Why Is This Allowed To Happen?

This just makes no sense whatsoever:

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.

I read another report somewhere that half the computers are still using Office 2000, and unless my memory is playing games with me, I remember similar stories when the Bush team took over in 2000. I understand that there are massive security concerns, and I understand that there are most likely thousands of rules and regulations guiding (obstructing) the acquisition of new equipment for the White House, but this just makes no sense to me whatsoever. I think the first order of business for the tech staff at the White House is to make sure that at the very least, the White House is using technology equivalent to what you would find in the average High School computer lab. There really is no excuse for this, and if there are laws and rules that need to be changed, change them. This should not be a partisan issue, and a complete overhaul of the WH technology along with an update of the rules that guide the acquisition of that technology so that they never fall behind again would be a solid move, and one that would serve future administrations, regardless of political affiliation, well.






111 replies
  1. 1
    Creamy Goodness says:

    When security is a major concern, technology has to change slowly.

    People who write software for banks and space shuttles will understand.

  2. 2
    Faux News says:

    I’m sure Brick Oven Bill and Paul L. will be happy to explain to us how this is all President Obama’s and Liberals’ fault.

    $50 internet/youtube dollars to the first wingnut who starts whining about "ALL THE w KEYS WERE MISSING ON THE COMPUTERS WHEN BUSH TOOK OFFICE IN 2001!"

  3. 3
    Dan says:

    No worries. This is a team that will quickly figure out how to use the best technology within the rules and regs. They are too smart, enterprising, enthusiastic, industrious and resourceful to be slowed down for very long.

  4. 4
    Kevin K. says:

    I read they had to design the new White House web site using Notepad and MS Paint.

  5. 5
    TheHatOnMyCat says:

    a complete overhaul of the WH technology along with an update of the rules that guide the acquisition of that technology so that they never fall behind again would be a solid move, and one that would serve future administrations

    Call me crazy, but I have a hunch that the new occupants will pursue exactly this line of thought and take appropriate action. Not sure, but I also have a hunch that this sort of thing is why we won this election. Change.

    Just sayin’.

  6. 6
    Kirk Spencer says:

    … [M]ake sure that at the very least, the White House is using technology equivalent to what you would find in the average High School computer lab.

    John, what you describe is not too far off many of the high school computer labs around here. Oh, the "laggard computers" are Win2003, not W2k, but you get the idea.

    And I can get worse by going to two areas – very rural, and "inner city" urban.

    Just food for thought.

  7. 7
    TheHatOnMyCat says:

    "ALL THE w KEYS WERE MISSING ON THE COMPUTERS WHEN BUSH TOOK OFFICE IN 2001!"

    I guess that explains the unintelligible speeches.

  8. 8
    Robin G. says:

    The previous administration wasn’t exactly interested in communicating with pretty much anyone; it isn’t a surprise that they didn’t feel the need to improve communication technology.

    This is definitely going to take a lot of months to fix. Hell, ensuring simple compatibility will be a nightmare in and of itself. The new IT team has a lot of sleepless nights ahead.

    Also, allow me to second what Kirk Spencer said. I’ve done a lot of IT work for the public school system and let me tell you, I have literally been to schools where there is *one* computer in the building, behind lock and key in the administrative office, still running Windows 95. I am not kidding. I didn’t see Windows XP in *any* schools — urban, rural, suburban, rich, poor, or otherwise — until last year. In 2005 I went to one school system that was running *entirely* on Millenium (and blamed us for software problems). I think they bought all the copies out of the bargain bin. It was a nightmare.

  9. 9
    Poopyman says:

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but Windows security concerns have been addressed long ago by various defense and intel agencies, and get continually upgraded. The WH wouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel here.

  10. 10
    Not My Fault says:

    Is this a surprise?

    @Creamy Goodness: got it right. Expecting the WH to be updated with a quick trip to Fry’s shows a lack of understanding, both of government and of technology.

    Having the people’s business conducted via yahoo mail accounts would be a BAD thing (see: Palin, Sarah for cite) Yeah – I know – team Obama would use GMail, not Yahoo, but the same principle applies (even to teh googles)

    Welcome to government. Yes, it is infuriating, but there are actually reasons for many of the things that go on.

  11. 11

    Not to get into a Microsoft/Apple war but it is a fact that Mac’s don’t have the vulnerabilities to viruses that Windows computers do so why not just switch over if the concern is the security of the correspondence?

  12. 12
    Saragon says:

    I think the first order of business for the tech staff at the White House is to make sure that at the very least, the White House is using technology equivalent to what you would find in the average High School computer lab.

    What, and set the White House back another four years?

  13. 13

    In the year 2001 the FAA was still using 386’s. Yes you read that right.

  14. 14
    MikeJ says:

    an update of the rules that guide the acquisition of that technology so that they never fall behind again

    That will never, ever happen. large chunks of corporate America have simply refused to "upgrade" from XP to Vista (one place I know of finished upgrading TO windows XP last month). These places aren’t lagging solely because of security concerns but because upgrading software is expensive, time consuming, a pain in the ass, stuff never works properly when you upgrade, and you have to retrain everybody. You let other people do it first.

