Should you consider buying Apple computers for the office even if you plan to continue running a Microsoft Windows environment?
The Orange County Sheriff's Department in California has deployed more than 150 iMacs in a hybrid approach and so far been satisfied with the results. We caught up with Assistant Sheriff Michael James to find out how well the two operating systems coexist.
"We wanted to see how they integrated into our Windows environment," James said in an e-mail message to Government Computer News. He was the department’s chief information officer during the deployment. "We had been doing some small projects with Apple and decided to give it a try. We isolated [the iMacs] to our computer services area, so if there were issues, we could address them right away."
The iMacs are for general office use and training duties. A few are used for multimedia tasks such as video editing and creating podcasts. The sheriff's department, which is one of the largest in the country, uses podcasts for officer training.
One big advantage of the Apple computers is that fact that they are space-efficient. "In our computer training room, we put 35 [because] they were excellent in that environment, and there was nothing on the ground so it made for a nice clean install and look," James said.
He also reported that the integration went smoothly. "It was very easy, and Apple was very helpful in the process. We ran into a few bumps along the way but were able to work through them pretty quickly," James said. "My security folks were a little concerned, but to date, we have not had any issues."
Posted on Feb 17, 2009 at 7:05 PM0 comments
Like other organizations, government agencies are quickly learning the benefit of Web 2.0-style data sharing, in which they can set up news feeds to convey information to their constituents.
But merely setting up a data feed is not enough. The city of Washington D.C., has been on the cutting edge of Web services-style data portability for some time now. It has more than 240 data feeds available to the public on everything from crime incidents to building permits.
But having an Extensible Markup Language-encoded list of some form of public information isn't enough. The agency needed Web applications that would harness this information and make it useful to the public.
But who can keep up with the myriad new ways that people get their information from these days? Yesterday it may have just been through the Web. Now it's through Facebook, iPhone, Google Maps, Twitter and many other conduits.
In most cases, what an agency would do is hire an integrator to build some application that takes advantage of this information. But this traditional procurement process can be expensive, time-consuming and lead to so-so results. So, last fall, D.C. tested a new tack: It relied on the power of crowd sourcing. In other words, it held a contest.
The city, under the auspices of the Office of Chief Technical Officer Vivek Kundra, contracted social media consultancy firm iStrategy to carry out the proceedings. The rules were simple. First, entrants had to build a Web application or other digital feed that would use one or more of D.C.'s feeds. The second qualification was the application had to be open source.
The contest would award multiple prizes, ranging in value from $100 to $2,000 each, for a total in $20,000, to the apps that were most innovative at delivering government information to the populace. Different categories were set up for individuals and for organizations.
It was a new strategy, but it was one that worked pretty well, said Peter Corbett, the head of iStrategy. The contest was set up and held within a month. iStrategy spread word of the contest through the developer communities using newsgroups and assorted Web 2.0 social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook. The winners were announced last November.
Apps for Democracy received a total of 47 entries. The city estimated that, if it were to commission these apps individually by contractor, it would cost more than $2.6 million between the contract awards and procurement process. (The city paid iStrategy $50,000 to run the contest, according to Corbett).
Corbett said he was surprised by the sophistication of the entries. "The first app submitted was for an iPhone app," he said.
The first-prize winner for the organization category went to a site called D.C. Historic Tours, developed by Adam Boalt of Boalt Interactive.
"If you hired a digital agency to build this [under a government contract], it would cost $50,000 to $100,000 and take a couple months to get built," Corbett said.
Other winning apps include a Web map that, when D.C. given an address, can return demographic data, crime reports and other information for that neighborhood. Also winning an award was a carpool matchmaker and a series of mobile phone apps that, using the phones GPS tracking, can point you to the nearest bank, post office, gas station or other resource.
This site uses Google Maps as a basis for allowing users to build their own map-based walking-tour itinerary of D.C. It pulls information from Wikipedia, the Flickr photo-sharing service and from a list of historic buildings.
The city seems to be pleased with the results of the contest. Corbett is talking with D.C. about the possibility of running a second iteration this year. He is confident that this model could work for other city, state and public-facing federal agencies.
"This is one of the promises of government 2.0: the combination of open data and citizen talent," he said.
The nice thing about mashups such as these is that they are fairly simple to build, at least or those with the know-how. About 60 percent of the submissions were from individual developers, Corbett said. For Web development firms, the contest provides a nice platform to show off their design skills, and perhaps a new source of revenue if the site can be monetized. Individual developers also might be interested in such contests because winning could help with their "stret cred" in the development community. Plus, who wouldn't feel good about helping the get valuable government information to the people?
"Apps for Democracy was a textbook example of a government entity putting ’2.0’ stuff to work in ways that would benefit the taxpayer," wrote Chris Warner, director of marketing at enterprise mashup software developer JackBe, one of the contest winners. Warner saw the contest "as part of a broad trend towards 'Government 2.0,' where service to the citizen is made better through dynamic, adaptive '2.0' technologies."
Posted on Feb 04, 2009 at 7:05 PM1 comments
We recently reported that if President Obama was going to use a smart phone in the White House, it would likely have to be something other than a BlackBerry that met National Security Agency specifications. That most likely meant a SME PED – a Secure Mobile Environment Portable Electronic Device that capable of accessing classified networks.
However, an encryption expert familiar with the security design of BlackBerry smart phones, and the enterprise administration systems that support them, tells GCN that a BlackBerry has all the encryption and security provisions a president would need.
Research in Motion (RIM), which makes the BlackBerry, uses Advanced Encryption Standard 256, the strongest encryption method available, and one that is approved for secret levels of communication by the NSA. Each message sent to a BlackBerry is broken into packets, each with a different encryption key code. Even if someone were to intercept a message, the key codes are so large, it would be virtually impossible to decipher them; and the contents in the packets are a meaningless scramble of data until all the packets are reassembled.
Moreover, there are more than 500 policies that an administrator can control regarding how messages are to be delivered, from or to whom, and what Internet applications can be processed. Administrators can even arrange to delete all the data at rest on a BlackBerry if it hasn’t connected to the network within a set number of hours.
BlackBerry can also support additional layers of encryption, including proprietary protocols such as HAIPE, or high assurance Internet protocol encryptor that NSA requires to access the government’s classified Secure IP Router Network (SIPRnet).
HAIPE is like having a lightweight virtual private network client on your smart phone. It loads the same encryption key on all HAIPE devices that will participate in a multicast session in advance of data transmission, creating a secure gateway that allows parties to exchange data over an untrusted or lower-classification network.
The SME PEDs now available by General Dynamics C4S, and soon to be available from L-3 Communications, have the HAIPE protocol built in, along with the ability to switch easily between classified and unclassified government networks, among other features.
“The built in security of the BlackBerry is equal to the SME PED, but the difference is the type of cipher,” said this encryption expert.
HAIPE devices also have their limitations. For one, HAIPE is a big drain on battery power, as SME PED users are quickly discovering. Users report they routinely have to recharge their devices after only two or three hours.
In many ways, BlackBerry smart phones, among others, offer more security to mobile uses than most laptops.
With a BlackBerry, for example, if the operating software detects a set of instructions that don’t conform to the policies set up for a specific device, the software can immediately instruct the device to cancel the user’s privileges or stop it from working altogether.
White House press officials and spokesmen for RIM, General Dynamics and L-3 all refuse to comment on what kind of smart phone President Obama is carrying now, or who is on the commander in chief’s white list.
But if President Obama was intent on using a BlackBerry, there’s nothing about its security features that would prevent him from using one.
Posted on Jan 31, 2009 at 7:05 PM4 comments