POWER USER

DOD should volunteer to comply with Section 508

John McCormick

Section 508, the accessibility regulation that agencies must comply with by June 21, exempts military command and control, weaponry, intelligence and cryptologic equipment, as well as back-office equipment used for maintenance and repair.

Has no one remembered that there are disabled crypto and back-office workers?

The Pentagon ought to make every effort to comply with 508 despite the exemptions. Few job environments are likelier to produce serious disability than combat. The military would seem to have a vested interest in making computer equipment as easy to use as possible, if only to let wounded soldiers carry on or to get the most out of new recruits.

I criticized some badly designed agency Web sites in my last column. Now here's praise for a good one. NOAA.gov is visually striking, but the design doesn't interfere with accessibility.

There's an interesting photo labeled 'NOAA Collage Graphic,' but no vital information is lost for visually impaired visitors. The design mimics the graphical look of frames without frame display problems. Use of blue on a gray background along the right side does impair legibility compared with the rest of the page, however, which is blue or black on white.

Here's a reminder for agency webmasters about access speed. Virtually every government agency has high-speed Internet access, but don't forget that the public still mostly accesses the Web over dial-up connections. Even cable modem users now have to share the pipe with so many others that dial-up is faster in some places. So minimize download time wherever you can.

By now most managers know how vital software maintenance has become. I'm not talking about annual upgrades to bloated office suites, which mostly add unwanted features with new bugs. That's not the same thing as service releases to fix specific flaws.

Some service releases introduce more problems than they solve. But when important pieces of code have security exposures, you ought to patch them. Patches that target one or two flaws cause less trouble than megabyte-sized service releases to correct dozens of obscure problems.

So how does a smart manager decide which ones to download? Doesn't Patch X fix a certain flaw already addressed by Service Release 2? If you already applied SR2, do you need X?

Microsoft Corp. has come up with a way around this dilemma. An intelligent search feature now accompanies the company's hot-fix list at www.microsoft.com/technet/security/current.asp.

Specify product version and service releases to see at a glance exactly what you need to download.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at poweruser@mail.usa.com.

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