    Add in the sec concerns mentioned in the first comment and you have a great argument for inertia.

    That said, I’ll bet someone’s got a jabber server running on the disconnected internal network by now.

  15. 15
    sal says:

    Office 2000 works just fine. I’ve used newer versions and never found any benefit.
    As for the rest, update the sumbitches.

  16. 16
    Not My Fault says:

    I read another report somewhere that half the computers are still using Office 2000

    Team Obama caught a break there. Office 2007 is a steaming pile of shit.
    If the previous administration had wanted to screw over the current administration, they would have installed Vista and Ofiice 2007 on all the computers just before leaving the office.

  17. 17
    linda says:

    i wonder if the fibbies ever got email accounts:

    The Federal Bureau of Luddites
    Why there are still FBI agents who don’t have e-mail addresses.
    By Noah ShachtmanUpdated Thursday, April 6, 2006, at 3:56 PM ET

    Two weeks ago, the FBI’s chief information officer admitted that the bureau couldn’t afford to provide e-mail addresses for 8,000 of its 30,000 employees.

  18. 18
    Walker says:

    In the year 2001 the FAA was still using 386’s. Yes you read that right.

    Because the software worked.

    They are not going to be able to go Web 2.0 in the White House anytime in the near future. This is an information flow nightmare, and information flow is the only security model the government trusts.

  19. 19
    TheFountainHead says:

    I do some IT work on the side for some of my customers, and I have to say that the thought of upgrading anything so large, and with such security concerns, as the white house (especially in what I have to imagine is a Windoze only environment) gives me the shakes. We’re talking about logistical nightmares on the scale of the first Apollo missions.

  20. 20
    nathaniel says:

    I don’t think the security issues are as much of a problem as some may believe. The key thing is to seperate the things that need to be on the high side versus the low. If it is not classified, which all of the blogs, public outreach, etc are not, then you need to make sure they stay off computers that do hold secret information. There are no real problems in sending out information to Obama facebook accounts from a white house computer as long as that computer does not have any classified files on it.

  21. 21
    Joshua Norton says:

    Hey, Office 2000 works perfectly fine.

    Our firm, which uses bleeding edge technology still uses Office 2002, mainly to avoid the headaches of updating all our custom macros (and there’s a ton of them) and the learning curve that goes along with it. I’m sure the WH uses one or two themselves.

    Change for its own sake brings us crap like Windows Vista. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  22. 22
    The Moar You Know says:

    the White House is using technology equivalent to what you would find in the average High School computer lab.

    I live in one of the best funded school districts in the United States and the White House probably has better gear than the schools here.

    Look, the government is in a fucked position here – if they were to run a typical two-year complete hardware and software upgrade cycle, like most businesses do, taxpayers would scream bloody murder at what the hardware, software, and support/infrastructure (the most crucial element) would cost. With some good reason. The costs would be staggering. So the government uses the old stuff until it dies.

    Not saying that this is a good or a bad thing, it is what it is. If we want to do it differently, that would be great (this is my field of work, and additional job security is never a bad thing) but there are some costs to it that I’m not sure that taxpayers are going to be willing to pay.

  23. 23
    TheFountainHead says:

    There are no real problems in sending out information to Obama facebook accounts from a white house computer as long as that computer does not have any classified files on it, doesn’t use the same network as any computers with classified files on it, doesn’t have any form of removable media input, and doesn’t have any integrated recording devices.

    Fixed.

  24. 24
    The Moar You Know says:

    Not to get into a Microsoft/Apple war but it is a fact that Mac’s don’t have the vulnerabilities to viruses that Windows computers do so why not just switch over if the concern is the security of the correspondence?

    @sgwhiteinfla: OS security has nothing to do with communications security (COMSEC). TCP packets from both Windows and Apple machines are not any different, and they are pretty vulnerable unless some fairly drastic and expensive precautions are taken.

  25. 25
    Media Browski says:

    These things are internal to each whitehouse; back in ’92 I remember when my university’s tech guys (we were a DC school) were all getting hired to come in and make a "network" for the whitehouse. Nowadays they’ll need six degrees of security clearance too.

  26. 26
    Allen says:

    A friend of mine works for the CDC (80% telecommute). She tells me that it’s a software and hardware nightmare, undocumented proprietary software, bad IT support, no delineation of support responsibilities (it’s a mix of state and federal spending). The list goes on and on. I sure feel for those people, going from a low inertia culture to an inertia bound culture.

    I was around when the government started to allow billing to be done electronically via spreadsheet (Lotus 123 at the time). The format the government used induced rounding errors and you would end up with a penny difference depending whether you totaled rows or columns so they would kick your invoices back to you to fix the rounding error. You would end up killing all formulas, finding the rounding error by hand and changing one value by a penny. Sad to hear that not much has changed.

  27. 27
    TheHatOnMyCat says:

    All they have to do is review the Service Level Agreements and bring the technology into alignment with the SLA’s.

    Heh. You know, the SLA’s …. in that binder, right over there.

    Amirite?

