Few products seem to draw out more passion and partisanship than that exhibited by smart phone owners—and especially among iPhone aficionados. So it wasn’t surprising to see readers jamming up the comments box on GCN.com after our review of the new Droid smart phone by Motorola being offered by Verizon.
The GCN Lab team praised the Droid, calling the new phone, which features the Android 2.0 operating system from Google, a potential game-changer in the government market. The reason: It broadens the market for mobile application developers. Apple subjects iPhone developers to proprietary rules and potential veto. Droid has no such limitations.
As often happens in response to product reviews, the comments quickly devolved into questions of favoritism and Apple-bashing.
“Droid does it better....than what?” asks one reader. “The reviewer seems to have based his review on his personal opinion of Apple's iPhone app approval process, which has spawned over 10x the apps for the Droid.”
“Thanks for the same old lack of useful information-- just like the Mac vs. PC adverts we see on TV,” wrote another reader. “If I wanted ideology, I'd read Politico. How about some real information for a change instead of the usual trash from 'true believers' on either side?
“This review is laughable,” wrote another reader. “Yes there is a review process for the iPhone and that is why the apps work. Open source is great except for the fact that anyone can write code for it and it won't matter if it conflicts with other programs running. I have personally used the Droid and believe me, it is no iPhone, not even close. This reviewer obviously has it in for Apple. Yeah, they are horrible (sarcasm). It is really crummy to have your computer and accessories work like they are supposed to.”
“How did a review on the Droid end up as Apple bashing?” wondered another reader. “Oh and that feature you rave about 'so that anyone can make applications for it without fear of any type of censorship from any parent company' just means you'll get a ton of free hacks and viruses. Enjoy your Droid!"
On the other side of the argument were reactions from first-hand Droid owners who found their own things to like and dislike with the Droid.
“I moved to Droid the first day Verizon made it available, and it's far superior than any phone I've used, including the iPhone, “ said one reader.
“I have the Droid and had the Apple, Palm, and other PDAs,” wrote another reader. “The Droid is much better for what I do with it. It is not the Apple and that is good. My MS word, PPT and spreadsheets work very well as does the PDF application… I’ll keep the Droid!”
But said another reader: “I returned my Droid because it doesn't work well with MS Exchange. The calendar doesn't sync up and both Motorola and Verizon acknowledged the problem and told me they didn't know if or when this problem will be fixed.” (We’re checking on that.)
Fortunately, somewhere in the middle, were some practical responses from that added more light than heat to the discussion. Among them, from someone who appreciates the nature of government mobile communications:
“The Android is an open source mobile OS that enables multi-apps processing on a mobile device, meaning more the one application can run simultaneously. Think of what that means to government users in terms of their respective missions. What distinguishes Android from other Linux platforms is its Dalvik virtual machine. It provides a layer for programmers so they do not have to worry about the underlying hardware on which Android is deployed. This enables government developers to port applications across different hardware, making it platform independent. Isn't that what the government has been asking for-- application reuse? When it comes to the tactical edge, Droid has a replaceable battery. Imagine not being able to replace your battery during an operation or crisis situation.
Posted on Dec 18, 2009 at 7:05 PM11 comments
Children aren’t the only ones interested in Santa’s whereabouts this holiday season. Our coverage
of the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s Santa tracker
, which tracks and secures Santa Claus during his epic Christmas Eve journey, brought out the Scrooge in one reader but warmed the hearts of others.
More on this topic:
NORAD enhances Santa tracking capabilities
Official Norad Santa tracker
Norad Santa tracker on Facebook
The first comment we received about the story questioned the propriety of using tax dollars for the Santa tracker, and believed an ulterior motive was behind the exercise:
Is this really an appropriate use of our tax dollars, to now involve OnStar, mobile devices, etc.? Are we aiding and abetting our kids even further into the electronic age?
A resounding “Bah humbug!” was the response by other readers, who see NORAD’s Santa tracker as a public service. A “Taxpayer” from Racine, Wis., commented that:
I would have to say this is an appropriate use of tax dollars (if any tax dollars are actually used). Private companies and 12,000 volunteers are helping to preserve the innocence of hundreds of thousands of kids. Heck, I bet there are older kids, young adults and "grown ups" (what ever that means) who also will check on Santa’s status.
Another “Taxpayer” from Gulfport, Miss., wrote that:
[Santa tracker] is a wonderful program, reminding us all to lighten up for the holidays. I don't mind that my tax dollars may be helping to support it.
A pair of readers noted that the Santa tracker also has practical applications as a training exercise and stress reliever for the servicemen and women who are part of NORAD.
I have had the pleasure of serving at NORAD/NORTHCOM headquarters, and many of the staff—both military and civilian—volunteer their time to answer phones calls [about Santa tracker]. Even though I have a bit of 'humbug' [in me] it's pretty cool—especially because the rest of NORAD/NORTHCOM’s mission is intense and critical to homeland security.
