Letters to the editor: April 18, 2005

Open Office. Electronic health records. IT staffing problems. Functional decomposition. Open source vs. Microsoft.

OpenOffice owns, baby!

The Feb. 7 article "L.A. investigates open source to cut costs" describes a situation in which city officials assume they have to convert to an open-source operating system to save money on Microsoft Office software. However, there is an open-source office productivity suite called OpenOffice 1.1.4 that runs on Windows and is available for free at www.openoffice.org.

This suite replaces Microsoft Office Professional Edition completely, and files have a greater than 90 percent conversion from Microsoft documents. OpenOffice has settings that allow word-processing documents to be saved as .doc and spreadsheets as .xls so Microsoft Office users can seamlessly read and update the files.

The only issue seems to be converting complex macros from Excel and Access. We found that we also needed to create the templates in Microsoft Word because they would not convert cleanly.

OpenOffice can alleviate the need to convert operating systems to Linux, which would create issues with other software packages or in-house custom applications written for Microsoft operating systems.

We started to use Open-Office software for substation PCs that are primarily used for reading documents and spreadsheets and not for using complex Excel and Access macros and pivot tables. With our low-volume purchasing of Microsoft Office products, this saves us about $400 per new PC. Los Angeles officials probably have a lower negotiated price because of their higher volume of purchases.

We can now use the savings to purchase more PCs to replace machines that are close to being museum pieces, thus saving computer technicians from traveling around the 8,073-square-mile county to fix older computers.

Dan Harmuth
Sheriff's Department
Kern County, Calif.

No single payer needed for e-records

Comments in the March 28 piece "Health records just a click away" that suggest implementation of electronic health records in the United States is more difficult and more complex because we do not have a single-payer system are absolute nonsense.

Storing and retrieving lab results is not a function of who pays for the test. Indeed, to the extent that the electronic health records are intended to facilitate billing, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requires that all third-party payers accept a common, standard electronic claim.

James Kretz
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Department of Health and Human Services

Feds created their own problems

Regarding your March 7 article "Finding IT candidates gets tougher," when your information technology position is up for bids under competitive sourcing to the lowest bidder every three to five years, it doesn't exactly make you feel warm and cozy about joining government service. You always have that cloud hanging over your head.

Candidates for federal IT positions are not stupid. I have seen IT candidates come to government, stay two to three years, then leave for the private sector. The federal government has created a revolving door situation for itself.

Mike Henderson
Senior IT Specialist
Department of Health and Human Services

Functional decomposition defines data better

I read with interest the April 8 FCW.com article "SI promotes UML for military" and would certainly agree that Unified Model Language (UML) may be one method for improving military systems requirements.

However, the article lacks any mention of how UML is better than other methods for collecting the data needed for operations, organizing it and making it available for future use.

The key to better systems engineering is not whether icons are used to denote an object. What is important is the ability of any military planner, using any toolset, to use and understand the underlying data in a common way for his or her mission requirements.

Developing templates for processes does not solve the problem, which functional decomposition, a programming technique, has not completely resolved. However, functional decomposition has done a better job during more than 30 years of defining data in ways that make that information useful.

John V. Tieso
Silver Bullet Solutions

And you think Microsoft is safe?!

The last sentence of your April 4 editorial, "Reviewing the case against open source," is truly ironic. Since when has Microsoft been safe?

In the two years I've been in my present job, I can't tell you how much money has been lost because of worms or viruses exploiting Microsoft vulnerabilities to bring down large parts of the corporate network or render e-mail unusable. It keeps our information technology managers up at night while we scramble to apply patches.

In the meantime, the Unix and Linux computers keep going and going and going. Quietly. Safely. They are on the front lines of our network, not relegated to nooks or crannies.

Microsoft has been successful in creating the feeling among IT management that to leave the breast would be suicidal. They have created a red herring. I fault government officials — and FCW's editorial staff — for a failure to recognize it.

Michael Schwager

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