  28. 28
    Bill H says:

    If the previous administration had wanted to screw over the current administration, they would have installed Vista and Ofiice 2007 on all the computers just before leaving the office.

    Win. ROTFLMAO

  29. 29
    4tehlulz says:

    @TheFountainHead: And aren’t behind seven proxies and over 9000 firewalls.

  30. 30
    Not My Fault says:

    I don’t think the security issues are as much of a problem as some may believe. The key thing is to seperate the things that need to be on the high side versus the low. If it is not classified, which all of the blogs, public outreach, etc are not, then you need to make sure they stay off computers that do hold secret information. There are no real problems in sending out information to Obama facebook accounts from a white house computer as long as that computer does not have any classified files on it.

    Am I the only one who remembers the distant past where the administration used external communications networks in order to circumvent record keeping laws?

    Document retention policies enforced by the systems themselves are a good thing.

  31. 31
    The Moar You Know says:

    @nathaniel: All I can tell you is that it is not nearly that simple. Classified networks are physically separate from unclassified ones. You can have both terminating in the same room, but then you need controls on building access, machine access, portable devices (when there are classified devices, no cell phones, iPods, thumb drives or Blackberrys are allowed in the same room) clearances and personnel when you get into a situation like that. It is an enormous pain in the ass at best. When it goes bad and you have a breach, it can ruin people’s lives.

  32. 32
    TheFountainHead says:

    Document retention policies enforced by the systems themselves are a good thing.

    Of course they are, but they inevitably hamper the flow of information (on the meta level, the exchange of ideas and productivity) and so it’s a constant struggle for those in the position of needing to get things done between adherence to the rules of the road and the desire to be efficient. As I explained to a co-worker recently, good internal networks and business software are like perpetually driving your wife to the hospital while she’s in labor.

    Addendum: I’ve also heard Chemotherapy used as a surprisingly accurate analogy.

  33. 33
    Tim H. says:

    I’ve met few people whose needs aren’t totally satisfied by Office 2000. Program runs a lot faster than 2007, too.

  34. 34
    Comrade Mary, Would-Be Minion Of Bad Horse says:

    I’m still using Office 2003, but I could happily roll back to 2000 if necessary.

    Office 2007 is very pretty, but I find the implementation of XML in it to be a nightmare.

  35. 35
    Not My Fault says:

    Of course they are, but they inevitably hamper the flow of information (on the meta level, the exchange of ideas and productivity) and so it’s a constant struggle for those in the position of needing to get things done between adherence to the rules of the road and the desire to be efficient.

    This desire to be efficient, at the possible cost of accountability reminds me of the whole secret Energy Task Force meetings justification.

    I have impossibly high hopes for this administration. But after the last 8 years, "trust us, we’ll do the right thing." makes my blood run cold.

  36. 36
    TheFountainHead says:

    I have impossibly high hopes for this administration. But after the last 8 years, "trust us, we’ll do the right thing." makes my blood run cold.

    Couldn’t agree with you more, but "trust us, we’ll do the right thing." is a centerpiece of any elected government. Obama will either respect it or he won’t.

  37. 37
    Punchy says:

    and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts.

    Karl Rove just laughed himself to death reading this.

  38. 38
    paragonpark says:

    The technology employed to communicate is a very minor consideration relative to the content of what is being communicated and the HUMAN efforts to make sure the content reaches the people it needs to reach and those people do with it what they are supposed to do.

    The idea that faster transmission equals better results hasn’t really been shown in anything remotely similar to governing.

  39. 39
    nathaniel says:

    31 "

    All I can tell you is that it is not nearly that simple. Classified networks are physically separate from unclassified ones. You can have both terminating in the same room, but then you need controls on building access, machine access, portable devices (when there are classified devices, no cell phones, iPods, thumb drives or Blackberrys are allowed in the same room) clearances and personnel when you get into a situation like that. It is an enormous pain in the ass at best. When it goes bad and you have a breach, it can ruin people’s lives

    ."

    I can tell you I work at the State Department and all of the things you say are easily done. There are certain rooms you can’t bring cell phones into, they have lockers outside. (by the way this is true of any classified network and whether you also have unclass networks in the same room is irrelevent.) You aren’t allowed to use removable media and everyone in the building that has access to computers have a security clearance. I’d imagine the same is true at the white house.

    The key thing is just because an event occured in the white house, it does not mean it is classified.

    Also I am not advocating anything that would get around the existing records maintanence program, in fact setting it up properly would mean people would be less likely to do things on non-white house accounts like the Bush adminstration had been

  40. 40
    Tom65 says:

    *shrug* welcome to Federal IT

  41. 41
    BDeevDad says:

    Maybe this will get the government to start using a secure desktop OS like Ubuntu.

  42. 42
    Cain says:

    I work for a large enterprise company with some very big computing gear. It takes awhile for stuff get in because you need to be able to purchase the right hardware that works with the software. In an enterprise environment, stability trumps technology any time. If you go down, you’re losing money.

    If it’s national security I’m not surprised that the software is old. The new world is probably full of exploits. So they need to figure out the best methods. I’m sure they got some smart people there to figure this stuff out.

    cain

  43. 43
    Cain says:

    Maybe this will get the government to start using a secure desktop OS like Ubuntu.