“M” in Reston, Va., reports an additional value of the Santa tracker this year:
I hear [NORAD is] on guard to determine whether it's really Santa, or if it's the White House party crashers trying to slip across the sky undetected on that night of nights. (Also watch out for balloon boy!)
Posted on Dec 07, 2009 at 7:05 PM6 comments
Documents in the Portable Document Format are about as common on the Web as celebrity photos, but does the format help or hinder the dissemination of information? Readers were of two minds in responding to our report on the Sunlight Foundation’s criticisms of PDF. Several stressed the need for better-educated users. Others contended that data shouldn't always be easy to get at.
Sunlight Labs Director Clay Johnson argued that PDF works against government transparency because the format makes it difficult for computers to parse information. An architect for Adobe – although PDF is an open standard, Adobe has built a substantial business around PDF – responded that it is fairly easy to incorporate Extensible Markup Language into a PDF, although most people don’t know how to do it.
“So the real problem is not the feature set of the Adobe products, but how government officials use them,” wrote a reader named Mike. “Any shift in applications will result even less transparency for a while until users become familiar with the new applications. I know our organization specially prohibits the use of advanced Adobe features and scans in the documents. This is because our document control gatekeepers are stuck in the 1970s. Even more to the point for transparency is access to the documents to begin with. Look at the health care debate: Every discussion on the current bill is confronted by advocates on both sides with ‘but there is no final bill yet.’ Transparency and access extend beyond the feature set of Adobe products.”
“I agree with Mike,” wrote Buddy of Somewhere in the USA, who suggested that to “most users who use Acrobat, PDF means let's scan this in ‘image’ format and make it a PDF when they need to learn how to use the software! Where I work at there was never any training on Adobe, let alone work for a place where software features are not disabled by administrative personnel under the guise of security. As for a worker who has to get items out, it’s just as fast to make a SCAN PDF and go from there.... Job done.”
“What's important is how you create/manipulate the documents,” added Kelvyn in Philadelphia. “I work in a municipal agency with a hybrid paper/electronic record system, and, for the moment at least, PDF remains the best bridge between those worlds. I can scan a document, add fields that push info into our database and publish a fully-searchable PDF on our Web site. The problem is that many PDFs on government sites are simple scanned images of text, and not easily searchable. I spend a lot of time trying to educate my staff on the need to print directly to PDF from other apps in order to preserve full-text searching.”
At least one reader, signed Anonymous, offered some practical advice: “All you have to do to get a working copy of the PDF doc is to right-click on it, and hit, ‘Select all.’ Then do a ‘Ctrl-C’ to copy it to either a Word or WP doc. Then hit ‘Ctrl-V’ to paste it on the page. Once it's in WP or Word, you can work with it.”
A reader named Ed, however, said that doesn’t always work. “I tried to comment on an environmental impact statement that the Maryland State Highway Administration put out in PDF and it was a nightmare,” he writes. “They locked the document so you could not cut and paste into another document. So the practice of putting their statement into another document and then questioning or refuting the statement was almost impossible. And this is exactly what they wanted because they did not want dissent.”
But is making it difficult to extract data from a document always a bad thing? Stanley Baranowski wrote that transparency might not be the real, or even the only, issue. “It seems to me one issue is ‘data extraction’ and the difficulty of ‘others’ extracting certain information but not necessarily all of the data, only what ‘they’ want you to see, not the entire document -- that ‘taken out of context’ thing. I think that the difficulty of extracting pieces of the entire document actually reinforces the idea of transparency. Someone cannot cut and paste just what thy want to show you, but there's the entire document -- no manipulation -- read it all and decide for yourselves.”
“My initial reaction is against this idea [of easily parsed data],” wrote Charles, of Hollywood, Fla. “Our goal is making the information available to the largest number of *people* and PDF is an excellent way to do that. I say ‘our’ because I work for the city in which I live and one part of my job is making the information available. The tone of the article seems, to me at least, to be that I need to spend more time making the information we provide in such as way as to allow *them* to just cut and paste into whatever they are doing with said information. I use the 'old lady' test (my apologies to the old ladies) -- can the oldest and most technologically inept citizen in my city find, and then read, the information? If the answer is yes, then I have done a good job. If you want to do something else with that information, then you are probably tech-savvy enough to figure out how to get the information out of my PDF files.”
“I believe transparency must also include the ability to ensure accuracy of presentation,” added another reader. “Too many individuals I work with do not verify what they read but take it as fact [that] it is accurate. If someone can extract my data and manipulate it and then reproduce it as mine, that is worse than it being easy to parse. One of the biggest reasons I use PDF is because it is protected from the average users’ exploits.”
Posted on Nov 05, 2009 at 7:05 PM2 comments