US government department bans Microsoft upgrades for now

The U.S. Department of Transportation has quietly put the kibosh on Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Internet Explorer 7 (IE7), banning upgrades to those Microsoft Corp. products – at least for now.

Donna Seymour, CIO of the DOT’s Maritime Administration (MARAD), said a July move of the agency’s Washington headquarters is to blame for the reluctance to deploy Microsoft’s new software.

“It has less to do with technical concerns about Microsoft and more to do with the fact that with our July move, our plates are totally full and we can’t take another thing on right now,” she said in an interview Monday after a speech at the Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders conference in Palm Desert, Calif.

MARAD has already begun testing Vista and IE 7, according to Seymour. That testing, however, may take time because MARAD relies extensively on old, custom applications that will require long evaluation on Vista.

She has not yet set an upgrade timetable, but if or when she does, Seymour said, she can add Vista and Office without spending additional money; MARAD has a Software Assurance contract with Microsoft.

Even if her department doesn’t widely deploy Vista and Office 2007 until early 2009, “we would be middle of the pack among private corporations and somewhat ahead of most government agencies,” Seymour claimed.

In late January, Daniel Mintz, the DOT’s CIO, issued an internal memo slapping a moratorium on upgrading desktops and laptops to Vista, the Office 2007 business suite and IE7, the revamped browser Microsoft released last October.

“This establishes an indefinite moratorium until further notice on desktop/laptop computer software upgrades to Microsoft Vista, Office 2007 and Internet Explorer version 7,” the DOT memo read. “Microsoft Vista, Office 2007 and Internet Explorer may be acquired for testing purposes only.”

The memo, which the DOT posted publicly on Jan. 22, went on to say that a follow-up in six months would lay out the agency’s 2008 migration road map, leaving the door open to a policy change then. A similar ban will be put into place separately by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is part of the DOT, the memo also said.

Mintz took the Microsoft software to the woodshed, figuratively speaking.

“Based on our initial analysis, there appears to be no compelling technical or business case for upgrading to these new Microsoft software products. Furthermore, there appears to be specific reasons not to upgrade,” the memo read.

Among the don’t-bother reasons spelled out: the cost of upgrading, backward compatibility with earlier editions of Office and the planned move to new quarters.

The latter, said Mintz, “would be competing with the same IT expertise required to support the migration to any of these products.”

An analyst warned not to read too much into DOT’s memo.

“We’re trying to read things into such small scraps” of Vista information, said Michael Cherry, of Directions on Microsoft. “This may be more political than technical, a warning that people shouldn’t go out on their own [to upgrade] until the organization gets its plan together.”

Cherry also noted that a delay like this – the DOT and FAA together have an estimated 60,000 desktops and laptops – should be a wake-up call to Microsoft.

“Microsoft needs to be careful. You want to be continuing to evolve materials to help business evaluate Vista. They need to put in front of them the message about what benefits there are to upgrading. Microsoft needs to work harder, I think.”

He still remains bullish on Vista for businesses, however. “If I had a mobile workforce, I would absolutely roll out Vista, if for no other reason [than] to get BitLocker in place for mobile users.” BitLocker, which is included only with the Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Vista, is Microsoft’s new whole-disk encryption technology.

Coincidentally, a 2006 DOT presentation on fiscal 2007 initiatives specified mobile device data encryption as one of its goals.

The DOT’s chief technology officer, Tim Schmidt, and Microsoft officials could not be reached for comment.

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