Island Life by David Slack

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Island Life: Don't need no steenkin' lockup

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  • Rich of Observationz,

    A Weekend Herald survey..

    In the real world, over a 1 million people (out of that 2 million) are now signed up to Kiwisaver. 66% of those opted in when changing jobs choose to stay in, so one could see this figure climbing to 1.4mln, were it not for NACTs sabotage of the scheme.

    I think basically, everything you read in the NZ Herald / Dom Post can be regarded as at best tangential to the truth unless independently confirmed.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • FletcherB,

    Can I just point out, that part of that "sabotage" included making it so I could afford to join?

    I dont like all their changes, and I'm hardly a Nat supporter, but the drop from 4% minimum to 2% means I could actually join.

    I'd be interested to see if there's any stats yet on uptake since that change...

    West Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 893 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    Hi Rich.

    This from the Herald 28 July:

    Yep, that's the sort of thing. Although in my far from perfect recall, there were a few more bits around the same time - editorials, columnists fulminating, etc. Although it was possibly only Garth George grumping on about how round here in his day it were all fields.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    I have OpenOffice at home. It's by no means equivalent to MS Office - maybe 75%, with no features that MS don't provide that I've been able to find. As soon as I can find some sort of semi-hookey MS license, I'm going back to MS.

    Open Office runs on Windows too, as well you know and I would be surprised if your 75% figure is anywhere near accurate. Open Office will save documents in formats that can be read by Microsoft Office or any other Office application. In terms of saving the country money I don't think "some sort of semi-hookey MS license" is an option I would like to see our Govt. adopt.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    I have OpenOffice at home. It's by no means equivalent to MS Office - maybe 75%, with no features that MS don't provide that I've been able to find. As soon as I can find some sort of semi-hookey MS license, I'm going back to MS.

    I reckon if you started giving your average government admin person a Ubuntu/OpenOffice desktop, then you'd be in for a good 2 weeks retraining time at a cost of several grand. That doesn't seem a very good deal to me.

    There are several issues at hand there:

    1. are there features of Microsoft products that are essential?
    2. are the one-time costs of transitioning too high to justify the savings in license fees?
    3. are we just talking about "your average government admin"? And are there employees who don't need a full desktop environment?

    On the first point, most people only use a subset of MS Office's capabilities, so OO may be enough. Many people only need to use applications that can be served through a browser, in which case Linux + Firefox is enough. Custom applications (which are the ones that often cost the most) can be built as well on a free stack (Linux + Postgres + whatever) as on a Microsoft stack. There may well be cases where some particular thing makes migration costly or difficult -- some crucial VBA macro or a SQL Server based data warehouse -- but there will be others where that is not so.

    On the second point, again there are many scenarios where no particular transition costs apply: browser-based intranet apps or users who only need email + browser + simple word processing. You also have to bear in mind that in the enterprise world typically license fees are either annual, or the software is obsoleted semi-annually requiring new fees to be paid. So there will probably be plenty of cases where the payback period for retraining is quite small.

    On the third point, much government work is not "knowledge work" per se but more data entry or process orientated. A more restricted computing environment is safer, cheaper, easier to administer and eminently feasible to build (and clone and rebuild and update) on a free software stack.

    In any event, it would do no harm for government agencies to explicitly cost and evaluate free and open software solutions, rather than assuming that there is no alternative to Microsoft (or Oracle, or BEA, or whatever). Sometimes there will be.

    Disclosure: I work for Catalyst IT, which specialises in FOSS solutions. But I thought this long before I started there.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    You've just bought TVNZ for an excellent price. Now to business. What do you chuck overboard?

    I, for one, welcome our new corporate overlords.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    What do you chuck overboard?

    anyone whose initials are P.H. and whose first name is Paul gets a free one-way ticket to Bagram Air Base.

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I think government agencies do cost and analyse FOSS solutions. Most of the ones I deal with do (and in purely commercial terms, it makes sense for IT consultants to recommend open source, as it costs more in implementation rather than license costs).

    I'm not suggesting for a moment that the government goes for a student license or whatever - that's just what consumers do..

    Now, if the FOSS world would stop telling decision makers they were mentally ill and start making the Linux/Open Office (or indeed Windows/Open Office) stack such that a person walking in the door wouldn't know they weren't using Microsoft, they might get some traction.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Can't speak to the first part of that criticism ;), but as to the second, I don't think that's necessary, as long as there are other benefits. Back in the day when Microsoft didn't have monopoly power behind it, people didn't go to Microsoft products because they were indistinguishable; they went because they met their needs better. No doubt people were saying "1-2-3 will never catch on, it needs to be so wouldn't know you weren't using Visicalc."

