GCN's Temin on the metadata problem and switching to Web services model

Government Computer News editor Tom Temin answered questions in an online discussion on the Washington Post today, following the close of the FOSE show.

Government Computer News editor Tom Temin answered questions in an online discussion on the Washington Post today, following the close of the FOSE show. Some of the more interesting exchanges centered on proprietary lock-in and problems with redacted material being preserved in metadata. Here is a few of the exchanges, starting with ZDNet's own question:

San Francisco, CA: It seems like the government repeatedly buys systems that require Microsoft Windows and/or Internet Explorer. Does the govt. have any awareness that this should change?

Tom Temin: The government seems to have two heads. On the one hand, everyone wants competition and open systems. On the other hand, commodity councils and multiple-award contracts stress lower and lower prices for PCs and either Microsoft prices or products that run over Windows. My feeling is why not try StarOffice or something similar. A big issue with Word and really, any proprietary word processor, to take an example, is the metadata which people are mostly careless to strip out. Since the goal in many government instances should be to publish documents without metadata. That means saving it as a PDF or a tif anyway, so who cares what it was created in? Personal view.

Tampa, FL: Governments in Europe and Asia seem to take open source very seriously, especially Linux. Have you seen any such movement by the feds or state and local gov'ts?

Also, the feds keep documents foever. My former agency used WordPerfect but switched to MS Word. Now they have trouble using old documents and templates. Would moving to OpenOffice ensure availability of documents 20 years down the road?

Tom Temin: I don't have figures, but open source is growing steadily in goverment servers and data centers. Fujitsu, Sun, IBM, Hewlett Packard--they are all shipping data center-grade products with Linux or at least a variant of Unix that is pretty close to open source. The desktop remains fairly tightly locked up though.

Norfolk, VA: What steps are being taken to integrate the disparate coalition networks, allowing closer liaison between strategic HQs.

Tom Temin: I think one of the more interesting projects is replacing Global Command and Control System with the JC2 project, which takes us from client-server to IP-based, Web services model. This allows must more ease in data sharing, and equally important, scaling up to hundreds of thousands of users. If you want critical information available to the smallest tactical unit, you need a Web model. The debate is over push or pull.

Arlington VA: Are federal agencies searching for a software solution to the problem of potentially sensitive metadata being released in public documents? Surely they aren't planning to just train people and hope for the best.

Tom Temin:  The answer is of course they are. One of the Best of FOSE products I looked at was from a company called EDAC, a redaction tool that saves without any metadata trail. You could use the tool that way even without redacting. Corel's X3 version of the WordPerfect suite has a "save without metadada" option natively, not requiring a 3rd product.





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