A Fox keeps up with the Gateses
Internet Explorer Version 8 Beta is released! So proclaim the headlines over the past 10 days on the Internet ether and in the tech trade rags and e-mail magazines (e-zines). You know what we use at the City of Seattle? IE Version 6. I personally think IE V7, with tabbed browsing, is the best thing since the invention of the first browser. I use it all the time(along with Firefox) at home. But at work in downtown Seattle, I’m an IE 6 user because that is the standard. The one I’ve set for the government.
Does anyone care about Microsoft Vista? Oh sure, if you buy a new computer for home or personal use, you get Vista as the operating system. Because you don’t have any choice! And you probably don’t care, as long as it works. But if you are a large corporation, Windows XP rules. Indeed, those corporations, including the City of Seattle, will receive a computer with Vista installed, wipe the hard drive, and install Windows XP. And XP works fine for us.
Office 2007 has been on the market since, well, before 2007. Yet at the City, the most advanced users use Office 2003. Most users use Office XP (aka 2002) or Office 2000. In fact, there are still those who long for Word Perfect. Even the most skilled power users probably use 1% of the commands and functions of Word. Office 2007 does change the format of documents, making them more interoperable with documents on the web and other document formats. But that’s a feature few corporate users care about at this time.
Why the heck can’t the City of Seattle keep up with the Gateses? Why are we (and, frankly, almost all other large Corporations) so far behind? Is this another case of sluggish bureaucratic inertia?
Actually, computer systems today are all “ecosystems”. Very few pieces of software stand on their own, independently of others.
For a specific example at the City of Seattle, we use PeopleSoft Government Financials Version 8.8, one of the very latest versions of a financial management system. But PeopleSoft has engineered it to use IE V6 as an interface for most users, to work under Windows XP, and to download data into spreadsheets in Office 2003 or earlier formats. PeopleSoft certifies that it will support these versions, but not newer versions, until they exhaustively test them. We – the City – cannot upgrade to a newer version of any software without losing PeopleSoft’s support.
Microsoft is a little better, at least for its own applications. It extensively tests software so that Microsoft XP works with Microsoft Exchange works with Microsoft Office works with Microsoft fill-in-the-blank. This testing makes it easier on corporate IT folks (and sells more software in the meantime).
At the City of Seattle, we complicate this a bit by using some non-Microsoft software such as Novell’s GroupWise for e-mail and Novell’s NetWare to save and print files. So we have to test those ourselves with new Microsoft software.
Even more complicated than this, any particular user’s computer will have dozens and dozens of different applications running on it. Not just Windows XP, Internet Explorer and Office, but also our GroupWise e-mail system, maybe the financial management system or the utility customer information system and perhaps Microsoft Visio, Adobe Photoshop, Virtual Private Networking, McAfee anti-virus and many more. Changing any one of the pieces of software – and especially core software such as Office, IE and Windows itself – could break any of the other applications. And then the employee can’t do their job.
To complicate this even further, each one of the City of Seattle’s 11,000+ desktop and laptop computers can have different applications from every other computer! Things are not this bad, of course – the computers installed in police vehicles are pretty standard, for example. But certainly computers in offices will vary from cubicle to cubicle.
These complex systems are now necessary to do the work of City government.
But it also makes it hard to keep up the latest versions emerging from the Gateses.