    There is no such thing as secure. It’s rather how painful is it to get in. Even Unix and Unix like operating systems like Linux require a lot of hardening before they can be used. Luckily NSA does have their own version of linux. I’d love to see a linux distro used in the white house.

    cain

  44. 44
    YellowJournalism says:

    John, you haven’t been to many high schools in a while, have you?

  45. 45
    Punchy says:

    It is kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari

    As a product of the Atari 2600 generation, I’ll take that as a complement. I’ll take my Pitfall, Missle Command, and Mattel Electronics Baseball over your weak-ass Tiger Woods golf game anyday.

  46. 46
    The Other Steve says:

    Office 2007 is probably the best version of Office yet, as they spent a lot of time on usability and document design. I find the documents I create with Office 2007 look far more professional than anything I created with older versions. My resume is now quite impressive looking.

    That being said, I’m imagining the Whitehouse is similar to working in the biggest corporate bureacracy ever imaginable while adding in a Nazi Gestapo IT manager. So no access to the internet at all, certainly no instant messaging, no streaming youtubes, etc.

    The thing is, it’s not that say Office 2000 is better than 2007 or more secure or anything like that. It’s actually the opposite. What happens is you have a staff who knows and understands the issues involved with 2000 and it’s really difficult to learn what you don’t know you might need to learn. So it’s a comfort level issue. Very important with ‘security’ folks.

    As far as allowing instant messages and access to the internet and sorts of things… There are solutions for this. You can setup instant messaging proxies which log all incoming and outgoing messages for archival purposes.

  47. 47
    Eric U. says:

    I’m using ubuntu, and I’m sure there are vulnerabilities, most of which are sitting between the keyboard and chair (I like to call it "clicky-clicky disorder")

    Windows is scarier though, it’s trivial to click on a button on the web and cause yourself all sorts of problems.

    I would be concerned about the automatic updates on windows. Just seems like a security problem waiting to happen.

  48. 48

    @sgwhiteinfla:

    To answer sgwhiteinfla’s question mac’s don’t run many programs that your average business person needs let alone programs the government needs.

    And we are a long long way away from the whitehouse trusting national security to a web 2.0 solution. In fact that may never happen.

    I agree with lots of other commenters and believe you will see this white house upgrade their IT and communications. It will just take time and it won’t be cutting edge.

  49. 49
    Kirk Spencer says:

    @Eric U.:

    (I like to call it "clicky-clicky disorder")

    aka wetware or meatware (the third thing needed to make the computer effective; the first two being hardware and software.)

  50. 50
    The Other Steve says:

    Maybe this will get the government to start using a secure desktop OS like Ubuntu.

    How do you do two-factor authentication for your desktop logon with Ubuntu? Which vendors are supported?

  51. 51
    Michael says:

    If the previous administration had wanted to screw over the current administration, they would have installed Vista and Ofiice 2007 on all the computers just before leaving the office.

    Second that. Vista plain sucks.

  52. 52
    The Other Steve says:

    I would be concerned about the automatic updates on windows. Just seems like a security problem waiting to happen.

    So you manage them at your corporate IT level. Using either Microsoft’s hosted solution, or a third party product like Altiris.

  53. 53
    Kirk Spencer says:

    @Rick Calvert: I’d disagree about macs not running "many programs that your average business person needs let alone programs the government needs." In fact, the only type of program that I’ve not found for Mac (or *nix) that was needed in a significant number of businesses of any type was a professional CAD program.

    Most businesses are fine with a good word processor and spreadsheet. A smaller number need a good presentation package. There’s need for a good bookkeeping package. Publishing packages tend to be popular. Email’s become a necessity. Web browsing capability is a mixed blessing. I’ve seen professional quality of all the above for Mac and *nix over the past few years.

  54. 54
    The Other Steve says:

    Oh yeah, and one more thing I suspect is the case.

    Nobody in the Whitehouse has a laptop. This is easily one of the biggest security risk areas for most companies, so I can imagine what it is for the Whitehouse.

  55. 55
    Xecklothxayyquou Gilchrist says:

    @Punchy: As a product of the Atari 2600 generation, I’ll take that as a complement.

    Atari 2600 Space Invaders is still one of the best games ever made, IMO.

    Though if I were going to be a purist, I should call it Atari VCS Space Invaders, because they didn’t start calling it the 2600 until 1982.

  56. 56
    Mike in NC says:

    Having spent almost 20 years as a government contractor in DC, working on projects for the Navy, the Army, FEMA, Customs, IRS, DoD, USPS, and assorted other agencies: yeah, Federal IT is as bad as it gets.

  57. 57
    John Cole says:

    Didn’t take long for you all to turn this into an Apple v. Windows argument again.

    Le sigh.

  58. 58

    […] Anything Particularly Surprising To Me. 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… […]

  59. 59
    Eric U. says:

    If I was one of the people that had just moved into the White House, the biggest concern I would have is checking to make sure that Bush/Cheney didn’t outsource IT to one of their campaign contributors.

