formatting glitches, but less often than in the past.

    The requirement can easily be met with, KOffice, or AbiWord. They said Microsoft-compatible, and you’re misreading the requirement to claim that it says that a Microsoft product must be purchased.

  • I’m all for open standards, but I think this is a deliberate misreading.

    I think what’s more likely here, is that somebody who has little technical knowledge is writing something with technical requirements in it.

    I’ve found that when that happens, people make broad sweeping gestures with their text with little understanding of what it actually means to someone technical who reads it.

    It’s a pretty long document to begin with, I think more likely you are attributing malice aforethought where there is none.

    I’ve found that in large organisations incompetence and lack of knowledge causes these types of things, not hidden agendas.

    Rather than writing a dramatic post about it, perhaps you should reccomend a solution, I’ve been sitting here and it’s reasonably hard to do.

    I think a better wording would be from:

    A Microsoft compatible electronic membership list (and paper copy) providing the following information for each member:


    “An electronic membership list (readable by AEC IT Resources:- currently Microsoft Office *version here*) with a paper copy providing the following information for each member:”

    by stating “microsoft compatible” they’re also shooting themselves in the foot, microsoft have had an awful lot of formats you know.

    if they really wanted, they could save it in a FOXpro database or an XPS document or something, it’s technically meets their requirements. (I would bet if it was sent in XPS, people still wouldn’t know what to do with it.)

    either A) they learn about open document formats, forcing them to have a link about open document formats, or B) they specify what software they use so people can save appropriately.

    I’ve reccomended B, because likely these people would give you a look like you’re from another planet if you started talking about open document formats.

  • etbe

    I think that perhaps you don’t realise the significance of the AEC. Filing a late registration can result in a group not being registered as a political party before an election. This has a dramatic impact on the number of votes that they receive.

    Registrations often tend to be filed shortly before the deadline so the applicant often doesn’t get a second chance.

    If you want to defend the actions of the AEC then please explain why any company should have preferential treatment in the laws related in any way to the political process.

  • If you actually re-read my comment, I inferred that the AEC are incompetent, and people could subvert their requirements by using obscure formats.

    I don’t think that’s really defending them.


    Most people dont give a tinkers cuss about file formats except nerds.

    I know, I’m one of them.

    All they care about is opening it on their computers, hence the “Microsoft compatible” statement.

    Yes, I’m aware of how significant the AEC are, incompetence can be everywhere; I dont think file format knowledge is the ‘core area’ of AEC officials, and with a straight face, do you?

    is it good enough? no.

    should it be fixed? yes.

    so give them a solution, instead of being all whiny about it.

    People filing registrations late has nothing to do with the AEC. I know it’s in most peoples modus operandi to submit things the last minute, but that’s really their fault. I mean, how much time are they given? I don’t know, I’m assuming it’s reasonable here. if it’s not, correct me.

    So I don’t think I’m defending their actions, I’m hypothesising the thought processes around them. ‘please explain’ how calling people incompetent is defending them.

    No, I don’t think any company should get preferential treatment, and especially not Microsoft.

    but what are you going to suggest otherwise? Open Document Format? the format that’s not supported without a crap plugin for office 2007/2003?

    Here’s how that conversation goes with the applicant:

    “oh, well to open this document you just need to install this free plugin, oh wait, you don’t have administrative access? oh your IT policy need to be changed, can I speak to your heads of IT please?”.

    now what’s more likely, changing an entire companies IT policy, or allowing for alternatives by saying ‘readably by’.

    specifying that it needs to be openable by a piece of software does not say “save this in .doc/x format” it says “save it in a format that we can open it in”.

    I just think you’re being a little deliberately obtuse about this.

    this is government. baby steps are required.

    should they be? no.

    are ‘baby steps’ more likely to achieve results? in my opinion, yes.

  • Ronc Le Pork

    I don’t think that public services should use anything other than FLOSS.