Respectful Insolence

President Obama and technology

It’s no secret that I’m a Mac geek, at least not to any of my readers, family, or friends.

Neither is it a secret at my job that I’m a Mac geek, mainly because, although the university where I’m faculty is perfectly fine with Macs, the cancer center where my laboratory, clinic, and office are housed is not. Indeed, one might even say it goes beyond that in that it borders on being Mac-hostile. Oh, the IT department doesn’t actually forbid Macs (although until a recent change in organization it was clear to me that they would clearly very much like to do so), but, until the recent hire of one woman who actually uses and likes Macs, it didn’t really support them (although it did and does deign to let us hook them up to the network and Internet). Moreover, even now, its personnel still seem to make every lame excuse imaginable to try to forestall faculty or staff getting a Mac. I sometimes think the only reason they permitted a Mac to be purchased for me was that I managed somehow to slip through the door when I first arrived as new faculty, for whom they were (temporarily) willing to bend over backwards to make happy. Since then, I’ve observed one person who’s been there a while trying to get a new Mac Pro to do some fairly heavy duty genomics calculations go through unbelievable numbers of contortions trying to get IT to actually purchase and deliver what he needed, even though he had plenty of funding for it and its lack slowed down his output enormously. It makes me wonder what will happen when the time comes for me to need to replace the Macs I now use. I’m no longer new faculty.

What about Linux? I hear Greg (and others) saying. Forget it. If Macs are tolerated among a few, Linux boxes are pretty much completely verboten. This same person wanted to set up a Linux-based server, and he might as well have been asking to set up an underground lair from which to launch spy operations on the entire state.

None of this is because the IT folks at our place are bad people or incompetent (one possible exception with whom I dealt is possible), but rather because of the way IT seems to operate. IT training and culture seems to inculcate budding young new IT people with two things: a knowledge of Windows and the perceived need to be in control. Macs and Linux boxes don’t fit in to either characteristic. Both at my current institution and the one where I started my career fresh out of training, Windows boxes were set up with users completely unable to install software–or even software updates. No administrator privileges for you, dude. Indeed, at my previous institution, the IT head even tried to control what was put on Macs by requiring that all software purchased with institutional funds be delivered to him, that only an IT person could install it, and that IT keep the discs. When I bought Adobe Photoshop for my lab, IT installed it. Later, I found that IT had installed it on another computer on the network. When I tried to fire up my copy of Photoshop, I got an error message saying that another copy of the software was in use on the network, and my copy of Photoshop shut down. I was not pleased and raised more than a little hell about it.

Moreover, IT departments tend to be unrelentingly cautious and conservative. To some extent, I can understand why, given that it’s a huge deal to upgrade hundreds of computers when a major new software update comes out, and dealing with the headaches such headaches bring can be expensive and time-consuming, especially when many IT departments are understaffed. However, such conservatism has lead our institution to have computers running Windows XP (not necessarily that bad in an of itself, given the problems with Vista), with Office 2003 and using for its mail servers Exchange 2003. That’s right, we’re using six year old software for almost, not just Microsoft Products.

This sounds, oddly enough, better than what the Obama Administration faced its first day on the job in the White House:

If the Obama campaign represented a sleek, new iPhone kind of future, the first day of the Obama administration looked more like the rotary-dial past.

Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts.

What does that mean in 21st-century terms? No Facebook to communicate with supporters. No outside e-mail log-ins. No instant messaging. Hard adjustments for a staff that helped sweep Obama to power through, among other things, relentless online social networking.

“It is kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton said of his new digs.

And:

One member of the White House new-media team came to work on Tuesday, right after the swearing-in ceremony, only to discover that it was impossible to know which programs could be updated, or even which computers could be used for which purposes. The team members, accustomed to working on Macintoshes, found computers outfitted with six-year-old versions of Microsoft software. Laptops were scarce, assigned to only a few people in the West Wing. The team was left struggling to put closed captions on online videos.

Senior advisers chafed at the new arrangements, which severely limit mobility — partly by tradition but also for security reasons and to ensure that all official work is preserved under the Presidential Records Act.

And how did they get around not being to use their own personal e-mail accounts? Gmail.

I understand that the Presidency is different in that the Presidential Records Act mandates saving pretty much everything, a system has clearly evolved that is, like most IT systems, paranoid and unrelentingly conservative (not politically conservative, cautious conservative). Add to that government regulations and an elephantine government bureaucracy, and seeing computers and software that sound about on par (or even more lame) than the standard ones we have at our own cancer center.

Of course, President Obama is our first truly plugged-in, tech-savvy, new media President, and his staff is similarly computer-literate and, more importantly, completely plugged in. It’s been widely reported how much he loves his BlackBerry and his MacBook Pro, so much so that efforts are being made to accommodate his desire to keep using a BlackBerry, and it would not surprise me to see a MacBook Pro sitting on the desk of the Oval Office at some point. Heck, a President who actually surfs the Internet might actually be less prone to fall into the echo-chamber full of yes men that the White House can so easily turn into. We can always hope, anyway.

As much as I’d like to see the federal government be brought into the 21st century with regards to technology, I don’t expect it to happen fast or without resistance. Inertia, government regulations, and the need for control will be powerful roadblocks. It will not be like this rather overblown prediction by Jimmy James Bettencourt:

The dumb part was his answer to the question “What will the Obama Team Do?”

The answer was, unbelievably unless you realize that this young man was Yet Another IT Drone Fuckwad, “Oh, well, the Obama team will simply have to adapt.”
Hmmm…… well. Let’s see.

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT

I do not think so. No. I think the Obama Team, the S.V. Startup, The Wired, will not adapt. They have been operating from the Community Organizing base, took the reigns of power. No, no, they Took The Reigns of Power. Of the entire country. And they show up for work the first day and discover that the power center is sitting there deeply ensconced in the mid 20th century.

No. They will not adapt. They will insist on change. They will make change. And they will lead the way in a national, nay, GLOBAL revolution of Those Who Are Trying to Function against The IT Agents.

This is the beginning of the end of the tyranny of the ignorance, the tyranny of the slovenly agent, the tyranny of fear of technology. Universities and businesses will fire their IT managers, convert their servers into anchors for the row boat, and get Google accounts. Windows upgrade paths will be circumvented. The True Cost of Computing will be realized … memory chips, baby, memory chips. Give me any decent processor, upgrade the memory, install Linux, get a Google account, and you need very little more. The vast majority of the “services” provided by IT departments will be obviated, and their asinine self-interested bad decisions will no longer get in the way because they won’t exist.

Uh, no. Whatever it is Bettencourt’s smoking, I want some. It isn’t going to be that easy.