  60. 60
    MikeJ says:

    Having spent almost 20 years as a government contractor in DC, working on projects for the Navy, the Army, FEMA, Customs, IRS, DoD, USPS, and assorted other agencies: yeah, Federal IT is as bad as it gets.

    You only think that because you don’t know how bad it is outside of the Gov. Any company beyond a certain size is sure to be as fucked up as the government is.

  61. 61
    Xecklothxayyquou Gilchrist says:

    @John Cole: Didn’t take long for you all to turn this into an Apple v. Windows argument again.

    Any mention of Windows or Macintosh or Linux by name will start The Troubles.

    Would it be OK if we turned it into an Atari-vs.-Intellivision or Sega-vs.-Nintendo fight instead? I mean, yeesh – I still can’t get used to seeing Sonic the Hedgehog games for the Wii. It just ain’t right.

  62. 62
    BDeevDad says:

    @John Cole: No Linux vs Windows. Slight difference. More geeky, same boxiness.

  63. 63
    TheFountainHead says:

    In fact, the only type of program that I’ve not found for Mac (or *nix) that was needed in a significant number of businesses of any type was a professional CAD program.

    Ummm, Vectorworks?

  64. 64
    zzyzx says:

    Intellivision football r00led even if I just had 2-3 go to plays that I used over and over again, either send the receiver deep and roll out to see if running was the right solution, or freeze the receiver low and roll out high and pass if the defense closed on you.

    There was a great glitch in intellivision baseball btw where if you hit the ball slowly and reached first before the ball got to a defender, it would disapear giving you a game ending homerun. Also the players would occasionally score after the 3rd out… my brother once sent a game to extras that way.

  65. 65
    Jennifer says:

    I don’t see why they couldn’t – and shouldn’t – start off each new administration with a clean new computing system, updated with the latest software, pre-loaded with any proprietary software and data they might use, and go from there. It would probably be even cheaper than taking a piecemeal approach to it, and there probably needs to be something in statute to allow the work to begin 6 months before swearing in when it’s known that a new administration will be coming in.

    As far as the stuff there now being outdated, that probably wasn’t that much of an issue for the outgoing administration (Bush or anyone else) because they’ve been computing in a consistent environment for the past 4 – 8 years. Certainly some staff would have need of particular upgrades along the way, but for most people doing clerical work, not so much.

    And OT, about the earworms: those of you who have missed the Diesel Driving Academy theme song lo these 15 years – and those of you who never had the pleasure of hearing it in the first place – can find it here.

  66. 66
    Xecklothxayyquou Gilchrist says:

    @zzyzx: IIRC it was pretty well agreed, even among 1970s game-deck partisans, that Intellivision was the superior console for sports games. I loved and hated the Atari because it had such a hodgepodge of available games, ranging in quality from genius to utter crap. That was partly because Atari didn’t forbid anyone from making Atari-compatible cartridges (even Quaker Oats had a videogame division for a while there) and customers really would buy anything that was advertised as a video game until they’d been burned enough times.

    I think my exposure to the wildly-variable Atari oeuvre is what makes me feel so at home on the ‘net.

  67. 67
    The Moar You Know says:

    Maybe this will get the government to start using a secure desktop OS like Ubuntu.

    @BDeevDad: Prove it. To a bureaucrat. One who is hoping to be employed at a big, successful company after they leave government employ.

    What, Ubuntu isn’t a company? How can the bureaucrat get employed there after leaving the government? How can the government sue them if something is not as advertised?

    You see the problems here, I hope.

  68. 68
    Punchy says:

    @zzyzx: Many, many a college day wasted on Super TechmoBowl tourneys.

    As for best Atari games….SI was great. Keystone Kapers not bad, Adventure (at the time, with the "secret dot") was TEH SHIZ, also Kaboom, and SuperBreakout.

    I would be remiss if I didnt also mention Tapper. So much beer, so little time inbetween refills. Almost a how-to for binge drinking.

  69. 69
    BDeevDad says:

    @The Moar You Know: Huh. Here you go. Although they could always use SELinux that is distributed by the NSA. Also, having another desktop environment helps most people’s resumes.

  70. 70
    The Moar You Know says:

    There’s need for a good bookkeeping package.

    @Kirk Spencer: Damn right there is. The only DoD compliant accounting programs are on Windows. This is a shortcoming of not the *nix platform but rather of software development for the same. A truly business/government ready accounting package would go a long way towards spreading acceptance of the *nixes to the public at large.

  71. 71
    GSD says:

    In related news, the thumb-screws, stretching racks, bright lamps, rubber hoses, water boards and iron-maiden in Cheney’s undisclosed bunker in the Whitehouse basement were reported to be in tip top, state of the art operating shape.

    -GSD

  72. 72
    Tsulagi says:

    In quasi defense of the last guys, I’m guessing some of it has to do with compatibility with networks and software they’re using outside the WH. Our IT department grouses about this all the time. That in some ways we have to dumb down to the lowest common denominator. But not internally.

    Our geeks are pretty good. They have our different types of traffic completely separated. Even my personal traffic whether I’m at work, home, or someplace else gets routed through my home network they set up. I love our geeks.

