Did the Obama administration walk into a technological Dark Age or are the reports of a digital dearth at the White House simply over-stated drama? The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in the middle.
We did hear Monday from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs who said the e-mail system was down for at least several hours. And there have been reported complaints about outdates computers running Windows 2000 and a variety of other antiquated machines and programs. The line from White House spokesperson Bill Burton perhaps summed it up best: "It was like going from an Xbox to an Atari."
But I talked today to a White House official who said the computers were actually running something more current, though he wouldn't confirm if it was Windows XP or even Vista. (Maybe they're waiting for the Windows 7 launch later this year). A handful of other stories dispute the severity of the problems, and surely a transition on the scale of the federal government will come with its share of glitches. And here's what Burton said today about the e-mail situation:
"A piece of older hardware broke in the data center yesterday morning. This caused a chain reaction with other systems, specifically the e-mail servers. We were back online and fully functioning as of this morning. We began the process of modernizing all of our technology infrastructure last week and the faulty piece of hardware that broke yesterday has been replaced. In spite of it all, we enjoyed the opportunity to get out from behind our computers and meet with colleagues and visitors face to face."
Wow, maybe they'll plan to ditch e-mail once a week then? Regardless, the bottom line is that the people who worked on Barack Obama's campaign are likely now encountering technology that they consider ancient. Whether PC or Mac, they aren't able to install or bring along all their favorite software or devices. So by comparison it all seems like stepping back in time. Can the White House move forward and embrace the 21st century? Of course. And you can bet a president who wouldn't give up his Blackberry will lead the way. There are certainly serious issues like security, cost and interoperability that will prevent an instantaneous makeover. But that doesn't make it not worth doing.
In the meantime, stay connected.