Even if Obama is reelected to a second term and makes upgrading the computer infrastructure of the federal government a top priority for his eight years in office, this rather–shall we say?–optimistic vision is highly unlikely to be realized even in the federal government. I’m not saying that the Obama team will not change this aspect of the federal government, but the federal government will also in turn change the Obama team. Both will adapt and eventually a new equilibrium, hopefully a significantly less technologically primitive equilibrium, will be struck. Some significant change will occur, but it will not be anything on the order of this nice, but unrealistic vision. More likely, the White House will be an incubator of innovation in applying the new media and technology to governing, but out in the trenches, where until after 9/11 even the FBI had crappy computers that couldn’t even talk to each other, it will be many years before any of this filters down, even in part.

The federal government is huge and very slow to change. Trying to change its direction is like trying to turn the proverbial battleship. Presidents come and Presidents go, but the bureaucracy is eternal, as many Presidents have discovered.

Perhaps my institution will be instructive. I once asked someone in the know why we still use nearly six year old software, why we don’t use at least Office 2007, why we still use Exchange Server 2003, in other words, why our computers are stuck five or six years in the past. It’s not for a lack of desire to upgrade, but a number of factors, of which the IT culture is but one. We have old server equipment, with no money budgeted to replacement, for one thing, but perhaps the most important impediment was something that never occurred to me. Apparently the electronic medical record software used by the entire medical complex is not compatible yet with Vista or Office 2007, and patient care depends upon that. Of course, that means there’s no reason IT couldn’t routinely install Office 2007 on computers used by research personnel who don’t have any clinical responsibilities and don’t need access to the EMR, but then that would produce a two-tiered system and I can see why IT wouldn’t want to do that. Consequently, until the EMR software is upgraded, it’s unlikely that our cancer center’s operating systems and software will be upgraded.

The tech-savvy of President Obama and his new administration is a good thing. It think he will indeed be an agent of change in terms of how the government uses technology to communicate and get things done. However, there are long-standing reasons for why many government agencies, including the White House, are so far behind the curve, some institutional, some legal, some bureaucratic, and some cultural. History cannot be so easily overcome, and these factors are not going to change just because the occupant of the White House has changed. If these impediments to technology in the government can be significantly changed and improved in four or even eight years, it will be a major accomplishment. But don’t expect such an accomplishment to lead to any sort of global revolution that will overthrow IT departments. That’s a huge stretch.

Still, there could be a minor revolution. My own institution, which used to resist vigorously letting anyone access the Exchange Server with an iPhone, now permits it. Why? Our Director and CEO got an iPhone. Now several people have informed me that they are getting iPhones, too.

Change comes, but it is slow.

Comments

  1. #1 The Science Pundit
    January 24, 2009

    Orac,

    Try telling your IT people to switch to OpenOffice. :-D Actually, I would LOVE to see the federal government do that.

  2. #2 Paholaisen Asianajaja
    January 24, 2009

    I’m sure there is a sir Humphrey Appleby in there somewhere, making sure things run smoothly.

  3. #3 Dr Benway
    January 24, 2009

    Oh don’t get me started.

    Med records scans outside records into .pdf files, so they are conveniently available. To the med records staff.

    I, THE FRIGGIN’ TREATING MD, am not allowed access to these files.

    In fact no one may see them. The LAN connects to the internet and the internet is ebil and the VA lost everyone’s records. The chart is berry berry important and berry precious. Letting the doctor at it is just too risky.

  4. #4 MikeG
    January 24, 2009

    Wow. I guess it’s good to be in a field office. We’re in a rather small science group, far from Reston, VA, so we have our own IT team who understands the needs of scientists in the field. We have a few Linux servers and about half of the office has shiny new MacPros and laptops. I thought my frustration at not being immediately upgraded to the new OS was bad. I’ll quit my bitchin’.

  5. #5 Becca Stareyes
    January 24, 2009

    Reminds me of Archie McClellan in John Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream whose government job is to make sure every old computer the government owns can run and talk to the network so their files can be retrieved — an impressive job when one had several centuries of computer technology that the government won’t throw out because it costs too much to convert the data to current formats.

  6. #6 JScarry
    January 24, 2009

    Sticking with the current versions of Microsoft products is probably a wise choice on the part of the IT staff. Vista has several serious issues that would cause major problems in a hospital. The first issue is hardware requirements. Most likely every computer would have to be replaced to run Vista. Next in line would be device driver issues. There are major problems with connecting printers and scanners in VIsta. I can’t begin to imagine how many different devices are plugged into computers in a hospital—x-ray machines, CAT-scanners, barcode scanners, etc. All of them would need new drivers and probably new software. After those issues are addressed the UAC issues would be a problem. In order to stem the tide of malware, Microsoft started using user-level permissions. Many software products don’t work with the new permissions scheme and would have to be updated.

    For the majority of the systems users there would be no gain in productivity—probably a loss. The HR department will still access the same screens, the admissions, floor, etc would still use the same applications. If they upgraded to the newest version of Office there would be tremendous re-training costs since the application interface was completely changed. The file formats were also changed so sharing files would be a pain.

    I think that you are used to the Mac way of upgrading, where each new version runs faster, has significant improvements, and everything continues to work just like it always did. That’s not what happens in the Vista world.

    If you were starting from scratch, you probably wouldn’t pick the systems that are currently in place. But given where they are now it is probably the most cost-effective way to operate.

  7. #7 Beth
    January 24, 2009

    At my college the transilluminator camera was on a computer running Windows 96. I kid you not. For pretty much the same reason you gave. The camera’s software only worked with 96, so that’s what we used. We just saved the photos and emailed them to ourselves. Damned thing couldn’t even recognize our flashdrives.

  8. #8 Beth
    January 24, 2009

    Psh, I should have mentioned this was in 2006,making Windows 96 a ten year old operating system.

  9. #9 Rowan
    January 24, 2009

    hmmm… windows 96? i thought the versions went windows 3.11 to windows 95, then windows 98. as a former network admin i don’t recall a windows 96.

    i was a network admin in a windows environment for eighteen years. in 2004 i decided i no longer wanted to deal with the stress of users who didn’t understand how a computer operates, management who didn’t want to budget for timely hardware/software upgrades or software licenses as staff grew, hardware failures at critical times, and the interminable BSoD.

    the first thing i did for myself was buy a mac powerbook G4 and travelled the world for a year. i now have a macbook pro that will have to be pried from my cold, dead fingers.

    the intuitive interface of the mac OS beats the hell out of windows. yes, i have used vista on the work computer i was given at my last place of employment. not impressed in the least. one of the most difficult operating systems i have encountered yet, especially with regard to peripherals.

    i truly feel for the tech savvy members of the president’s staff. they must be suffering innumerable headaches from heads meeting keyboards as they are banged in frustration.

