Editor's Desk | Seller beware

It's been a year-and-a-half since the work of the Air Force and others resulted in a common set of software configurations for the government's Microsoft Windows-based desktop computers.

Since then, the Federal Desktop Core Configuration standards have been both a lightning rod and a catalyst in government information technology.

The original rationale for establishing a common configuration for Microsoft's ubiquitous operating system, Web browser and office software was rooted in a fundamental issue facing the Air Force ' and any organization buying tens or hundreds of thousands of personal computers each year.

The issue was how to reduce the cost of reconfiguring the software settings of each of those machines to meet its network operating and security standards. The Air Force Information Technology Commodity Council estimated it cost more than $100 for each computer ' or $10 million annually ' to retrofit software settings on every new Windowsbased machine.

Inherent in that question is a deeper refrain: Why should computer buyers incur so much of the cost for what many regard as a failing of the software industry to make its products more secure in the first place?

The logic of developing and then requiring PC suppliers to install a standardized software template was inescapable.

However, delivering a finished template proved to be a Herculean task.

The ITCC project consumed thousands of hours of consultations and testing with the help of Microsoft, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Security Agency, the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Homeland Security Department.

That effort revealed the difficulty of coming up with a single, common configuration. Indeed, many agency IT administrators bristled last year when the Office of Management and Budget paid the FDCC the ultimate compliment by mandating its eventual adoption this year.

Nevertheless, more than 500,000 Air Force computers are now benefiting from an FDCC version of Window XP. And a new wave of FDCC-ready Windows Vista/IE7 machines began shipping in July.

More important, the FDCC model is proving to be a potent force for developing similar configuration standards for other products, including servers, printers and cell phones.

Many in and out of government might someday look back on the leadership of the Air Force ITCC, and its director, Ken Heitkamp, with a sense of gratitude. In the meantime, computer and software makers would be wise to take heed.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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