Obama: Where are our Macs?

The new U.S. president's incoming team is frustrated that it can't have its Macs, but this is the first of many lessons that change comes slowly in government--and life.

Barack Obama has promised change. In his first day in office, however, he discovered that change is easier said than done.

Take his team's operating-system preference. Obama's team was dismayed to discover that the White House runs Windows, not Macs, according to The Washington Post. I'm a Mac fan, but I'm somewhat surprised by the naivete of this response:

The team members, accustomed to working on Macintoshes, found computers outfitted with 6-year-old versions of Microsoft software. Laptops were scarce, assigned to only a few people in the West Wing...Senior advisers chafed at the new arrangements, which severely limit mobility--partly by tradition but also for security reasons and to ensure that all official work is preserved under the Presidential Records Act.

I'm sure that this will be the first of many roadblocks (which, incidentally, the Bush White House also endured--it's the nature of the beast). Guess what? That's life...and government. There are very good reasons for the locked-down environment that Obama's personnel are chafing over.

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So, while we may cheer President Obama's interest in open source, the reality is that he is too smart to try to disrupt the U.S. software economy with grand orders around open source. Any executive decisions around open source need to be heavily couched in caution: it's not the U.S. federal government's place to try to legislate fundamental software policy changes, changes which are happening just fine without government intervention.

Fortunately for his fans, President Obama isn't stupid, and not simply in the matter of technology policy. He's not rewriting foreign policy, either. In fact, his cabinet reflects more continuity with President Bush's policies than change. He'll tweak what he doesn't like and maintain that which he does (and apparently, despite campaign rhetoric, he seems to like more than he dislikes which, again, is consistent with the Clinton-Bush transition and, indeed, all presidential transitions).

For those who have looked upon President Obama as their savior and agent of change, well, just be prepared for more continuity than disruption. That's a good thing. It reflects Obama's intelligence: when things aren't broken, don't fix them, or fix them incrementally. That's not to say that things couldn't improve through change - they can.

It's just that President Obama's change is going to be much more gradual and incremental than his acolytes would like. Be patient. The Macs will come, as will open source. Just not overnight.

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