  10. #10 Frank Sweetser
    January 24, 2009

    Beth’s story is far from unique, and I’ve seen it on platforms other than just Windows 95 (which is what I assume you meant by Windows 96). At the university I work for, I have more than once seen computers running Windows or UNIX operating systems 10 to 15 years or more that have to be maintained, because in order to use the new computer costing $1,500 the researchers would have to purchase some new data acquisition or analysis machine costing hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

    The same pattern – the underlying software is obsolete, but you have a critical business package that needs the old version – is repeated time and time and time again. Everything keeps changing, and it’s up to the guys installing things to keep all the wheels running. In fields based on natural sciences, you can at least have faith that even though our understanding changes, the reality you’re studying is constant. Us IT schmucks are stuck living in the famous Fred Brooks quote:

    Einstein argued that there must be simplified explanations of nature, because God is not capricious or arbitrary. No such faith comforts the software engineer.

  11. #11 D. C. Sessions
    January 24, 2009

    Indeed, at my previous institution, the IT head even tried to control what was put on Macs by requiring that all software purchased with institutional funds be delivered to him, that only an IT person could install it, and that IT keep the discs.

    To be fair, that’s a CYA pretty much mandated by the software vendors. Otherwise, Joe User either ends up installing the software on five other computers or loses the original disks — or both. Either way, a software audit finds several “bootleg” copies installed and Legal gets handed a bill for up to $50,000 per unauthorized copy.

    Which gripes me is when they insist on applying the same procedures to software libre despite the fact that there is no such risk. The System has taken on a life of its own.

    For really extreme cases, watch what happens when they try to lock down the workstations used by software developers. Think what it does to productivity when the programmer can’t even run his own test code without putting in a work order to IT.

  12. #12 Orac
    January 24, 2009

    To be fair, that’s a CYA pretty much mandated by the software vendors.

    Maybe so, but it was unforgivable of this idiot to use MY disks to install Photoshop on a computer elsewhere, rendering my copy unusable as long as Photoshop was left running on the other computer. I couldn’t locate what computer this moron had installed my copy onto either, and he didn’t remember.

    These days, at least with Photoshop and Adobe products it makes no sense to keep the discs anway. Adobe uses an activation scheme that prevents their products from running on more than the authorized number of machines.

  13. #13 Confused
    January 24, 2009

    TheSciencePundit: Uh, no. If you use any kind of graphics in your presentations (and hell mend you if you want to use *gasp* animations or video), OpenOffice is about the worst thing you can possibly do. It’s the reason I don’t have linux on my laptop. Well, that and HP’s appalling third party drivers.

    I can’t speak for someone in a PI position (writing grants and papers all over the place) but as a grad student, I easily use Powerpoint more than Word.

    OP: I agree and disagree with a lot of the Mac stuff. Coming from a university which happily tolerates Macs – although support is slim – and runs all our fileservers and a few of the high-performance graphics machines on Linux, I can’t talk so much about what’s going on there; but our IT admin recently decided that they were going to remove all admin privs (You will not install anything! You will not tidy up your start menu! You will use your computer only in the specific way proscribed by us, who have no idea what you actually need to use your computer for!). On one hand I can see what they’re doing – having their entire support team come out every time someone installs something they shouldn’t have and really didn’t need to must be a drag, but on the other hand it’s really fricking annoying.

    On the Mac issue, I hate them with a firey passion. This is probably due to the fact that the program we have to use Macs for is so hideously buggy it’s beyond belief (and anyone who tells you Macs don’t crash, I seriously beg to differ), but it’s really hard to get over such a profound loathing.

  14. #14 Imprecator
    January 24, 2009

    First of all: I have no beef with Macs. Second. I’m a *ix (as in any version of Unix-Like Operating systems including Linux) server admin, and I also “do” Windows. The reason the IT staff has a “MANIA” for control is that they are the ones that get to pick up the pieces when a user lets a virus into the network, or a user trashes his/her PC because of badly installed or badly written software, Or the fact that they have to deal with a network of 100s of PCs and to to that effectively the more uniform the PCs are the easier (AND CHEAPER) it is. It’s already hard enough when all the machines are configured pretty similarly. That being said, yes, IT staff can be stupid, shortsighted and inflexible. Reason? simple: it’s a VERY DIRTY AND BADLY PAID job, the “Big Bucks” go to application programers or project leads. IT infraestructure (specially in a 24/7 environment) doesn’t really attract the “best and brightest”, and I can vouch for that personally, having been in IT operations about 90% of my professional life. My personal clasification of the pay scale is like this (from top to bottom)

    – IT Managers (tyrants with a smile mostly)
    – Project Leaders (people with little knowledge of IT or Project Management, but completely useless for anything else)
    – Technical Architects (or Technical Leads, these people MIGHT have been good at something once, but nowadays live on a CLOUD – PUN INTENDED)
    – Programmers (this lot is usually people who just got their degrees, wanting to become Tech Architects or IT Managers ASAP)
    – Server/Network Admins (yep I’m here, I exist because I am needed, otherwise most people, including IT Managers wish we didn’t exist at all)
    – Helpdesk (guess who works with users)

    So usually the people who work the “Helldesk” have a job SIMILAR in some aspect to doctors WITHOUT the prestige of an MD AND are also REQUIRED to have that “Concierge” approach that “Alternative Medicine” practicioners (sorry, swindlers and woo-woos) exploit so sucessfuly to peddle their crap.

  15. #15 Dawn
    January 24, 2009

    We use Windows XP Professional at work, and Dell computers. Like Orac, we are using MS Office 2003. However, some computers still have Access 97 installed because there are essential programs that will only run on 97. (I don’t understand Access well enough to understand why) We also use Lotus Notes, 2004 edition. Rumor has it that we may be upgraded to a more recent Lotus version.

    For a company that depends on techonology to function, I find this hysterical. I am a recent Mac convert; my kids both have Macbooks and we are now the proud owners of an iMac. My next laptop will be a Mac, also.

  16. #16 Cathy
    January 24, 2009

    I agree with JScarry. On Windows machines, you don’t always want the latest and greatest software versions if the versions you have do the job. New versions often come at a literal and figurative cost — more features but also more bloat, more slowdowns, and more bugs.

    In your office, if you’re encountering productivity problems because of aging PCs, I’d request newer PCs rather than newer versions of Windows/Office. A newer PC will make an older version of Windows/Office seem very speedy, indeed!

    I’m still using Windows XP. Nothing on this planet could convince me to use Vista, not even the free upgrade disc Dell sent along with my laptop. My XP machine is stable. I wouldn’t risk that stability for an operating system that doesn’t have very many compelling new features to entice me.

