Houston offering software to all
- By Matt Caterinicchia
- Jun 21, 2002
The Houston City Council approved a plan this month to provide free desktop
software to all city employees and residents.
Through the SimHouston project, Internet Access Technologies Inc. (IAT)
will provide the city its SimDesk and SimMedia software in an attempt to
bridge the digital divide between those who have computer access and those
who do not. IAT signed a five-year, $9.5 million contract with Houston to
provide the service.
The program began as a pilot late last August and expanded to all Houston
libraries within a month after the pilot's launch. Now, Houston city employees
and residents — potentially 3 million users — will be able to download
and use the company's software for free. Users' documents will be compressed,
stored and encrypted on a secure server and can be accessed via the Internet.
SimDesk software includes word processing, spreadsheets, calendar and
contact management, e-mail, file management, backup utilities and remote
printing applications. SimMedia includes applications for presentation graphics,
instant messaging and video teleconferencing.
These applications run over the Internet and enable a single, secure
server to support millions of simultaneous users. Servers that could handle
only 100 users before now have the ability to take on thousands, said Ray
Davis, president and founder of IAT. "We have created a server that is available
for the masses," he said.
Wendy Haig, the chief executive officer of Global Strategy Corp., a
consulting company for IAT, said that the SimHouston project is critical
to solving the digital divide. Because the software is free of charge to
all residents of Houston, a simple Internet-enabled device is all that is
needed to access information from the SimHouston server. "If one has access
to the Internet, whether it's a PC or even a cell phone, information can
be retrieved from anywhere at anytime," she said.
The SimHouston project will make it easier to save and share information
on a secure server, and will also allow citizens to be prepared for times
of emergency, said SimHouston project manager Michael Chernoff.
"A great example of how the system works would be if your home PC were
to crash and all the information on your hard drive were to be erased without
any backup," he said. If you were continuously saving information on the
server, you could go next door to a neighbor's house and retrieve all that
lost information in a matter of minutes, he added.
According to Chernoff, Houston is saving about $7 million by implementing
the SimHouston project. Since the software can be run on almost any platform,
the city does not have to constantly upgrade its PCs, he said. Other savings
come from reduced maintenance, software licensing and training fees, Chernoff
The SimHouston project "is a stepping stone for a national server that
will eventually connect the entire country," said Rob Enderle, a research
fellow for GIGA Information Group.
There is a lot of interest in this project from a significant number
of cities across the nation, Haig said. Another major city, which she declined
to name publicly, is nearing contract finalization, she added.