Microsoft-only Government

by on February 13, 2006 · 26 comments

This is inexcusable. After spending several billion dollars, the federal government apparently can’t manage to include Mac support in its website for online grant applications.

I rant a lot about open standards, but this is a perfect example of why they’re important. There’s nothing complex or challenging about building a website that works on both Macs and PCs. There’s a set of very clear standards that you can follow to ensure that your web site will work on all browsers. Sure, there are occasional incompatibilities, but there should be enough room in a budget that runs into the “tens of billions” to fix the occasional incompatibility.

There’s no excuse for requiring someone to acquire a particular operating system or web browser in order to participate in a government program. While we can debate whether the government should be required to use open standards for internal business, in cases like this where the government deals with the general public, they should be required to adopt open standards where ever they are available.

  • http://tieguy.org/blog/ Luis Villa

    Where does one draw the line, exactly? Should Open Office be required so that Linux users (of which I’m one) can access government services? Is Flash acceptable? I lean towards ‘all open, all the time’, but that is probably because I lean a lot more towards the big government side of things than the average TLF reader, and certainly not with any particular philosophical justification except outrage that my government can dictate my operating system.

  • http://tieguy.org/blog/ Luis Villa

    Where does one draw the line, exactly? Should Open Office be required so that Linux users (of which I’m one) can access government services? Is Flash acceptable? I lean towards ‘all open, all the time’, but that is probably because I lean a lot more towards the big government side of things than the average TLF reader, and certainly not with any particular philosophical justification except outrage that my government can dictate my operating system.

  • http://www.writingsonthewall.net Martin

    I can’t really see why they felt the need to provide a special purpose grant viewer/submitter, not with SSL well standardised and acrobat working free and across platforms. Better still rtf or html. It’s typical of big projects like grants.gov to do things the hard way when they don’t need to, and then fall short of their promises. As to “should open office be required” – no. Why? The first question should be “why can’t open standards do what we want.” Aaargh!

  • http://www.writingsonthewall.net Martin

    I can’t really see why they felt the need to provide a special purpose grant viewer/submitter, not with SSL well standardised and acrobat working free and across platforms. Better still rtf or html. It’s typical of big projects like grants.gov to do things the hard way when they don’t need to, and then fall short of their promises. As to “should open office be required” – no. Why? The first question should be “why can’t open standards do what we want.” Aaargh!

  • http://www.angryblog.org/ Tim

    Luis,

    I’m talking about formats, not applications. I’m perfectly fine with the government using proprietary applications as long as the formats they use are open.

    I don’t think the government should ever make Microsoft Word a required format for its interactions with the general public. It’s fine if they want to accept documents in Word format in addition to an open format, such as .pdf or .html.

    Flash is an interesting case. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s an open standard or not. Still, there are flash players available for all major platforms, and they work quite consistently, so Flash is certainly closer to an open standard than, say, ActiveX. Also, I’m having trouble imagining a case in which government business required the use of flash functionality.

  • http://www.angryblog.org/ Tim

    Luis,

    I’m talking about formats, not applications. I’m perfectly fine with the government using proprietary applications as long as the formats they use are open.

    I don’t think the government should ever make Microsoft Word a required format for its interactions with the general public. It’s fine if they want to accept documents in Word format in addition to an open format, such as .pdf or .html.

    Flash is an interesting case. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s an open standard or not. Still, there are flash players available for all major platforms, and they work quite consistently, so Flash is certainly closer to an open standard than, say, ActiveX. Also, I’m having trouble imagining a case in which government business required the use of flash functionality.

  • naiserie

    While I understand your point about formats, Tim, I’m not sure it’s the biggest deal in this case. Not only because there are 2 different work arounds in place, but also because PureEdge is shooting for a November 06 multiplatform support.

    As it happens, I work in a major research department, and have worked with scientists preparing applications using Mac’s with no problems at all, using both the Citrix method and VirtualPC. Sure it’s a teensy bit more work than using a PC, but nothing mind bogglingly prohibitive.

    Again, I agree with your sentiments about formats, but in this case, I don’t think they are, as you state “requiring someone to acquire a particular operating system or web browser in order to participate in a government program.” If there were no workarounds or efforts to accomodate Mac’s, then sure, it’s inexcusable.

    Also, how exactly does your bit about designing websites for PC’s and Mac’s fit into this?

  • naiserie

    While I understand your point about formats, Tim, I’m not sure it’s the biggest deal in this case. Not only because there are 2 different work arounds in place, but also because PureEdge is shooting for a November 06 multiplatform support.