    Moral: In the Microsoft world, new is not always better. In many cases, “new” is not very different from “old” — except that “new” runs slower and adds some features most users never touch.

  17. #17 Frank Sweetser
    January 24, 2009

    Cathy:

    I’m still using Windows XP. Nothing on this planet could convince me to use Vista, not even the free upgrade disc Dell sent along with my laptop. My XP machine is stable. I wouldn’t risk that stability for an operating system that doesn’t have very many compelling new features to entice me.

    How about the facts that a) sooner or later, MS won’t sell any new XP licenses (they’ve pushed the date back a few time, but it’s going to happen eventually) and b) within the next few years, you’ll start seeing machines that flat out won’t work with XP. First it’ll be peripherals, then something core like a video card or the hard drive, then it just won’t even boot the installer.

    I fully understand where you’re coming from, and still run XP over Vista myself, but the IT landscape is always shifting, and there’s virtually nothing you can count on to be truly constant.

  18. #18 abb3w
    January 24, 2009

    Some clever soul in the White House ought to send an email about how difficult it is to use Mac Software to maintain compliance with the Presidential Records Act preservation requirements… to Steve Jobs.

    Admittedly, they probably should have already sent it back in mid-November if they had someone really clever looking at the problem.

    I suspect a couple XServers, XRaid Boxes, a VPN solution from Cisco (possibly with two-factor hardware key), and Time Machine might solve much of the problem.

    I also recall hearing some major EDU outfit solved the problem of computer labs by throwing virtualization in the form of a Windows Terminal server cluster at the problem. All the “computers” and storage associated were in one well-guarded basket (optimal for confidentiality, if you had a VPN with two-or-three factor authentication), backed-up securely (decent for integrity), and usable from Mac or PC via Windows Remote Desktop (good for availability; authentication software might be needed, along with standards for local machine security).

    Not easy to do out of the office supplies budget, however.

  19. #19 DocV
    January 24, 2009

    Hah! You ought to see the Byzantine system the military is operating with! Ship’s and field units don’t have the bandwidth to deal with shore based EMRs, email problems, and so forth..

  20. #20 D. C. Sessions
    January 24, 2009

    I also recall hearing some major EDU outfit solved the problem of computer labs by throwing virtualization in the form of a Windows Terminal server cluster at the problem. All the “computers” and storage associated were in one well-guarded basket (optimal for confidentiality, if you had a VPN with two-or-three factor authentication), backed-up securely (decent for integrity), and usable from Mac or PC via Windows Remote Desktop (good for availability; authentication software might be needed, along with standards for local machine security).

    Not easy to do out of the office supplies budget, however.

    Nyah, it’s a piece of cake.

    You use thin clients running Linux and X. Most of your work you can do as a basic network client, with the home directory on a NAS server — thus all working files are hosted and preserved. For the hypothetical “must run on MS” apps, you run a server-hosted VM (I use VMWare, YMMV) — which is an X client [1] so the user just sees the MS desktop as a window on the screen. (VNC works, too, and has persistent sessions.)

    For travel and hypothetical notebooks, you just have a WORM [2] filesystem on whatever machinery you use. IIRC, ZFS does this but there are others that can also.

    [1] “client” and “server” are backwards in X from what most people would expect: the “server” is the display/keyboard/etc and the “client” is the software that requests access to them.
    [2] Write Once Read Mostly

  21. #21 Argon
    January 24, 2009

    The five groups to which I religiously send beer, donuts, flowers or other gifts: Secretarial staff, purchasing, janitors, receiving/shipping and IT.

    1) It’s no fun being everyone’s butt monkey.
    2) It’s amazing how much crap they can bypass if you’re good to them.

  22. #22 gaiainc
    January 24, 2009

    My university system runs Windows XP on all their computers. We got upgraded to Microsoft Office 2007 last year. I hate Office 2007 with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. I love my MacBook Pro. I have to access my EMR through Parallels then Citrix which is OK. The IT department says that I can access directly through my Mac. However their instructions for how to do this is based on Mac OS 9. I wish I was kidding. Also in my clinic, my stuff from my EMR prints to three different printers depending on what room I’m in and what I’m printing. According to IT, nothing is wrong with the system. Yet, I’ve been printing consistently to two different computer since September 2006. The third printer is new this year. Whee ha!

    Which is to say that I feel the pain of the Obama Administration, GO MACS, and Microsoft is Evil and Must Be Destroyed.

  23. #23 Scott
    January 24, 2009

    You’re all missing the point. You’re looking at this from the perspective of the lowly grunt, even if that grunt happens to be a tenured professor. You’re looking at this from a technology perspective. It has nothing to do with technology. It has to do with politics, even if it’s just office politics. If the grad student or professor or doctor says, “I’m having trouble with this tech, can you please help me?”, how much traction is that one person going to have? Now, if you are the CEO of the company, or better yet the President of the country, and you say, “My people are having trouble with this tech, and you and your entire staff are going to be reassigned to Afghanistan if it isn’t working by next week”, I’m bett’n that by next week you aren’t going to be having any problems.

    Obama got to keep his Blackberry. I’m betting his people are going to get to keep their Macs. There may be some restrictions, some compromises for security, but they’ll be there. Count on it.

  24. #24 Joseph C.
    January 24, 2009

    Maybe so, but it was unforgivable of this idiot to use MY disks to install Photoshop on a computer elsewhere, rendering my copy unusable as long as Photoshop was left running on the other computer. I couldn’t locate what computer this moron had installed my copy onto either, and he didn’t remember.

    Typical IT monkey antics. I’ve worked in the field for over 10 years and am amazed at the general incompetence that pervades. Working in a service provider environment, I CONSTANTLY have to tell people how to do their own jobs, troubleshoot their own networks, etc. It’s just a messed up, disorganized field.

    Another thing to realize is that academic IT pays very poorly. The really talented folks probably won’t hang around for long.

    Which is to say that I feel the pain of the Obama Administration, GO MACS, and Microsoft is Evil and Must Be Destroyed.

    Microsoft hatred is just another form of woo. There is no great conspiracy. Apple has never made an equivalent product that does everything the business world needs it to do.

    And of course most IT departments aren’t going to want to support Mac. They can barely keep the stuff they have running. And they don’t have a Mac guy.

  25. #25 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    January 24, 2009

    I just had to chime in about the systems we use at the place I work. It’s a major bank.

