NASA IG heeds call of angry Mac users

NASA's inspector general has called a halt to Johnson Space Center's replacement of
Apple Macintoshes pending a review of the center's PC-Windows-only standard for desktop
computers.


The review, expected to be completed any day, was spurred by complaints to NASA
administrator Daniel S. Goldin and inspector general Roberta L. Gross. Many complaints
came from disgruntled Mac users in Houston who don't want to give up their computers for
PCs that run Microsoft Windows.


One NASA official called it an emotional issue, but complaints have challenged the
cost-effectiveness and even the legality of the standard, according to a June 17 memo from
NASA chief information officer Ronald S. West.


"The agency has received numerous complaints, both from the private sector and
from NASA employees, concerning the imposition of allegedly inappropriate standards for
non-Unix desktop computing," West wrote. "These allegations, if true, raise
questions about our compliance with federal laws and regulations governing the acquisition
and management of information technology."


West reminded NASA administrators that the agency had decided against a single desktop
standard in favor of a multiple operating system environment. Centers may implement
standards to meet their own needs, "so long as they are cost-effective and
efficient," West wrote.


JSC's deputy CIO, Carroll Dawson, said the review has not delayed buys or deployment of
PCs at the space center.


"We buy PCs in block buys, and we were in the process of finishing up a buy that
had been completed several months ago," Dawson said. "The next block buy isn't
scheduled until this fall, so this fell in between."


Dawson said each batch consists of 800 to 900 computers.


JSC's IRM Council adopted the PC/Microsoft Windows-based desktop standard in June 1995.
Since then, unhappy employees in the engineering divisions who rely heavily on Macs have
waged a PR campaign to save their 3,200 Macintosh machines [GCN, April 1, Page
3]. They complained that Macs, some less than a year old, were being swapped for Pentiums
and that no cost-benefit study had been done to support the move.


JSC CIO John R. Garman said that Macs already on desks were not in danger and that
despite the policy, Macs would continue to be used where they were needed. But he said
that a simple preference for Macs would not be enough to save the machines when it came
time to upgrade.


Garman said the decision was based on economic necessity and only formalized what
already was a de facto standard in a facility where 70 percent of users rely on PCs
running Windows.


Dawson said that although a lot of information had been supplied to the IG's office, he
did not know the scope of the review. "I don't know that anyone in this office
has" talked to them, he said.


According to NASA sources, the IG's office began looking into the controversy in late
May and is gathering information on-site in Houston. The purpose of the review is to
separate the facts from impassioned rhetoric, the sources said.


In his memo, West outlined standards for establishing computing architectures specific
to an individual center.


"NASA policy is to define requirements in performance-based terms and allow the
marketplace to suggest the solutions," he wrote. "Analyses used in supporting
the evaluation of alternatives must take into consideration the full range of lifecycle
support costs, comply with agency standards, and consider end users' requirements and
applications." "This type of comprehensive cost-benefit study has not been done
by JSC's IRM Council, Mac users have complained.



About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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