    As it happens, I work in a major research department, and have worked with scientists preparing applications using Mac’s with no problems at all, using both the Citrix method and VirtualPC. Sure it’s a teensy bit more work than using a PC, but nothing mind bogglingly prohibitive.

    Again, I agree with your sentiments about formats, but in this case, I don’t think they are, as you state “requiring someone to acquire a particular operating system or web browser in order to participate in a government program.” If there were no workarounds or efforts to accomodate Mac’s, then sure, it’s inexcusable.

    Also, how exactly does your bit about designing websites for PC’s and Mac’s fit into this?

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    I should think it fits into this case because had they developed the site according to standards, this would not have happened…

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    I should think it fits into this case because had they developed the site according to standards, this would not have happened…

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    The “Citrix method” and Virtual PC both require purchasing a copy of Windows. That’s an implicit subsidy to Microsoft. Is it “the biggest deal?” No. But it’s still unfair to those of us who have chosen not to purchase Microsoft’s products.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    The “Citrix method” and Virtual PC both require purchasing a copy of Windows. That’s an implicit subsidy to Microsoft. Is it “the biggest deal?” No. But it’s still unfair to those of us who have chosen not to purchase Microsoft’s products.

  • naiserie

    Tim,
    The Citrix method does not require purchasing a copy of Windows. Why do you think it does? You are right about VirtualPC.

    MikeT,
    The article doesn’t go into the greatest depth about the exactly how the application process works, but the problems for Mac users have nothing to do with the website not being compatible for them.

  • naiserie

    Tim,
    The Citrix method does not require purchasing a copy of Windows. Why do you think it does? You are right about VirtualPC.

    MikeT,
    The article doesn’t go into the greatest depth about the exactly how the application process works, but the problems for Mac users have nothing to do with the website not being compatible for them.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    naiserie,

    I assumed that “grants.gov” meant that it was a web site that accepted grants. Is that not what’s going on? Did they really develop their own Windows application for this purpose? If so, that’s even stupider than I thought.

    As for the Citrix method, that involves logging in remotely to a Windows box, right? Which means you have to have a Windows box to log into…

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    naiserie,

    I assumed that “grants.gov” meant that it was a web site that accepted grants. Is that not what’s going on? Did they really develop their own Windows application for this purpose? If so, that’s even stupider than I thought.

    As for the Citrix method, that involves logging in remotely to a Windows box, right? Which means you have to have a Windows box to log into…

  • Tim

    Tim,

    Go look! http://www.grants.gov…it‘s free and open to all to examine the process. Hell, you could even try it out yourself, I’m sure you are eligible to apply for some grant or other. They use some software (PureEdge Viewer, developers of which were recently acquired by IBM *I think*) to download, complete, and submit the applications electronically.

    The Citrix method logs into their server directly, and is free.

  • Tim

    Tim,

    Go look! http://www.grants.gov…it‘s free and open to all to examine the process. Hell, you could even try it out yourself, I’m sure you are eligible to apply for some grant or other. They use some software (PureEdge Viewer, developers of which were recently acquired by IBM *I think*) to download, complete, and submit the applications electronically.

    The Citrix method logs into their server directly, and is free.

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    naiserie,

    I have not had a chance to check out the site from my Mac Mini, so I assumed that people were not able to do the grant management functions on a Mac or Linux box. I apologize, I guess I misinterpretted what you said. However, if they are relying on proprietary, non-standard software, it’s still a major problem.

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    naiserie,

    I have not had a chance to check out the site from my Mac Mini, so I assumed that people were not able to do the grant management functions on a Mac or Linux box. I apologize, I guess I misinterpretted what you said. However, if they are relying on proprietary, non-standard software, it’s still a major problem.

  • naiserie

    MikeT,

    Yes, the software can only be used on Macs using one of the work arounds I described above. Again, I don’t think it’s the best solution to require platform specific software, but they are working on supporting Macs, there are work arounds in place (which in my experience are fairly simple to use), so I don’t see what the fuss is about. In 9 months (or whenever Macs are supported) it will be a non-issue anyways.

  • naiserie

    MikeT,

    Yes, the software can only be used on Macs using one of the work arounds I described above. Again, I don’t think it’s the best solution to require platform specific software, but they are working on supporting Macs, there are work arounds in place (which in my experience are fairly simple to use), so I don’t see what the fuss is about. In 9 months (or whenever Macs are supported) it will be a non-issue anyways.

  • http://tieguy.org/blog/ Luis Villa

    It won’t be a non-issue for Linux users :)

  • http://tieguy.org/blog/ Luis Villa

    It won’t be a non-issue for Linux users :)

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