    We have many data access applications that run through a java based terminal emulator app accessing unix systems. I started training class and when they showed it to me, I felt like I had been transported back to the mid-1980′s and using a Pick terminal. The standards and conventions for the functions are simply not there, likely because the writers of the applications are now long retired and a project to add standardization of prompts would be overwhelming for a programmer who has been trained to write for gui apps,

    One of the apps is basically a report generator designed to print on 11.5″ x 17″ fan fold paper, and its only concession to being used on a terminal emulator is to bunch the data fields incoherently. They had added “F” key navigation in the 1980′s, so when I am reading a query response I have to jump around in order to answer a simple customer question.

    The more “modern” application that I largely used was written to be native to IE 6, and the app developers have not been able to adapt it to IE7. Forget any other browsers.

    I am glad that our workstations are running on Windows XP, but they are going to run into big problems when XP is no longer supported if they can’t rewrite our main apps in time.

    We do have legitimate business needs for internet access, but of course run into problems on sites that are not written to be compatible with IE6.

    This last fall a new app was introduced that has the “look and feel” of something written for Windows 3.1.

    There will be no Macs, no Linux, no opensource anything. It is a bank, and IT is reasonable to restrict everything they possibly can. But hey, I would just like to have software that uses early 21st century interfaces.

    I had proposed that our department have our own “wiki” for sharing common problems, but was turned down.

  26. #26 mayhempix
    January 25, 2009

    “Microsoft hatred is just another form of woo. There is no great conspiracy. Apple has never made an equivalent product that does everything the business world needs it to do.”

    I laughed when I read this. Having worked on both platforms Mac has the superior OS and stability. Not woo… it is fact. Windows is always playing catch-up to Mac OS. And having worked at an ad agency where the CFO hated Macs with a visceral passion mounting on obsession, while there is no “conspiracy”, there is certainly a lot of wingnut style paranoia and misconceptions. This guy was always ranting about the arrogance and elitism of Mac users. When he was finally removed new Macs showed up for everyone.

    As far as the BS about an equivalent product, Macs have been able to run Windows and all the software just like any other PC platform for years now.

  27. #27 David T
    January 25, 2009

    Just slightly curious if any of the people in the press office with their GMail accounts were those who were trying to hammer Sarah Palin for using a private e-mail account?

  28. #28 AnnR
    January 25, 2009

    I totally agree that folks working in the White House have no business on outside emails/social networks. They’ll have to get the DNC to set something up for them elsewhere.

    The only way I want him leaving the White House is under his own steam. It would only take one bad person to email out his daily schedule, security to be breached and the unthinkable to happen. Maybe I’ve been watching too much “24″.

    If those guys didn’t want to work with the system then they’re in the wrong place.

    I work for a meg-agency and we’ve got LINUX. It was a budget decision. We’ve got a pricey statistical software and anybody can calculate anything their little heart desires.

    Opps – did I mention I’m a PC?

  29. #29 Kristjan Wager
    January 25, 2009

    As far as the BS about an equivalent product, Macs have been able to run Windows and all the software just like any other PC platform for years now.

    What I don’t get is that the Mac crowd uses this argument as it means something. Yes, a Mac can run windows, but why bother then? If you want to run windows, then a Mac is overpriced and under performing.

    Mac’s greatest advantage is that it’s completely controlled by Apple, and thus the programs don’t have the same breath of compatibility as the ones running on the windows platform.

  30. #30 Orac
    January 25, 2009

    Actually, it is huge advantage to be able to run Windows simultaneously with the Mac OS. You can then use the Mac for most stuff, but for the occasional Windows application that doesn’t have a Mac counterpart or for the occasional proprietary application a company may force you to use you can fire up your Windows partition. In fact, The ability to run Windows side-by-side, cut and paste between the two using Parallels, etc. is a huge advantage that no Windows box can match.

    Also, Macs do not underperform when running Windows. My new MacBook runs even Vista snappier than any PC laptop I’ve ever used, at least under Boot Camp. When running it under Parallels, the performance hit is there, but Vista still runs comparably to most laptops I’ve used with equivalent specs. The days of Macs “underperforming” have been over for years, ever since the Mac switched to the Intel platform.

  31. #31 Joseph C.
    January 25, 2009

    Not woo… it is fact.

    Oh, yes it is. You just haven’t spent enough time reading the conspiracy nuts over at Slashdot. There is no “evil empire”.

    Having worked on both platforms Mac has the superior OS and stability.

    Superior based on what? Your preference of the Mac GUI? Personally, I prefer the Windows UI because it’s just what I’m used to.

    I’ll grant you that Mac OS probably is more stable right now. Not sure why Microsoft has regressed in quality so much from Windows 2000, which was very stable.

    Windows is always playing catch-up to Mac OS.

    Mac OS was not that great before X. Remember the old days when it didn’t even support rudimentary things like print spooling? It is good now though.

    As far as the BS about an equivalent product, Macs have been able to run Windows and all the software just like any other PC platform for years now.

    If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

  32. #32 Joseph C.
    January 25, 2009

    The days of Macs “underperforming” have been over for years, ever since the Mac switched to the Intel platform.

    This is kind of amusing because Apple spent years and tens of millions of dollars trying to convince everyone that the much slower PPC chips were, in fact, faster than Intel.

  33. #33 ArtK
    January 25, 2009

    A few thoughts: First, I agree with JScarry that running XP rather than Vista is not just an issue of the upgrade pain — Vista isn’t significantly better than XP. So what if it’s 6 years old. If it does the job then its fine. The worst thing that IT can do is upgrade just for the sake of upgrading.

    Obama transition: Not surprising that this happened. What annoys me are the occasional idiots who claim that this is evidence of the administration’s incompetence.

    Photoshop: Your IT department needs a serious lession in IP, particularly software copyright and licensing. Installing PS on another machine could expose them to some really, really nasty fines.

    PPC vs Intel: Comparing CPU clock speeds between the two platforms is a waste of time. The PPC uses a different type of instruction set than Intel. By objective performance measures, they are very similar in performance.

  34. #34 Landru
    January 25, 2009

    The diversity of response here highlights the truth; there is no unitary IT entity in the federal government. The White House will get what it wants, because there are ways to do it. The unitary IT regulations in the federal government are broad enough that many things are possible. Many of the regs are actually necessary to prevent a circus of security and information management issues. In a workplace environment where some people know enough to prefer one OS over another, while far more people report specific problems by saying, “the computer messed up,” some standardization is necessary (while complete standardization is virtually impossible, because the federal government spends its money by department and agency, not by function).

    Can you imagine what the essentially total transparency of a freewheeling IT environment would engender for someone like David T, who believes that it was the Obama people who made a big hoodoo about Sarah Palin being dumb enough to get hacked? Multiply that by the number of people in America, exponentialize it with the amount of free time on their hands, and it’s easy to see that government gets ground to a halt dealing with idiocy rather than doing business.