    I would think given a president like Obama who appreciates technology the WH would hire some competent IT that could do something at least similar. Should be better.

  73. 73
    Buck says:

    Shit. It all works as slick as a button on "24"

  74. 74
    Kirk Spencer says:

    @TheFountainHead:

    Ummm, Vectorworks?

    Might be good now. Vectorworks 12 on Mac was "almost OK" according to the engineers with whom I was working. If it is good now, then I really can’t think of any program type that’s necessary for business which isn’t available regardless of operating system.

    specific programs, sure. Program TYPES, no.

  75. 75
    The Moar You Know says:

    @BDeevDad: Look, you don’t have to prove it to me. I already use it at home. But what I can’t do with it is haul it into work and use it there, I’d be fired. Before I, or anyone else, can do that, it’s gotta be certified by a bunch of people who use checklists for certification – and (to use an example) if there is no "local security policy" plug-in to edit (because Linux doesn’t use one) then it will fail.

    Hilariously enough, I’d face the same problem with an SELinux machine. Working for the government requires an acceptance of illogic, what can I say?

    @Tsulagi: That good IT support costs a lot of money. Once again, can you make that case to taxpayers?

  76. 76
    SLKRR says:

    @Punchy:

    Super Tecmo… I think I missed a final once that was scheduled during a TecmoBowl tournament. Gotta have priorities.

    The best Atari 2600 games were Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pitfall, and Defender. Combat was fun provided you could trick someone into being the big fat slow plane while you took the three little ones. But that would usually only work once.

  77. 77
    comrade rawshark says:

    @paragonpark:

    Dude, your name is giving me flashbacks.
    I’m still pissed off that by the time I was tall enough to ride the roller coaster my family had stopped going there and had moved on to Riverside Park in Agawam for amusement park fun.

  78. 78
    DecidedFenceSitter says:

    Yeah, the amount of grief I have to go through because our LINUX system is a mission-critical classified processing machine but yet can’t do the appropriate required logging for the DSS (Defense Security Service) is… interesting. Every time I have to get the SSP (System Security Plan) certified by ODAA (Office of Designated Approving Authority) my life goes to hell for a while.

    When I used to work for an IA (Information Assurance) contractor that did primarily C&A (Certification and Accreditation), system engineering, and similar type items, the boss (who was part of the group who wrote DITSCAP, the predecessor to DIACAP (okay I’m sick of defining my acronym soup, go use google) used to rant about the LINUX versus Windows debate.

    Basically, yes Linux has more flexibility, but it has minimal accountability, it rarely has someone who you can go "Yes, I will attest that this code is clean, and stake my reputation and freedom on it)" because any new distribution would need to be code checked line-by-line and that is friggen expensive.

  79. 79
    Sasha says:

    I suspect the first order of business is to get some competent tech staff. Folks at NSA manage to work on laptops.

    @Nathanial You’re right. Security is more of an excuse to do nothing than an actual problem.

  80. 80
    neff says:

    Aarrrgggh, people, it’s "White House" — two words. Y’all are making me grind my teeth down to nubs writing "Whitehouse" like that.

  81. 81
    TheFountainHead says:

    Might be good now. Vectorworks 12 on Mac was "almost OK" according to the engineers with whom I was working. If it is good now, then I really can’t think of any program type that’s necessary for business which isn’t available regardless of operating system.

    Well there’s your first problem, you asked the engineers!

    There are many fine CAD programs out there, in all honesty, and they almost all have a niche at which they excel. I would say though, for what can get accomplished at every level of render and for the manhours put into it, Vectorworks is among the best.

  82. 82
    Xecklothxayyquou Gilchrist says:

    @SLKRR: Combat was fun provided you could trick someone into being the big fat slow plane while you took the three little ones. But that would usually only work once.

    We’d always play that one non-competitively, just laughing ourselves sick over how goofy the big plane looked when the little planes shot it and it spun around. It was a kid thing. :)

  83. 83
    Maus says:

    This is an information flow nightmare

    What we’re in now is an information flow nightmare. What Cheney did to all his email records is ONLY possible because of the slapdash system we currently have in place.

  84. 84
    Cyrus says:

    The technology lag seems dumb, but I don’t think it actually is. Changing big, expensive stuff takes time, maybe more time than it takes for the last wave of big, expensive stuff to become obselete.

    Bill Gates’ house, for example, is appraised at over $150 million. In addition to obvious stuff like being big, it has a fully integrated computer system. According to Wikipedia, each room can tune the temperature and light and stuff for pre-programmed preferences of each guest based on pins they wear. Internet access in every room, probably. But the house was built shortly before everything began to go wireless. Now there are a whole lot of holes through the walls and cords running around that nobody needs any more.

    Now consider an office with a system like that rather than a home. It’s bigger, has more users, and there are hierarchical and productivity concerns, like blocking Web sites generally considered time-wasters. A government office, so there are a ton of regulations about what can be done. And I seem to remember reading, in some article about Bush’s last-minute regulations, that it’s easier to make a new regulation than change or repeal an existing one. A government office with both a public face and high-security functions, in some cases probably at the same desks. An office under unique types of scrutiny, both politically and from the Presidential Records Act.

