He gives Army PCs a seal of approval

The Army’s Ron Jarmuth says
he enjoys his product testing job. He works at a support center that helps users decide
what IT to buy.


“We never buy before we try,” is the mantra Ronald E. Jarmuth lives by.


The chief of the Technology and Security Branch at the Army headquarters’
Information Management and Support Center, Jarmuth and his colleagues test hardware and
software for an organization that has a two-year PC lifecycle replacement plan.


“Basically, we’re looking at whatever industry shows us,” he said. That
includes kiosks, network hardware, videoconferencing and remote communications software,
video cards and hard drives.


Jarmuth said the center plays a central role in helping users learn about systems.
“The average person in government is not technically adept. Many of them are doing
contract administration. Agencies don’t have the time and money to send them to many
conferences” where they could learn more, he said.


Besides evaluating products for 9,000 Army users, IMCEN runs a help desk, supports
e-mail, provides training and acts as an Internet service provider.


“I love what I’m doing. I’m not here for the money,” Jarmuth said
in his office, surrounded by computers and software cartons. If Jarmuth wanted to leave
the Army, he said, “I could double my money by making a few phone calls. But
it’s fun to come to work.”


The center helps users figure out what to buy. Last year, for example, working from a
list IMCEN created of approved vendors, the Army bought 2,000 Dell Computer Corp. portable
PCs and 4,000 Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. Equium desktop PCs for headquarters
users, he said.


“We’re heavy users,” he said. And the growing bulkiness of software has
led organizations such as IMCEN to recommend ever-newer PCs for users, Jarmuth said.


Jarmuth predicts that Windows NT Workstation 5.0 will take 1G of hard drive space and
Microsoft Office 2000, or whatever name Microsoft Corp.’s next suite has, will take
at least 850M.


“It’s difficult to swap in and out of applications in Windows 98 and NT 4.0
without 64M of RAM,” he said. Even so, Jarmuth said, he likes Win98. “It’s
more robust than 95. The code is tighter and faster. It’s more immune to
crashes,” he said.


When Jarmuth reviews products, he considers the technology and factors in a
manufacturer’s market penetration. For example, he said, there are probably better
removable drives than Iomega Corp.’s Zip drive, but he favors the Roy, Utah,
company’s drives over competing products.


Zip is really the lingua franca, he said. “There are Zip readers everywhere.”


Another example is Microsoft Exchange, which Army headquarters staff members use for
messaging. Exchange is “not necessarily the best product. But it has documentation,
integration into the desktop and industry support,” he said. The service has
previously used Lotus cc:Mail, Microsoft Mail and Novell GroupWise.


But, Jarmuth said, he and his colleagues are not afraid to stand apart from the crowd
when it makes sense.


After the Defense Information Systems Agency negotiated site licenses with Network
Associates Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., and Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, Calif., for
anti-virus software, Army headquarters continued to pay for an antivirus application from
Dr. Solomon’s Software Inc. of Burlington, Mass. The Army could have gotten antivirus
software through the DISA site licenses at no charge, but it preferred the Dr.
Solomon’s apps, Jarmuth said.


Now, Jarmuth said, he is rethinking that decision since Network Associates bought Dr.
Solomon’s. “Service immediately went down the tubes,” he said.


In some cases, Jarmuth said the IMCEN team has a tough time discerning the best product
among close competitors. Consider PC chips, he said.


It’s difficult to gauge whether the K6 from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of
Sunnyvale, Calif., is better than Intel Corp.’s 400-MHz Pentium II, he said. He said
he does not like Intel’s Celeron processors because they lack Level 2 cache. Jarmuth
suspects that chip makers soon will create CPUs for special applications, such as
computer-aided design.


With an eye to the future, he said he would put his money on DVD-ROM technology. He
said he figures that DVD-ROM drives will wipe out CD-ROM drives by January because of the
dropping prices and the higher storage capacity of DVD media.  

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