    (Of course, I’m not advocating a lack of transparency; transparency is the law (within limits). And the Obama administration has already ordered federal agencies to err on the side of transparency in interpreting that law. The point is, the government has a right to and a need for some control over its operations).

    I’m familiar with federal IT apparatuses that range from medieval to open. I know an almost all-Linux shop. I know a shop where every desktop is a laptop with a docking station (while the IT apparatus is otherwise Orwellian). I know a shop where they’re working with the security people to allow outreach in Web 2.0 fora like Facebook, MySpace, and other more targeted sites.

    Y’know what else? It’s Sunday. I’d cheerfully bet that the IT situation in the White House has improved, possibly dramatically, since Wednesday. There may have been some tortured screaming emanating from deep in the souls of some IT folk. But I’d bet the situation has improved.

  35. #35 mayhempix
    January 25, 2009

    “Oh, yes it is. You just haven’t spent enough time reading the conspiracy nuts over at Slashdot. There is no “evil empire”.”

    There conspiracy nuts who say the same about Apple. That is a type of personality and has nothing to do with which is the better product.

    “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

    The fact is that it was a brilliant marketing move in that it negated the corporate conservative IT mantra against Macs because of compatibility. And most people who spend time with Mac OS rarely return to Windows using it on their Mac only when necessary.

    Finally the reality is that without Apple and the Mac, Windows would never exist and the same conservative IT engineer types would still be extolling the “purity” of command line operation and mainframe control.

    “Opps – did I mention I’m a PC?”

    I’m so sorry… but i won’t hold it against you.
    ;^ )

  36. #36 mayhempix
    January 25, 2009

    “This is kind of amusing because Apple spent years and tens of millions of dollars trying to convince everyone that the much slower PPC chips were, in fact, faster than Intel.”

    This is very amusing because up until a certain point when Mac wanted to move to a Unix based system incorporating elements from Jobs’ Next software, they were faster. Originally Windows was a DOS shell and took much more memory and clock speed than a Mac to perform the same task. When Mac was ready to change to Unix, the production of PPC chips was not capable of having the speed that Intel could deliver so they went with Intel for expediency. Now it looks like the next generation Macs will not be with Intels. The chip has nothing to with the OS GUI and brilliant design esthetics.

  37. #37 Eli Rabett
    January 25, 2009

    First, tell your IT people to FLEE Exchange 2003. We got caught when Microsoft orphaned the version beforehand, and the necessary HARDWARE upgrades broke the bank and the time it took pissed everyone off, especially the clueless

    Second, I know of places that are still running OS 7 on machines that support expensive equipment. Hell, I knew people who were hanging grimly onto PDP 11/23s and scanning Ebay daily for parts into the new century.

  38. #38 Joseph C.
    January 25, 2009

    Finally the reality is that without Apple and the Mac, Windows would never exist and the same conservative IT engineer types would still be extolling the “purity” of command line operation and mainframe control.

    And Mac wouldn’t exist either without the work of Xerox PARC. And Apple might have gone out of business if Microsoft hadn’t bailed them out just so they could convince the DOJ that they have competition.

    I’m so sorry… but i won’t hold it against you.

    It’s this same Mac user elitism that has kept me on Windows for all these years.

    When Mac was ready to change to Unix, the production of PPC chips was not capable of having the speed that Intel could deliver so they went with Intel for expediency.

    I’m no Mac expert, but this seems wrong. They went to a *NIX based kernel (2001) long before they went Intel (2006).

  39. #39 Orac
    January 25, 2009

    It’s this same Mac user elitism that has kept me on Windows for all these years.

    That’s what’s keeping you from Windows all these years? You’re willing to slam a system just because you don’t like its users? Geez, you’re sensitive. Remind me not to be too mean to you in the future; you might wither away.

    In any case, I could say that the smugness of Windows users who have told me all these years that Macs are no good for “serious work” and that they are little better than toys kept me from Windows, but that would be a lie. I use Windows when I have to. I don’t detest it; I simply prefer the Mac by a large margin. In actuality, when I tried Vista I couldn’t understand why the XP contingent hates it so much. It really didn’t seem all that different to me–just a new face on the same old thing.

  40. #40 Joseph C.
    January 25, 2009

    That’s what’s keeping you from Windows all these years? You’re willing to slam a system just because you don’t like its users? Geez, you’re sensitive. Remind me not to be too mean to you in the future; you might wither away.

    I’m withering away right now. Really, I am. :)

    I believe I have managed to register a few non-user-related complaints about Apple, like their often dishonest marketing. Sure Microsoft has done plenty of shady stuff themselves and I’ll bash them for that as well.

    I’ve actually been seriously considering the aluminum MacBook for my next notebook because I perceive it’ll be a durable product that will last me a good while. But, at the same time, I’m having trouble with paying more when everything I need runs on Windows anyway.

  41. #41 Anonymous
    January 25, 2009

    Interesting thread. I am the CIO at an organization that is about 80% Mac and 20% PCs. The Mac users pretty much universally do two things: hit web pages to access web-based applications and use Microsoft Word. A few also use Filemaker Pro. The other 20 percent are more hardcore users who use a wide variety of software programs including all the Microsoft Office programs, various specialty programs and of course browsers. These are people primarily in Finance and Administration. I can say indisputably that Macs cause 5 times the problems that the PCs do. In terms of sheer numbers, Mac users create 30-40 times the number of tickets PC users do. The Macs have more hardware failures, cost more, their “equivalent” software is less capable, they do not have the software choices available to PC users and when they do have a failure, business level support is a joke. Mac overseas support in most locations is nonexistent. Ever try to replace a hard drive or DVD player in a Mac? With Dell for example, with a phone call we receive a brand new replacement component on our desk the next day and we can install it. Problem fixed/ Try that on a Mac.

    Our institution used to be 100% Mac, based on a top level directive. Many users got fed up and complained so now there is a choice. Users are opting for Windows-based laptops as fast as we can afford to purchase them. I’ve not had a single PC user request a Mac. And remember, all staff originally used Macs. This is just our experience, but I don’t think it is unusual. One other note, from a cost perspective to the organization, Macs are MUCH more expensive, not only on an individual basis but also because they limit your software choices so drastically when bidding. Try finding 3 document management systems that run on Macs. Try finding 2 that have any kind of integration with applications. When you do find one, it costs 3 times what the more powerful equivalent does in the Windows world. Individual users could care less what the institutional costs are for computing. IT has to.

  42. #42 mayhempix
    January 25, 2009

    “It’s this same Mac user elitism that has kept me on Windows for all these years.”

    it’s called humor Joe, humor… but PC people are a touchy bunch.

