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FAA May Ditch Vista For Linux 359

An anonymous reader writes "Another straw in the wind: following last week's news that the US Department of Transportation is putting a halt on upgrades to Windows Vista, Office 2007, and Internet Explorer 7, today comes word that the Federal Aviation Administration may ditch Vista and Office in favor of Google's new online business applications running on Linux-based hardware. (The FAA is part of the DOT.) The FAA's CIO David Bowen told InformationWeek he's taking a close look at the Premier Edition of Google Apps as he mulls replacements for the agency's Windows XP-based desktop computers. Bowen cited several reasons why he finds Google Apps attractive. 'From a security and management standpoint that would have some advantages,' he said."
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FAA May Ditch Vista For Linux

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  • by brennanw ( 5761 ) * on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @09:15AM (#18260922) Homepage Journal

    Maybe I'm thinking of a different Google apps, but how is running Google software more secure? Aren't google apps accessed from google servers? Doesn't that mean this government agency would be running applications from and storing data on servers they aren't maintaining?

    I'm not saying that google makes lousy software, I'm just saying that I would be nervous if I couldn't actually directly manage the servers that were responsible for creating and storing the information.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @09:20AM (#18260958) Journal

    this isnt going to happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month. training staff to use an entirly new system takes a lot of time and money. i will be supprised if we see this take effect before this time next year
    Well, I'm not a systems integrator in real life but I've taken classes. One of the big things to consider here is the potential for an intermediary stage. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Google's Apps are largely platform independent. What this means is that I can think of an instantly perfect intermediary stage--instruct the employees to use Google Apps while they still have XP and old Office applications on their machines. But, you know, give them a hard date by which everyone should be using Google Apps (oh, there's always problem workers but leave that to middle management). I assume the large thing these people rely on their computers for is simply these editing suites so once that barrier is broken, install Linux and give them quick 8 hour orientation classes in how to do the same things in Linux that you used to do in Windows (pretty minimal, I assume).

    Other option is just Vista & the new Office. Where at some point you just have to install the new Office (I don't think old & new can be installed at the same time) and make them use it. Now, while I'm sure Vista is more similar to XP than Linux and the Office applications are probably similar also, you know there's going to be bumps.

    That said, I don't think the transition to Google Apps on Linux would be any more painful than the transition to Vista running Office. I suppose time will tell though. Hopefully my assumptions are correct and this sparks interest on this huge cost savings?

    I guess if you really wanted to promote Linux, you would write tutorials on how to take advantage of this switch to Vista/Office and how to put your workers on Linux/Google Apps. When you make cheap and extremely convenient, they will come.
  • Re:training (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Iphtashu Fitz ( 263795 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @09:20AM (#18260966)
    I don't think training/timing is a big issue. Any time MS releases a major update like new versions of Vista & Office it requires a fair amount of retraining for non-technical people and even a lot of technical people. Since there's a retraining cost involved no matter what, then it's up to the company/organization to decide their best upgrade path, whether it's to the latest MS offerings or an entirely different platform.

    Personally I find the big news to be the fact that more and more corporations, governments, and entire countries, are using Vista/Office2007 as justification to seriously consider non-MS products. Granted it's still a very small percentage of MS customers that have done this so far, but if the groundswell continues and a number of these groups are successful, then it could just be the start of a trend away from MS dominance.
  • Re:training (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BlackPignouf ( 1017012 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @09:21AM (#18260974)
    -Either way, the'll have to learn a new system, and the learning curve for Vista+Office2007 is rather steep.

    -Google's online business applications look a lot more like previous MSOffice than Office 2007 does.

    -Just put them a decent user-friendly distro, 3 bigs icons on the desktop to link to Gmail, one to GoogleDocs & one to GoogleSpreadsheet. Done!

    =>You won't need more than 2 days to explain them everything they need to know to get started, and you'll save a *lot* of money by leaving the Vista way.
  • by SixFactor ( 1052912 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @09:28AM (#18261022) Journal
    Like some (maybe most) corporations, they probably have a hardware life cycle. It could be that, like where I used to work, the XP rollout was done on Celerons (well at least they were Socket 478). Instead of having to upgrade hardware to the semi-bleeding edge because of Vista, the FAA may be opting to go low-end, hence the seeming interest in a thin-client strategy. This is a smart move for them to look ahead; for budgeting purposes, and the possible downward effect the effort will have on Vista prices.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @09:30AM (#18261042)
    Aren't google apps accessed from google servers? Doesn't that mean this government agency would be running applications from and storing data on servers they aren't maintaining?