    All things considered, is anyone really surprised that newcomers to the White House can’t get on Facebook this week? This looks like a non-story.

  85. 85
    Face says:

    Aarrrgggh, people, it’s "White House"—two words. Y’all are making me grind my teeth down to nubs writing "Whitehouse" like that.

    If you’ve come here expecting clean spelling, you’ve most certainly come to the wrong webblog.

    4tehlulz’s posts by themselves violate about 4,501 spelling and grammar rules. Also.

  86. 86
    MikeJ says:

    4tehlulz’s posts by themselves violate about 4,501 spelling and grammar rules.

    Still fewer than the average Yglesias post.

  87. 87
    WMass says:

    I know a guy who has done IT consulting work for the NSA, and I can assure you that they are not running Windows 2000. If the NSA can run top-end hardware and software, then so can the White House.

  88. 88
    The Other Steve says:

    Aarrrgggh, people, it’s "White House"—two words. Y’all are making me grind my teeth down to nubs writing "Whitehouse" like that.

    Then why is it whitehouse.gov?

  89. 89
    Ack, Sysadmin of Evil says:

    @TheHatOnMyCat:


    ALL THE w KEYS WERE MISSING ON THE COMPUTERS WHEN BUSH TOOK OFFICE IN 2001!
    I guess that explains the unintelligible speeches.

    So did the previous governor of Alaska steal all the g keys from the office computers?

  90. 90
    superdestroyer says:

    I also doubt if the White House has a wireless LAN or even wireless entry points. I doubt that security would be too happy if someone sitting on a park bench in the park could capture the data even if it were encripted.

    Also, the campaign guys were building from the ground up. Now they can learn all of the problems inherent with legacy systems.

    and last, many corporations block youtube, facebook, ebay, etc.

  91. 91
    Punchy says:

    and last, many corporations block youtube, facebook, ebay, etc

    /furiously nods head in agreement, pounds fist.

    BTW, is Yonder Mountain String Band the best band ever, or the bestest?

  92. 92

    @The Moar You Know

    Classified networks are physically separate from unclassified ones. You can have both terminating in the same room, but then you need controls on building access, machine access, portable devices (when there are classified devices, no cell phones, iPods, thumb drives or Blackberrys are allowed in the same room) clearances and personnel when you get into a situation like that. It is an enormous pain in the ass at best.

    No, it’s not that hard. I won’t say that it’s trivial, but it’s not as hard as you make it out to be because most of the infrastructure is already in place. Remember, this is the White House, you don’t just get to go traipsing in there, there are men with guns, the Secret Service, who will kill you if you try. So physical security and access controls are already in place. Secondly this is the White House, the men with guns who guard the place and its residents won’t let you in unless you’ve been background checked all the way back to the moment of conception. The physical access and personnel clearance components of any security setup are the hardest and most expensive ones to implement and in this case they’re already in place and enforced by a bunch of guys with guns. As for the other security issues ideally you don’t have classified and unclassified networks terminating in the same area, but if you do ensuring separation of the networks isn’t all that difficult ("Hi, there. See that man by the door in the conservative suit and tie and wearing an earpiece? Good. If you try to connect anything to the network in this room or try to plug your iPod, Zune, BlackBerry, USB memory stick or anything else into one of these computers he will shoot you in the fucking head. Really, this is not hyperbole. He will shoot you in the fucking head."). Then you give a list to the Secret Service guys and say "if you see anyone who isn’t on this list fucking with the computers in here please shoot them in the fucking head".

  93. 93
    TheHatOnMyCat says:

    That good IT support costs a lot of money. Once again, can you make that case to taxpayers?

    1. That’s right, and 2. No.

    Taxpayers want everything to work perfectly, take up no space, and cost nothing.

    It’s similar to CATO Institute’s model of government.

  94. 94

    @Kirk Spencer:

    specific programs, sure. Program TYPES, no.

    Aye, there’s the rub. Devils hiding in details and all that…

    You can’t handwave away requirements for ‘specific programs’ – for instance, my wife was thrilled when the Intel Macs came out because it meant that she could finally have her Windows-only, super-specialized-no-you’ve-never-heard-of-it-unless-you’re-into-a-certain-kind-of-statistical-modeling program installed on the same laptop as the rest of her stuff. And the government is riddled with purpose-built, home-grown applications – some agencies would grind to a halt if you forced them to replace those apps.

    Private and public sector alike, large bureaucracies are where old tech goes to die. Change often means risk, and almost always means cost – neither of these are things managers like.

  95. 95
    The Moar You Know says:

    "Hi, there. See that man by the door in the conservative suit and tie and wearing an earpiece? Good. If you try to connect anything to the network in this room or try to plug your iPod, Zune, BlackBerry, USB memory stick or anything else into one of these computers he will shoot you in the fucking head. Really, this is not hyperbole. He will shoot you in the fucking head."

    @Wile E. Quixote: You’ve just described the system administrator’s wet dream.

