At two of Navy's air warfare divisions, Macs get boot in favor of PCs

At two of Navy's air warfare divisions, Macs get boot in favor of PCs

The Navy's Bonnie Bowes says that using both Macs and PCs resulted in high costs and problems with interoperability.

The number of Apple users shrinks as IRM officials respond to IT-21 and issue policies that switch most users to the service's OS of choice'Windows NT Workstation 4.0

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

The number of Apple Macintosh users at two Naval Air Warfare Center divisions has shrunk by several thousand in the past few years.

Users who primarily run business applications, such as employee databases and financial systems, had to move to PCs after the IRM Office responded to a service document that identified Microsoft Windows NT Workstation 4.0 as the Navy's preferred operating system.

'They can still buy Macs for certain environments' such as simulation and computer-aided design, said Bonnie Bowes, director of information management at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, Md. The number of Mac users there has decreased to 1,000 from 5,000 in the past few years, she said.

The number of Mac users at the NAVAIR Weapons Division in China Lake, Calif., has shrunk to 3,200 from about 5,000 in July 1998, when division officials issued a PC-only policy, said Jay Crawford, deputy chief information officer.

'The fleet made the [policy] decision for us' when Adm. Archie Clemins, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, released the Navy's Information Technology for the 21st Century plan, Crawford said.

Broken policy

After 25 Apple Computer Inc. machines were bought in the past year'22 of them without a required written waiver'Capt. R.M. Ormsbee, chief information officer and vice commanding officer of the division, suspended some IMPAC card users' privileges and checked procurement logs at contracting offices to make sure employees were not breaking the PC-only policy, Crawford said.

Ormsbee suspended the privileges 'until he has a chance to speak with [the users] to make sure they understand the policy,' Crawford said. 'Many times, contracting officers didn't care' about the PC-only standard, he said.

The policy does not apply to scientific and engineering users at China Lake who publish technical documents and work with graphics and videos, Crawford said. Those users usually get waivers from their project managers, he said.

Influenced by the IT-21 and IT Standards Guidance documents, Bowes and her colleagues decided to migrate to one primary operating system for the 15,000 users at Patuxent River. Multiple operating systems caused high lifecycle support costs and incompatibility problems.

Just as at China Lake, Mac users at Patuxent River who want to buy new systems must receive a waiver to buy Apple computers, Bowes said.

The fact that the NAVAIR Weapons Division works closely with fleets on mission planning and weapons systems played a role in Ormsbee's decision to standardize on PCs, Crawford said.

'We also decided we need to focus on our mission'building weapons for the warfighter,' he said. 'Information technology is not a core mission focus for us,' so it's not a good use of time to have personnel work on making Macs interoperate with Microsoft Exchange, he said.

Standards, not products

Clemins is retiring from the service next month, and the Navy's Chief Information Office may be rethinking policy.

'The CIO is moving toward standards instead of specifying certain products,' as IT-21 did by making NT 4.0 the standard Navy OS, said Joseph T. Broghamer, information assurance leader for the CIO Office.

'In the Defense Department, we need to reference the standards and allow people to build [products] to it,' said Broghamer, who uses an Apple G3 PowerBook with a 300-MHz processor and a 15-inch flat-panel Apple monitor. 'It's easy to say, 'Buy this product,' but the real work is to participate in standards committees.'

'As long as they have interoperable software, they can buy what they want,' Broghamer said, but 'it's better if the federal government fosters competition between vendors' rather than standardizing on certain products.

Bowes, who used a Mac for several years, said most Mac users 'love the way you can plug in Macs right out of the box' and other features of the computer, but they also understand the need to standardize on Windows when NAVAIR officials explain business trends and the difficulty of creating interfaces between Mac and Windows applications.

Behind the scenes, some Mac users have taken umbrage at the standardization policy. Ormsbee and leaders in the NAVAIR Weapons Division have received angry

e-mail from Mac users who resent being told that they have to switch to PCs, Crawford said.

Doing Windows

One devoted Mac user at NAVAIR is Dale L. Raney. After working for nearly 20 years as a contractor, this year she became a NAVAIR software engineer at Patuxent River. She uses a Power Macintosh G3 with a 233-MHz processor, 96M of RAM, a 3G hard drive and Mac OS 8.6.

Conceding that there 'used to be interoperability problems between Macs and PCs three to five years ago,' Raney said Mac users now can work well with Windows applications.

She said she believes NAVAIR officials have shown questionable reasoning in replacing Macs with PCs, including the arguments that NAVAIR is engaging in sole-source contracting when it buys Macs and that older Macs are not year 2000-ready. 'There haven't been any year 2000 problems with Macs, but they don't advertise that.'

Although some Macs may have been replaced because they were not 2000-ready, Bowes said, there is no conspiracy.

Moving NAVAIR's 40,000 users to Microsoft Outlook 97 with Exchange Server 5.5 running under NT Server 4.0, for example, has reduced the amount of time it takes to receive e-mail from other NAVAIR users , Bowes said.

It also has made it easier for employees to work remotely, she said.

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