    Then there is the obvious issue of having documents stored in a repository that is by nature openly accessible on the internet. Users already do a massively lame job of creating/maintaining/securing passwords. Now that, admitidly sometimes weak, physical barrier is gone, I can see major issues. Of course that's an easy fix by forcing users to have strong passwords, but at least before you had to have a way of physically getting on to the network even if you were to use social engineering to get the passwords (BTW, that's gonna be even easier now, "ring, ring, yes, this is Chuck at Google Apps, I need your password to reset your documents, yeah, thanks", at least before when it was "Chuck in IT", there was a small chance of you saying "I don't know any Chuck in IT").

    Another thing (I should turn on the Andy Rooney tag), I don't know if I'd be all that excited about being a part of ANY FAA computer plan. Their track record absolutely sucks when it comes to IT and technology. But since it's anti-M$, I guess it doesn't matter.

    Oh, and I can't wait til ad's start popping up as users start entering data using the Google office apps. I can just see an accountant working in the spreadsheet and an ad for "Bankruptcy Liquidators" suddenly pop up.
  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @09:40AM (#18261110) Journal
    They should just tell Microsoft - give us Windows XP for 5-7 more years OR we go Linux.

    After all apparently Windows XP already works OK for them, and new computers capable of running Vista tolerably will run XP pretty well ;).

    It'll be crazy for the FAA or DoT to switch to Vista, there are only a handful of pluses for them (nope DirectX 10 support is not it), whereas there are so many minuses - trouble with drivers, trouble with compatibility, costs of retraining and support, lower performance (so far most of the benchmarks indicate that Vista is slower even for office apps) etc.

    Then after 5-7 years, maybe Linux/Wine will have a decent Windows XP compatibility layer and the FAA and others can continue running their apps on a free OS of their choice (or a commercial Microsoft Windows compatible competitor ).
  • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @09:43AM (#18261136)
    He didn't say that Google was more secure. He only said that there would be advantages when it comes to security and management. The FAA like the DOT are two agencies that usually operate in the public eye. Unlike the DOD, they really don't have much to hide. So if an FAA document was compromised by hackers, there wouldn't be much damage as it would have been public anyway. I'm thinking that's what he meant.
  • by gkhan1 ( 886823 ) <> on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @10:21AM (#18261474)

    Of course it's legal. Why wouldn't it be legal? The government can use contract private enterprises to do anything they need, whether it be data storage or building a house. Also, ever heard of the Freedom of Information Act? 99% of the stuff stored on those servers will be open to the public anyway (I suppose air-port security stuff and on-going investigations and the like would be the exceptions), so there is not like there is a pressing need to hide it.

    I would also like to point out that it is not necessarily true that this will be stored on googles servers. It might very well be that the databases are maintained in-house and the google apps access those. Or it might very well be that google simply sells their apps to the FAA so nothing is run on google servers.

    As for google/microsoft lock-in, the only thing that I guess would make google better is that it's cheaper and it is automatically backed-up to central servers, without any hassle. Also Microsoft == Evil and Google == Good. Where have you been the last half-decade? ;)

  • by vertinox ( 846076 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @10:27AM (#18261532)
    At least with Microsoft Products i can still sell my services, support, licensing, hardware and services. Google? I can sell a short contract to replace myself.

    I can see where you are coming from because for the past 10 years I have made my livelihood because of the massive spread of Microsoft products... Rather the massive failure of Microsoft Products.

    However, I have always been aware that if either Microsoft fixed their products, made them easier to use out of the box, or a competitor did it for them and gained market dominance then I would be out of a job.

    So in truth I have made a living for the past 10 years because a large company has broken products, but I have always been looking for alternative work or something more or less social. (*coughs* Music *coughs*)

    So my suggestion to all of those who are MSCEs or anyone support Microsoft Boxes/Networks/Applications...

    Diversify now!

    Learn a new programming language... Get into robotics... Learn a foreign language... Start using OS X or Linux...

    Because as the Anti-Virus companies have realized, times change and your bread and butter may just go away one morning.

    Who is to say that Microsoft won't just copy Google's application method anyways?
  • by SCHecklerX ( 229973 ) <> on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @10:30AM (#18261554) Homepage
    Definitely. If Google started selling application appliances. Wow. Not only do you get the ease of central management, but if Google does it like they do everything else, it'd be easily scalable. I'd imagine the answer to "We need more processing power / Disk space" would be to add another appliance or so, and make a single config change. This is really exciting stuff, if it evolves to that point.
  • by BigBuckHunter ( 722855 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @10:37AM (#18261640)
    One of the big things to consider here is the potential for an intermediary stage. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Google's Apps are largely platform independent.

    As are OpenOffice, MSOffice, and the majority of Windows applications (thanx to wine). If they have a particular desktop application that does not work under linux or wine, all they have to do is ask on wine-devel and it would be fixed like flies on stank because of how high-profile the situation is.