    Whining about how we blocked MySpace? HEADSHOT
    Whine about how hard it is to remember complex passwords? HEADSHOT
    Computer stopped working "for no reason"? HEADSHOT
    Lost your fucking access card for the sixth time this month? DOUBLE HEADSHOT, FUCK EYE SOCKETS, TAKE PIX, SEND TO YOUR MOM

  96. 96
    Joshua Norton says:

    You’ve just described the system administrator’s wet dream.

    Left all the laptop’s cables and extremely-expensive-and almost-impossible-to-replace-because-it’s-an-older-model wall plug in a hotel room in South Dakota – firing squad.

  97. 97
    jj says:

    I’m an ex-IT guy for a large Uni, now typing this from a Federal gov’t computer.

    A few observations

    Most of the gov’t is in transition between Windows 2000 and XP. Vista isn’t necessarily the Devil incarnate, but it does pose compatibility issues, especially with all the legacy software in the government. Stuff that was designed to run on Windows 95 gives Vista the hiccups from what the IT guys tell me. The new Windows 7 is supposed to address most of the failings of Vista. This means the feds will get it sometime around 2017

    Web 2.0 is all over the place in the Federal gov’t, including the Whitehouse. Problem is, it has to coexist with an opaque borg of mainframe apps, windows apps, packet filers, firewalls and other eccentric ephemera that would make the average persons head ‘splode. Unix is around too, just not on the desktop in most cases. No need for it.

    Macs. Not gonna happen. Not because Macs don’t have their advantages, but because there are tons of 15-20 year old windows apps that people still need to use, that won’t work right on the mac, even in a virtual environment.

    And even steeply discounted macs can’t compete with PCs on price. PCs are basically commodities now. I don’t see Apple letting its products become commodities, even for Uncle Sam.

  98. 98
    TheFountainHead says:

    Apparently nearly all of BJ’s regulars have some IT steam to blow off.

  99. 99
    Tlazolteotl says:

    Just so you folks know, a lot of Federal agencies have not approved Vista for use on agency computers, and agency IT has not allowed users to install Vista. XP is still the standard in Federal IT, I think.

  100. 100

    @TheFountainHead:

    IT people on the Intertoobz? Oh noes! Who would have thought it possible? :-)

  101. 101
    The Moar You Know says:

    post 100

  102. 102
    Zifnab says:

    @The Moar You Know: You win this round.

  103. 103
    Zifnab says:

    @Tlazolteotl: Proving that not all federal bureaucratic regulations are stupid.

  104. 104
    Duros62 says:

    The key thing is just because an event occurred in the white house, it does not mean it is classified.

    Well, no, not any more.

  105. 105
    Duros62 says:

    I would think given a president like Obama who appreciates technology the WH would hire some competent IT that could do something at least similar. Should be better.

    I heard yesterday that Obama gets to keep his Blackberry with new and improved Presidential Encryption! Whatever that means.

  106. 106
    AnneLaurie says:

    The key thing is just because an event occured in the white house, it does not mean it is classified.

    That’s what Karl Rove said about the new spy cameras in the WH bathrooms, but they offered to break his thumbs anyway.

  107. 107

    @The Moar You Know

    Whining about how we blocked MySpace? HEADSHOT
    Whine about how hard it is to remember complex passwords? HEADSHOT
    Computer stopped working "for no reason"? HEADSHOT
    Lost your fucking access card for the sixth time this month? DOUBLE HEADSHOT, FUCK EYE SOCKETS, TAKE PIX, SEND TO YOUR MOM

    Don’t you just hate, hate, hate the fact that "Don’t make me come over there" and "I’ll give you something to cry about" aren’t valid resolutions for help desk tickets?

  108. 108
    mclaren says:

    With respect, this article is ignorantly foolish and dead wrong.

    Microsoft Office has not meaningfully improved its functionality since Office 97, so Office 2000 is perfectly fine. Windows XP and Vista are all much slower and far more resource-intensive than Windows 2000 Pro, and require enormously more powerful computers to do essentially the same thing. There is no reason to use anything more than Windows 2000 Pro unless you like your computer to run slower and gobble up more disk space and more memory.

    The idea that the latest greatest operating system and version of Office is somehow "better" than a previous version made good sense up until around 2001. After that, Microsoft software hit the wall and has degraded in functionality and speed and reliability ever since.

    If you really wanted to improve security and functionality of the White House computers, you’d advocate ripping out all the Microsoft shite and replacing it with Ubuntu linux…but that’s another story.

  109. 109
    Rudi says:

    Windows Vista with Internets security needs almost 1G of memory just to load, whats wrong with WinNT or Win98SE?

  110. 110

    What happened is a WaPo writer who is a tech idiot wrote a piece to play off the "Bush dumb" meme, and the WaPo editor was no better informed and no more interested in what’s true.

    Read the article, and what you find out is that (1) the Obama people like Macs, and Bush’s administration uses Windows; (2) that the White House has software that is six years old. Windows software.

    In other words, the whole story is "the White House is running Windows XP."

    And the REAL story is that the Washington Post is too technologically illiterate, and John Cole too credulous, to figure this out.

  111. 111

    Oh, and a hint, John: kf it makes "no sense whatsoever", it’s often because it’s actually wrong.

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