    “They went to a *NIX based kernel (2001) long before they went Intel (2006).”

    You are correct in this. I had meant the Unix 03 version. It still doesn’t change the fact that the processor is not the operating system.

  43. #43 mayhempix
    January 25, 2009

    “Try that on a Mac.”

    I have. On the MacPro desktop it’s as simple as opening the side panel, undoing a couple of screws and unplugging the wire harness.

    On the laptops it’s a little more work but hardly a monumental task. The tradeoff is in the thin design and absence of a tray.

    Are those that opt for Windows because that’s what they use at home?
    Do they have a choice between a new MacBookPro and the PC laptop?
    With an 80-20 ratio of course there would be more Mac repair issues.
    As a person who has owned at least 20 Macs for both personal and pro work over the past 20 years (I currently have 3 plus wife and kid each have one), I have never had an equipment failure. And though it can happen… drives in PCs and Macs are always 3rd party and subject to same failure rates… I find your statistics suspect.

  44. #44 Brian X
    January 25, 2009

    This is kind of amusing because Apple spent years and tens of millions of dollars trying to convince everyone that the much slower PPC chips were, in fact, faster than Intel.

    Actually, that was true some of the time, for many of the older PowerPC chips up until the introduction of the G4, then again at the introduction of the G5 until IBM failed to deliver the high-speed, low-power chips Apple wanted and the processor speeds lagged. (I suspect that at that point IBM had decided to go full-bore on the Core processors and Apple wasn’t invited to the party for whatever reason, but lack of a 64-bit laptop processor was a big reason as well.)

    Also, anti-Mac people should be reminded that there’s a huge divide between Classic and X, and the only things the two OSes really have in common is one particular API layer (Carbon), common filesystems (HFS/HFS+), and several communications protocols (AFP, AppleEvents/AppleScript, PAP, and a couple of other things). Everything else — even the Human Interface Guidelines — is either drastically different or something everyone else has (TCP/IP, Java).

    As for the whole security/support issue, I agree with whoever suggested going straight to the top. If Obama and his crew let it be known that they have a specific preference in terms of platforms, and go straight to the company, I’m pretty sure most companies would bend over backwards to make sure they have what the White House needs in terms of hardware, software, security, interoperability, and support. And frankly, if the President doesn’t have enough pull in his office to get something like that done, there is something very, very wrong.

  45. #45 gaiainc
    January 25, 2009

    I stand by my original statement that Microsoft is Evil and Must Be Destroyed. I didn’t say they were an evil empire intent on taking over the world (though if you look at Microsoft and Starbucks, it sometimes makes you wonder what it is about the Seattle area and companies infiltrating all parts of the world, though, as a business plan, it makes sense to me. Why not take over the world?). Of course, destroying Microsoft will likely be a Pyrrhic (sp?) victory since all my writing is on Word and my presentations are on Powerpoint, but gosh darn it, Office 2007 is terrible, horrible, thoroughly no good, and completely bad. Hate it, hate it, hate it and I have to use it for work because that is what we upgraded to. I don’t want it to “help” me write whatever I’m writing. I don’t want it to reformat what I type into Excel because it has decided that it likes that format more. I don’t want it to hide what I’m looking for within its more “user-friendly” ribbons and title bars and whatever. It shouldn’t take me 20+ minutes to turn on a feature in Word that in previous versions I could find and turn on in less than 1 minute.

    However, I digress. One would hope that if President Obama and his heads of staff stated that they wanted/needed whatever platform that they could upgrade and get something more than what they have now. One would hope. However, I’m pessimistic about the bureaucracy of government that it would not surprise me if that didn’t happen. Bureaucracies are powerful, powerful things, like black holes, except denser I think.

    One last digression… my husband’s best friend works at Microsoft in development. His team of software developers all went out and bought themselves MacBook Pros to use as their laptops. The last time one of my Macs stopped working was when I poured a large of liquid on it. So it goes.

  46. #46 llewelly
    January 25, 2009

    ahh…
    Now this is what I love about the computer industry. It’s all anecdotal crap. Nobody makes serious scientific efforts to determine whether system A is better than system B. You can find a tiny handful of papers here and there, but all with ridiculously small sample sizes, and all sorts of important real-world factors ignored or forgotten.
    So here is my opinion: in nearly all cases, when someone offers an opinion on system A versus system B, they have recent experience with current, well-maintained hardware and software for system A, which they prefer, and experience with out-of-date, poorly maintained hardware and software for system B.
    With a few exceptions, IT professionals are perhaps the most severely afflicted by this situation. Typically, they will have overwhelming experience (and often skill to match) with system A, which they prefer, but little experience with the other system. As a result, they will, through a combination of consciously attempted avoidance and subconscious ignorance, maintain system B quite poorly. This invariably results in inadequate software, outdated hardware, and a hugely disproportionate number of user complaints. All of this confirms their belief that the other system is REALLY REALLY AWFUL.

    The result is that nearly everyone, and most especially the professionals, have a history that strongly biases them against one system or the other.

  47. #47 Phoenix Woman
    January 26, 2009

    My own experiences:

    – I hate that Excel 2007 is no longer compatible with earlier Excels.

    – I really hate that each version of Access released in the past decade is not compatible with the one before it.

    – I really, really hate that our IT staff think that Firefox is some sort of virus just because a few folk who installed it didn’t realize that they couldn’t make it their default browser because our outfit’s websites are all done in MSIE. (Solution: Make sure to untick the “do you want Firefox to be your default browser?” box when installing it. Very simple, very easy, and you get tabbed browsing.)

    – I am really cheesed off that our workplace stopped paying the big bucks for real programmers and in-house software nearly three decades ago, which forced the company to turn to standardized OSes like the products of Bill Gates; products that turned out to be godsends for the computer-security industry. (It’s one thing to try and hack somebody’s in-house code, which is only good in that company. It’s quite another to cruise on over to a script kiddie site and pick up the latest exploit for MS Outlook, a mail system that is used by hundreds of millions and has security flaws built into it. If you must use Outlook at your workplace, do make sure you turn off the Preview Pane. The machine you save will be your own — and your coworkers’.)

  48. #48 Tracy W
    January 26, 2009

    My husband is supremely good at providing IT helpdesk support. He has apparently magical abilities to deduce over the phone from the most IT-illiterate people what exactly has happened and talk them through fixing it. He furthermore regards this sort of problem as an absolutely fascinating pleasure. I have seen him jump joyfully up from his chair when I’ve poked my head around the door and said “Cornelius is here asking for some help with his computer”.