  • Re:training (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cadallin ( 863437 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @11:08AM (#18261956)
    Exactly, it isn't just the costs of upgrading to Vista, its the cost of upgrading to Vista + Deployment + Retraining. I would also suspect that the FAA probably pays for some kind of actual support contract. They will still want to pay somebody like Redhat for a support contract (and probably Google as well), and they will still incur Deployment and Retraining Costs no matter what. The question really starts to become, who do they believe provides a product with the best productivity/TCO ratio.

    Everybody's been through the Microsoft cycle multiple times now. Microsoft promises the world during development, but by the time a product actually ships, its years late, hugely over budget, and still has only 10% of the features originally promised (Remember Microsoft's database file system? The one that would revolutionize searches and data management and do away with folders? They've been promising that one since 1994 at least. It was supposed to be part of Windows 95!) And Microsoft's products End up having severe support issues during their lifetime (Business Crippling Worms anyone?) It heartens me that Organizations are really starting to think about going with other options.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @11:12AM (#18262026)
    ...full of Linux geeks who are well-versed in Open Source, and have been chomping at the bit to kick Windows out of their agency for several years now. Upper management has been the stumbling block, not the IT staff, and not really the end-users but they will be needing some training. And now that the budget is in a big pinch, upper management is warming to the idea of stretching the service lifespan of existing hardware, free software, and spending some money to help train end users.
  • by mpsmps ( 178373 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @11:23AM (#18262158)

    Sound familiar? It seems like the tried-and-true tactic of publicly looking into Linux so Microsoft will rush in and offer support and discounts. Hopefully, they are seriously considering Linux regardless.

    And this is bad because...? This is why monopolies are bad and competitive markets are good. I'd say this is the expected benefit of having two credible choices available: prices, however you measure them, go down. Whichever is chosen, Linux has already helped ensure that the FAA will pay a market-set rate for their software. There's nothing wrong with making vendors compete on cost.
  • by misleb ( 129952 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @12:14PM (#18262810)
    Still, how do you do basic stuff like mail merges w/ Google apps? How about non-trivial print control? I mean, last I checked, HTML is not a very good markup language when it comes to print layout. I bet printing labels will be a pain. I think users are going to really miss some of the power of desktop office suites. Even if it is only a few people in the office every once in a while. That can be enough to drive the adoption of something. That is pretty muych the reason people use MS Office int eh first place. There's always that one group of people who use some relatively advanced features of Office and suddenly everyone is running it because otherwise exchanging documents is a pain... more of a pain than buying a site license is.

    But whatever, I'll believe it when I see it. The Linux part is doable, I think. But with OpenOffice. Google apps are an unnecessary handicap as far as functionality.

  • Re:Already there (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @12:27PM (#18262986)
    And why do you have to call in to flightwatch at all? Because a ground worker is allowed to have a full color display wheras to put the same information in the cockpit would step on the AIR group's "2020 cockpit" turf if you use more than 2 of the allowed colors in AC 25.11. Don't applaud anything the FAA does regarding linux until the FAA becomes less about policy development turf and more about actual innovation and safety.
  • by speculatrix ( 678524 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @01:45PM (#18264194)
    when I install windows, I always redo the entire start menu. I also change XP theme to Windows2000, turn off the eye candy, turn off the annoying "remove unused icons", turn off the hiding unused menu entries, fix the quickstart bar... takes me half an hour tops. If vista is so damn configurable, it surely is possible to make it look sufficiently like Win2k or WinXP so no training required, and this would be a custom install so that trivial to rollout systems.

    My first step would be to migrate existing users to OpenOffice, and thus break the MS Office cycle. Most users should need no more than half an hour to get up to speed. New users and/or upgraded computers would become linux desktops if possible. Also, at the very least, a lot of older file servers could be replaced with Linux, which could be quite a big saving.

    Having gone down this route at former employer, the biggest problem in converting staff were the senior managers who love their Outlook/Exchange/calendaring, and the techies loved converting to linux as it meant they could avoid being put on Outlook and micromanaged using calendars!
  • by 511pf ( 685691 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @02:12PM (#18264656)
    Putting your productivity apps on someone else's server is actually a great idea. You have no software licensing cost ($300-$400 per copy of Office 2007). There are little to no rollout or upgrade costs with a hosted app (someone actually has to INSTALL Office on all of the machines). You don't have to worry about patches, upgrades, backups or security and a hosted application is going to be down a lot less than the collective crashes of Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint across all of your machines. The problem with Google Apps is functionality and offline use. It's just not as functional, even for basic use, as a full-fledged office suite. It also can't be used by a laptop owner on an airplane. I'm sure Google will address these issues over the next few years. At some point, hosted apps will become a better solution than applications that are locally installed.

e-credibility: the non-guaranteeable likelihood that the electronic data you're seeing is genuine rather than somebody's made-up crap. - Karl Lehenbauer