Navy site and DOE lab retreat from Mac support

Users at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Naval Air Warfare Weapons
Division in China Lake, Calif., are waging the latest federal PC-vs.-Macintosh battle.


At both sites, users can buy Apple Macintoshes only if they justify their requirements
and win management approval.


Employees of the NAVAIR Weapons Division in China Lake must obtain permission from the
vice commander level to buy any machine other than a Pentium, said Steve Boster, a
division spokesman.


To minimize variation among end-user systems, Lawrence Berkeley guarantees that
lab-developed software will run under Microsoft Windows for the next three years, said
Stewart Loken, director of information and computing sciences at the Berkeley, Calif.,
Energy Department lab.


Scientists can continue to buy Macs, and they can use their browsers to access
calendar, financial reporting and mail applications through Web sources, Loken said.


“Every programmatic entity makes its own decisions about the operating system and
computing platform,” he said. “Scientists in individual program divisions
don’t have to abide by the decision.”


China Lake’s Boster said the Weapons Division “will have as many non-Pentium
systems as we need to support our mission.” One group has received clearance to buy
Macs as long as the contractor it works with continues to use them, he said.


Lawrence Berkeley has about 2,000 Macs, 2,000 PCs and 1,000 Unix workstations. Sun
Microsystems Inc. is the dominant vendor of RISC systems, Loken said. The laboratory has
standardized on Micron Electronics Inc. PCs through a basic ordering agreement with the
Nampa, Idaho, company, he said.


The Navy’s China Lake compound has several thousand Macs and more than 1,000 PCs,
Boster said.


“We’re working in a phased approach to become compatible with” the
Navy’s Information Technology for the 21st Century initiative, which calls for
standardizing on Microsoft Windows 95 and Windows NT Workstation 4.0, he said.


Capt. R.B. Ormsbee, vice commander at China Lake, signed a policy statement in July
implementing the IT-21 standard, following the March release of a NAVAIR architecture
guide, Boster said. There also are many Mac users at China Lake’s sister base in
Point Mugu, Calif., he said.


One Lawrence Berkeley user criticized the laboratory’s application support policy.
“Nobody knows about the [Mac] decision,” said an earth sciences technician.
“The only time we find out about it is when we do the purchasing.”


“That’s probably a valid criticism,” Loken acknowledged. “We do
have Web sites that people are directed to [that give information] on supported standards.
The decision is well understood by people who are affected by it in the support parts of
the lab.”


The earth sciences technician said he recently wanted to buy a Macintosh G3 for his
office and was told scientists could buy Mac or Unix systems if they could justify the
buys and obtain approval from a department head and an IT official.


But the technician said the Lawrence Berkeley information services staff could not
guarantee that the lab’s software would work on the Mac he planned to buy.


“Am I wasting the government’s money if they can’t guarantee that I can
e-mail and exchange files?” said the technician. “They grilled me and told me I
wouldn’t be able to run a PeopleSoft program” on an Apple computer.


Lawrence Berkeley uses an Oracle Corp. purchasing application and the PeopleSoft HRMS
human resources application from PeopleSoft Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.


“It’s absolutely true” that PeopleSoft HRMS won’t run on a Mac,
Loken said. “Someone in [human resources] would need PeopleSoft running on a PC for
hires and fires.” But scientists with Macs could view job postings via their Web
browsers, he said, and the lab also maintains a legacy accounts-payable system that can
run on Macs.


Some Mac users take the path of least resistance and switch to PCs, said Duane Straub,
a consultant in the Systems and Network Department at Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., which like Lawrence Berkeley is run by the University of
California for DOE.


Straub said Mac users are sometimes offered fully loaded PCs worth as much as $5,000 if
they will switch. “Many people just roll over and say OK,” particularly if they
lack job security, he said. Lawrence Livermore has about 13,500 Macs and 6,000 PCs, Straub
said.


China Lake’s Boster said some Mac users are upset about the IT-21 policy.
“Some people are reluctant to change,” he said, adding that many users cite
their investment of time and familiarity with Macs.


Lawrence Berkeley still has many Macintosh LC3, Mac Classic and SC models, so their
users will have to decide whether to buy newer Apple systems or convert to PCs, Loken
said.


An inventory a year ago showed that 10 percent of the computer inventory was more than
10 years old, and Loken estimated that up to 30 percent was older than five years.
“We don’t have an aggressive policy of retiring PCs. They might be sitting in a
closet or under a desk” and still get counted, he said.


Straub said Mac users can run PC applications if they install products such as the
OrangePC coprocessor board from Orange Micro Inc. of Anaheim, Calif., or VirtualPC from
Connectix Corp. of San Mateo, Calif. Soon Mac users will likely be able to load Java
applications more quickly, too, he said. 

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