    And there are other needs than "must be exactly like Microsoft."

    For that matter, even Microsoft isn't indistinguishable from Microsoft, in the sense that changes between OS versions and Office versions can be quite marked. If you're faced with an XP to Windows 7 transition, the usability gap between XP and Ubuntu Jaunty hardly seems any bigger.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    For that matter, even Microsoft isn't indistinguishable from Microsoft, in the sense that changes between OS versions and Office versions can be quite marked.

    Office 2007, for example. That bloody ribbon drives me up the wall, on the few occasions when I'm forced to use it. Doesn't help that I'm mostly using computer lab machines around uni that won't allow me to retain customisations, but I shouldn't have to customise it to feel like I know where shit is. I can sit down with OOo or any older version of Office and feel perfectly comfortable.

    Rich, as Stephen has pointed out most people use only a subset of the functionality of Office. It can mail-merge, it can save directly to PDF (can't do that in any older version of Office!), and it can do styles. How much more functionality do you actually think gets used by your average governmental desk jockey?

    As "thin" applications become the norm, provided they're not being implemented using ActiveX they should be totally cross-platform. If it's designed well, it'll work in any capable browser on any OS. A great example is RaboBank's online banking interface, which is identical in Firefox, IE, and Safari, across Windows, Mac OS, Linux and FreeBSD. That's how web systems should be. Once they are, the user doesn't have to give a damn what the OS is or what the browser is. Google Apps works just fine in FF on FreeBSD and Linux, so again there's no compelling reason for someone who's just a desk jockey to need a full application stack running on Windows. Obviously anyone dealing with sensitive or classified information is a different story, but there are many, many jobs in the public service that deal with nothing more sensitive than the office telephone list.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Quite why we persist in sending so much bloody money into the coffers of a foreign company when there are cheaper, viable alternatives is rather beyond me.

    Because the people making the decisions, usually suit wearing middle managers, are too lazy to use their brains. Or simply don't actually have functioning brains. Or are keen to stamp their mark on an organisation by changing previous decisions.

    And seriously why not shift most of the desktops over to Macs. Any half decent network can hang PCs and Macs and 7 different flavours of linux off it.

    Oh and yeah, of course support people for a open systems cost more - but it's also considerably smarter people providing that service and smart companies like to have smart people around. Government department management generally don't like smart people that much because they can be embarrassing. Couldn't possibly have someone point out that management were wrong that would be bad for morale and disrupt the chain of authority.

    Bitter, moi?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    Bart, if we're trying to save costs by going away Windows and Office, why would we then switch from the Microsoft Tax to the Jobs Tax by getting Macs? PC hardware will run Linux just fine, and it's a hell of a lot cheaper than a Mac. The hardware quality is not higher than that of a PC of equivalent spec, for the functionality required by the average government desk jockey. And having been briefly afflicted with one of those nasty 20" iMacs with the shit displays, I wouldn't do that to any hapless civil servant. Buy Macs for designers, by all means, but don't pretend that paying $2500 (assuming a very hefty discount for government purchases, from the $3800 retail) for a desktop with a 24" screen is at all economic for all users.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    Oh, and while I agree that support people for open systems cost more they're also historically far more cost-effective for the systems:admin ratio. You need many more MS admins than OSS admins for the same number of servers.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Stephen

    On the third point, much government work is not "knowledge work" per se but more data entry or process orientated. A more restricted computing environment is safer, cheaper, easier to administer and eminently feasible to build (and clone and rebuild and update) on a free software stack.

    ?!?!

    As an employee of a govt owned institute I can testify that the above logic is in fact used and repeated numerous times to justify our IT decisions. Of course that means that the research institute I work in still does not have a software package that can draw proper graphs, "if you can't do it with an excel pie chart it can't be worth doing". We also have internet access that is slower than my home connection, even when the neighbours are downloading their weekly pron.

    In short - bollocks. There are numerous govt dept that use the internet and computing to its fullest.

    Accepted there are people in our own institute who barely use word and probably could should have a hamstrung OS like MS will provide.

    really bitter today - should go have coffee now

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Bart - I said "much government work", not "all government work." I only wanted to provide a counter to Rich's picture of government work as administration, not to increase your legitimate bitterness about the resources available to you.

    Personally I think research is the last area where you would want to impose a standardised set-up -- researchers often need to build their own tools, never mind use recherche applications from elsewhere. Forcing your scientists to use Windows and Office for everything because it's cheaper is like giving your ballerinas standard issue steelcap boots.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Because the people making the decisions, usually suit wearing middle managers, are too lazy to use their brains. Or simply don't actually have functioning brains. Or are keen to stamp their mark on an organisation by changing previous decisions.