    I’ve hung around with a lot of IT people and he’s the only one I know with this sort of skill set. He doesn’t work with direct consumers. He works providing backup support (third-tier or something) for telecoms. He gets paid more to ensure the phone systems keep running for milions of customers than to solve problems only affecting one customer at a time. This is probably a rational use of his time. It makes life harder though for everyone except his family and friends. But I just don’t think society has enough people with his skill set and patience to supply every IT helpdesk.

  49. #49 Joseph C.
    January 26, 2009

    Now this is what I love about the computer industry. It’s all anecdotal crap. Nobody makes serious scientific efforts to determine whether system A is better than system B.

    Actually, this isn’t true. Outfits like The Gartner Group do engage in fairly rigorous research about IT. Though I think most pros don’t pay attention to such things.

    At my work we actually have a lab where we test new hardware that vendors want to sell us. We test for performance, reliability, and whether or not the device actually does what the vendor claims it does. We also test new versions of software for our existing networking equipment to see if the vendor has actually fixed the bugs they claim to have fixed and whether or not the new software has created new problems. We don’t just run and put something into production without testing it first. Sure this is nothing akin to real science, but we’re not totally half-assed about it either.

  50. #50 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 26, 2009

    Moreover, IT departments tend to be unrelentingly cautious and conservative. To some extent, I can understand why, given that it’s a huge deal to upgrade hundreds of computers when a major new software update comes out, and dealing with the headaches such headaches bring can be expensive and time-consuming, especially when many IT departments are understaffed. However, such conservatism has lead our institution to have computers running Windows XP (not necessarily that bad in an of itself, given the problems with Vista), with Office 2003 and using for its mail servers Exchange 2003. That’s right, we’re using six year old software for almost, not just Microsoft Products.

    As the head of an IT department for a (until the recent economic collapse) $200 million or so a year company I can tell you that not all of those problems are IT generated, at least for us.

    Budgeting keeps us from upgrading in a timely fashion more than anything. That and the higher ups not understanding the need for upgrades when their software “works just fine”. Yes I understand part of the job is educating them why, but that doesn’t always work when you put the bill for upgrading every user from one version of Office to another, especially these days.

    I am cautious and conservative because the old adage “they’ll take an inch if you give them a mile” is true. In the few times I’ve let people install their own software I’ve encountered massive issues. Licensing, unauthorized and pirated software installed, virus and malware out the ass as well as all manner of other issues.

    Now the problem comes because it creates a giant time sink that results from the issues above is a waste of time and resources for both the IT department and for the department where that user resides. We are cautious for very good reason.

    As far as the macs etc.. go, For us it is purely a matter of having then to have the training and resources to support another completely different system. Being understaffed is an understatement for us and it is just not feasible to require the few people we have to have those skill sets when we already have enough technology and training to keep up with as it is.

  51. #51 Graculus
    January 26, 2009

    IT training and culture seems to inculcate budding young new IT people with two things: a knowledge of Windows and the perceived need to be in control.

    As someone who supported a very mixed network (various flavours of Mac OS, Windows and a Linux mailserver), this is right and proper.

    1) You have to know Windows, because it’s everywhere. You don’t become a class A mechanic by not being able to fix GM products.

    2) Control is very important because users suck. If left to their own devices they will screw up almost everything. Out of every dozen people only one or two can be trusted not to make a complete hash of things. Maybe. Sure you tell me you know everything there is to know about not screwing things up, but we have all read “Uncompetent and Unaware”, haven’t we?

    3) So you want to install your own software. Now you expect me to know that software better than you do in order to maintain it or train *you* on its more esoteric functions. Sure, you tell me that you are familiar with the software and can handle it yourself, but we’ve all read “Uncompetent and Unaware”, haven’t we?

    No, I’m not bitter.

  52. #52 Robin Levett
    January 26, 2009

    @anonymous CIO:

    I am the CIO at an organization that is about 80% Mac and 20% PCs…Our institution used to be 100% Mac, based on a top level directive.

    So your Windows boxen are at maximum a couple of years old. Your Macs are on average very much older – going back before the move to Intel hardware? I wonder why you might have more hardware problems with your Macs – could it be the age of the equipment? Again, getting replacement parts of any kind for old equipment – PC or Mac – is universally a problem.

    The problems will be exacerbated if you are recycling the Macs that are replaced by Winboxes; because then every Mac will be older than every Winbox. I’m guessing that for budgetary reasons you are doing exactly that; and that might also explain why your users opt for new Winlaptops rather than castoff Maclaptops – particularly since, again, the users of the newest (comparatively speaking) Mac kit will be sitting on it and not releasing it into circulation.

  53. #53 Robert Grumbine
    January 26, 2009

    Computers are tools for a job. Shouldn’t need saying, but it usually does as holy wars break out about the computers. The important question is not Mac versus Windows versus Linux versus … I use all of them and more besides, myself, to do what I need to do.

    The real question is, what tools should the Whitehouse have? I have to put a tremendous weight on tools that they’re familiar with. We didn’t ‘hire’ them to be software jockeys. And they (unlike, say, me) are not peons to be told to go learn the systems you think they should learn. I want their time to be devoted to governing, managing their agencies, making important decisions, communicating with whomever they need to — reliably, efficiently, and accurately. Not a time for a new email system, say, where a message gets sent to an address list rather than an individual because they’re unfamiliar with the email software someone else forced them to use.

  54. #54 Dunc
    January 27, 2009

    I once asked someone in the know why we still use nearly six year old software, why we don’t use at least Office 2007, why we still use Exchange Server 2003, in other words, why our computers are stuck five or six years in the past. It’s not for a lack of desire to upgrade, but a number of factors, of which the IT culture is but one.

    I don’t understand the constant need to upgrade. Does the new version of the software do anything that the old version doesn’t that you actually need?

    The upgrade cycle is a scam. Once you’ve found a software stack that does what you want it to, stick with it for as long as possible. You don’t need to buy a new car, fridge or TV every two years either.

  55. #55 Don't Panic
    January 27, 2009

    The constant need to upgrade comes from, in large part, the fact that all OS’s have an end-of-life period after which the provider stops generating security patches for that version. And if the computer is at all connected to the outside world it becomes vulnerable to virus, worms, trojans, etc. Moving to new versions of the OS often means that applications also have to upgrade. More so with some OS’s than others (e.g. only recently did we have a complex executable that was built on a Linux box over 10 yrs ago stop running on the latest version of the OS.) It’s a vicious cycle.

    Of course it would help if the predominate OS weren’t so insecure (though getting better, I guess — personally I try to avoid it). The security model designed in the core of the Unix derivatives (Linux, OS X, etc) means they are significantly less vulnerable. And even if one user account is breached it tends not to be the whole system (ie. root).

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