Hanging With The Politicos: A Case Study in Platform Differences

by Tom Bridge

I've spent the past week blogging about life at political conferences as I watched the Conservative Political Action Conference here in Washington DC. What I was amazed by, however, wasn't any of the politics, or any of the crazy things that came out of speakers' mouths. I was amazed by how the platform wars haven't played out in the political realm anywhere near the way they've played out in the tech realm.

Was I surprised to see ugly, clunky laptop after ugly, clunky laptop? Well, yes, actually. With all the inroads that Apple has made over the past few years, I'd expected to see at least a few of the laptop-toting politicos to whip out an iBook or a PowerBook, but it didn't happen all week. There were just two of us Mac folks there, both of us writers by trade and not politicians, or involved in Political Life.

Most of the places that I hang out in DC, at least lately, have been 50/50, coffee shops, bookstores, hotel lobbies, airport concourses, there's a good chance there's going to be at least as many Macs as PCs, but why hasn't that become true on The Hill? You'd think that resource-spare politicians would want to save their money on IT expenditures by purchasing computers with fewer security holes, lower virus exposure and better uptime, but apparently, the desire to conform is too strong amongst the politicians...


2006-02-11 20:35:25
Man, I don't envy you having to listen to political rhetoric for a week. And conservative political rhetoric at that! Stick a fork in my eye please!

This is just more evidence that politicians are out of touch and behind the times. It's not like they can't afford new laptops. I hardly see any "clunky" laptops anymore, be they Macs or PCs. Even the PC-toters I see around here (Durham, NC) are at least sporting sleek Thinkpads or similar.

Steven Reaume
2006-02-11 23:34:38
Al Gore being on the board of Apple more than likely has a lot to do with the lack of macs.
Aristotle Pagaltzis
2006-02-12 01:07:44
Two things:

• MSFT do a lot of lobbying. AAPL, by all that’s known, don’t. I could easily imagine that is part of it.

• But the biggest reason is probably office software. MS Office sells MS Windows, these days. Granted, there’s Office for OS X, but I never heard of a business buying licenses for that in bulk.

2006-02-12 01:32:18
I'd guess this is because they have to buy PCs that are compatible with the services offered by The Hill???
2006-02-12 03:34:59
I think you would find the same ratios true across most large organisations, and governments are large organisations. The issue of tech support tends to drive them to standardise - only need to keep the team trained on one platform. This was one way that MS drove rivals out of many organisations - cutting staff costs is too compelling an argument for many managers.

Then it becomes self-reinforcing - 'Macs won't work with our software auditing tool', 'we can't guarantee the security of Macs connected to the network so we can't let them', etc.

I don't think it's any coincidence that Macs have found their niche in freelance professions - where people are free to make their own purchasing decisions on what suits them, without a centralised purchasing and support department.

2006-02-12 06:56:09
"Al Gore being on the board of Apple more than likely has a lot to do with the lack of macs."

Thats one of the dumbest things I've heard in awhile...

2006-02-12 08:13:22
As a federal government geek, I have first hand experience in adding Mac's to our media production network. There is a fight at every step; from purchasing hardware and software thru network integration. Most of the arguments come the IT fiefdoms who are NOT worried about supporting Macs -- rather they realize they won't HAVE too. It scares the be-jesus out of them that a user might actually download and install a flash plugin or MP3 file, without compromising the network AND get some work done without the need for a MS SysAdmin to totally lock down the system.

After nearly six months of fighting my IT department, writing justifications and waivers I'll be adding four new G5s and a Powerbook to a federal governement network next week. Given the abuse I've absorbed, I'm not sure I would do it again.

Do you really think your 'average' politician wants to wage war with his IT department, just so he can use a Mac? My experience with both the process and to a lesser degree politicans, indicates that it's not frigging likely...

2006-02-12 11:14:49
Actually, we run Mac based networks that are pretty locked down. Our users use network based Home Directories - so all their work is backed up and they can work at any workstation.

Being a Macintosh SysAdmin is good work, if you can find it.

Rock on!

2006-02-12 20:35:10
It's not office software that keeps most government personell locked in. It's custom software developed for specific purposes that isn't available on the mass market. It's the same thing in the medical trade. I have a friend who administers a VA clinic. She has to use windows at home and at the office. The software that they use to keep track of patient records is Windows only. The software they use to keep track of resource usage (and ordering through the arcane bureaucratic labrinth of the national VA system) is all windows only. All the email is handled by MS Access servers (scary when you consider how much information about patients is passed around via email) and all the groupware is Outlook-based.

With any large organization, change is slow. With something as large as the US government, change is effectively non-existant. Expect them to be using Windows XP long into the next decade (even if Vista does get released this year).