    That's a terrible generalisation. My workplace is one of the largest purchasers of IT and software in the country, and our software purchasing decisions come from departments and their IT support staff. I wouldn't switch all my academics over to an open source alternative because it would be my biggest nightmare from hell. It's difficult enough to train a Professor to use Word let alone do it, and then teach them to do it all again in a different software package.

    We get incredibly cheap pricing on microsoft products, the financial benefits of us switching to OSS would be negative.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Sorry Stephen - I overreacted

    like giving your ballerinas standard issue steelcap boots.

    Oh that's great Stephen I will steal that and pretend it's mine.

    Sorry about the reaction, it is just an area of frustration about the way we view workplaces in general, - standardisation is good, all staff have the same needs, all work has the same safety requirements, all computers users do the same thing, average bandwidth is enough etc etc

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Kyle

    because it would be my biggest nightmare from hell.

    Sorry for the generalisation. I know there are some very good folks out there trying. But the above comment is one problem I hit, the aim surely is to make the professor more efficient even if it costs you time. It's his effort that earns the money that pays your salary, so any time you can make him more productive, even if it cost you time, is worth investigating. It may not balance out but because it costs you effort is not the reason to not try it. If it costs your professor efficiency to switch then keep her on MS by all means.

    But the real problem I have is not that IT won't impose OO or similar on everyone to save money but that they prevent anyone using such systems. I don't mind MS what I mind is not being able to use anything else.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    anyone who thinks that S&P is a credible source of creditworthiness information is "batshit crazy".

    Fran O'Sullivan?

    Credit rating agency Standard & Poor's is exactly the right sort of bogeyman to scare Kiwis into accepting a tough - but realistic - Budget.

    As an antidote can I highly recommend that Rod Oram story that Mark put us onto.
    Cutting government investment in services to reduce private sector debt seems like nothing more than magical thinking.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder,

    My experience as tech support at A University in the '90s was that there were several professors who fought tooth and nail to prevent their IT being upgraded, 'cos they'd spent huge amounts of time writing WordPerfect macros and didn't want to lose the work.

    OTOH, my experience around various parts of the civil service left me thinking that a lot of "standard" users barely scratch the surface of their PCs. For example, I'm pretty sure that Word 98 met the word-crunching needs of 99% of users in most places I've worked. Ditto the comments made about thin client applications; if you're working through a browser anyway, why should it particularly matter which OS you're looking at it in?

    Agree about the change to Word 2007 - my mum got it on her home PC and asked me for support. Why go breaking a reasonably well established UI? Mainly, I suspect, because if it didn't look 'sleeker' it wouldn't sell any new copies.

    Most applications will have that sort of 3-year churn built in, and the average lifespan of a custom in-house application would be about, what, 6 years? Even if you stick with MS, you're going to have to budget for systems replacement/retraining periodically, why not do it in the way that avoids a licensing fee on top?

    Hell, if nothing else, making a serious investigation of F/OSS alternatives to MS is a good way to convince MS to knock a few bob off the license fees. ;)

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Cutting government investment in services to reduce private sector debt seems like nothing more than magical thinking.

    Are we cutting government services to donate the money to the private sector now?

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I don't mind MS what I mind is not being able to use anything else.

    Oh well, take that up with your middle management by all means. We're basically free to put whatever we want on our computers, despite there being some costs when things get fubared.

    As one academic found out when they torrented down some very large pdfs for research and left the torrent application running over the weekend. $800 bill later...

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Are we cutting government services to donate the money to the private sector now?

    Actually, you're right. I hadn't thought of it like that.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    @Sacha

    Fran O'Sullivan?

    This week's repeated admonitions by S&P that it would expect the New Zealand Government to start posting Budget operating surpluses over the next three to five years translates to: "Get your affairs in order, Government - or we'll whack you with a ratings downgrade."

    "batshit crazy"

    LOL

    It is a role S&P is increasingly playing worldwide, as Governments - some of them still triple AAA-rated, like Britain - take advantage of the practical utility of having an outsider tell the public the unpalatable fact that their country is living beyond its means. This reduces the potential for political backlash that would otherwise occur if the same message was delivered deadpan by a politician with no chorus line in sight.

    ooh, the good old "shock doctrine", eh Fran?
    because S&P are so, well, credible, just like the IMF.

    speaking of "credible", how about John Whitehead, Esq., Secretary, New Zealand Treasury?

    CREDIBILITY 'R' US

    Sacha, you're right, people should read the O'Sullivan piece and then read the Oram piece.

    One reads like a silly gossip column while the other provides a compelling analysis and argument based on evidence. i wonder which one is which?

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

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