Feds can't work by the book
- By Bill Murray
- Sep 29, 1997
Leigh Zarbough was unwittingly hindered in her work at the Census Bureau by a software
licensing trend that limits access to instruction manuals.
Zarbough, a statistical assistant in the bureau's Population Division in Suitland, Md.,
changed from MS-DOS 6.22 to Microsoft Windows 95 when the agency bought 166-MHz Gateway
2000 Inc. PCs late last year.
With the operating system transition came an upgrade from an older, character-based
version of Borland International Inc.'s Quattro Pro spreadsheet to Corel Corp.'s Quattro
Pro 6.0 for Windows.
Zarbough produces scores of spreadsheets for her workgroup, so learning Quattro Pro 6
was a high priority for her. But she had to teach herself to use the Windows menus and
other features, because the division's 40 Quattro Pro users were sharing just one
The Population Division had bought a server license for up to 15 users at a time, said
Bob Nunziata, a computer specialist at Census.
After two months of struggling with Windows and Quattro Pro, Zarbough took a
contractor's two-day training class and returned to the office with a training manual that
she said is better than Corel's.
Problems such as Zarbough's are not unusual in federal agencies, said Grady Tucker, a
manufacturer's representative in Gaith-ersburg, Md., who specializes in selling software
to the government.
Tucker said contracting officers usually get site licenses when they buy for 100 or
more users, but they also should buy paper manuals.
"If they don't do that, most users will not like the software because they can't
understand it without manuals or training," he said.
Tucker also advocated buying several CD-ROM copies of the software in addition to the
server copy, because users can reinstall the program easier when computers or servers are
upgraded. Many CD-ROM versions have extra clip art, software and documentation.
Selling software licenses instead of shrink-wrapped packages has gained wide support
among contracting officers and vendors, Tucker said.
"It's a logistical headache to store pallets of software," he said. Borland's
old dBase III Plus box weighed 8 pounds and was worth $500 per box, presenting not only a
storage problem but a security risk, he said.
Agencies pay less for software when they license it, and they can get immediate
delivery. Besides the master copy, they get only a document certifying they have a
The license "can arrive by fax, and they store it in a drawer," Tucker said.
The vendor saves money because there are no shipping costs and fewer disks, manuals, boxes
and registration cards.
But one big difficulty with site licensing is that many vendors print their technical
support phone numbers only in manuals. Befuddled site-license users may search for numbers
in the online help files in vain.
Tucker recommended that system administrators send users the technical support contacts
via e-mail, including voice and fax numbers and e-mail addresses, whenever possible.
He said some companies, such as Micrografx Inc. of Dallas publish Hypertext Markup
Language versions of their software manuals on their World Wide Web sites.
Site licenses work well if managed properly, Tucker said. But sometimes site-licensed
software is not available to all the users. Then the administrator needs to monitor who
has access to it.
"When organizations put licenses onto a server for easy downloading, that can lead
to abuse, because everyone in the organization thinks the site license is unlimited,"
Network metering products can help ensure that agencies do not violate their usage
agreements with vendors, he said.