Letter to the Editor

Perceiving bias toward proprietary solutions

As an up-and-coming information technology worker in the federal workplace, I cannot help but notice the fact that whenever it comes to reviews of computer software and other issues pertaining to computers, there is an obvious bias to commercial, closed source, proprietary solutions.

Since I, as a taxpayer, in part pay for the computer solutions the government uses, I feel as if it is the duty of publications like yours to feature software solutions that will not only do an effective job for government users, but also save taxpayers money.

One case in point is the obvious absence of AT&T Laboratories' Virtual Network Computing (VNC) system in your article "Reach out and help someone" [Federal Computer Week, April 9, 2001].

I personally use this free GNU-licensed software in a cross-platform environment consisting of Apple Computer Inc. Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X, Microsoft Corp. Windows and Linux and BSD [a Unix operating system] with no problems whatsoever. Not only has VNC proven to be a very stable and flexible solution, it is also free!

It seems, however, that your publication is more eager to propagate paid software in the government workplace over similar solutions that are free. Is it just a case of ignorance by your staff? Or is it that they don't research any products other than those that are sent to them by vendors that are eager to sell to the federal government?

I had the opportunity to speak with a consultant at the agency where I work, and he told me that they had recommended a Windows/Intel solution for a project that the agency was working on. This major project is being written by scratch by this consultant and other consultants that are working on the project.

After hearing about the numerous problems that were experienced as a result of various Windows memory leaks and other Windows "features," I questioned him about why they decided on a Wintel solution. He said that it came down to cost. The agency could not afford a Unix solution for the project. I then asked why they didn't recommend a Solaris-on-Intel solution, since my agency uses lots of Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris for back-office operations. The contractor said that he wasn't aware that such a system existed. I can assure you that the vast majority of problems that they were — and still are — having would not have occurred if they were using a different operating system.

Until we see less bias shown by journals like yours, we will continue to see billions of dollars going into software and hardware solutions that are neither feasible nor workable.

Dallas Blair
Department of Housing and Urban Development

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