Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/06/13/letters_1306/
WGA, NPfIT and 'rude' councillors polarise readers
Caution: contains opinion
Letters Last week's coverage of new and exciting cock-ups in the NHS's NPfIT attracted its usual wide variety of readers, including some folks over at Connecting for Health.
They wrote to us to explain that we'd got it all wrong, guv. (NpfIT responds to Reg criticism). Far from being a waste of public resources, the £19m of taxpayers money that had to be signed over to Fujitsu is in fact a "positive outcome". The NPfIT project over budget? Lawks, no sir. Cheaper than if we'd spent more. Delays? Only to be expected with a project of this size... And so on.
You had some thoughts on this that you wanted to share:
I see NewSpeak is alive & well - 'clusters' indeed :)
Isn't madness defined as the inability to perceive reality when it is bashing you over the head? I expect the men in white coats to shortly arrive for the whole NHS management, if this is any guide.
Is the NHS safe in the hands of... the NHS?
Keep up the good work,
Would you like to hear about how even the very first deliverable of the NpfIT - the so-called Identity Agent to authenticate users against "the Spine" with their smartcards - has added massively to the cost of deployment because they couldn't be bothered to build an installation package that could run hidden and silent and therefore be centrally deployable?
How about the fact that the JVM delivered with the identity agent doesn't work with the Oracle client required by ESR? I was in a meeting the other day where a CfH representative made the point that ESR "isn't part of the National Program".
Why, if patient confidentiality is so important, will NHS Mail not support encrypted conenctions with local Trust email systems?
Why, after all this time, are CfH now crowing about finally delivering a version of NHS Mail (or whatever they call it this week) that delivers "the same experience as if (the users) were on Microsoft Exchange" - for something like 180 million quid over 10 years they could have installed a LOT of Exchange servers and hired the administrators to manage them.
£180 million for what basically amounts to Hotmail is a lot of dosh.
How about Choose and Book - which seems to break regularly and just this very day would not let me book my own appointment?
The National Program is trying to perpetuate the old, socialist, vision of the NHS as a centrally run agency governed by the equivilent of five year plans, while the rest of NHS and the Government in general is moving to a locally managed, agile, lightweight model of delivery (cf "Foundation Trusts").
I know I am not just speaking for myself when I say that grassroots Trust IT staff have just about had it with CfH and the whole National Programme.
Instead of a centrally delivered model requiring building huge core systems and then extending them out, the National Program should have built from the outside in, defining standards and offering financial incentives to Trusts to upgrade their local systems so that they could transfer their locally held data into the Spine; instead everyone is expected to throw out their local systems and drop all previous relationships with the suppliers in favour of the LSP delivered core systems - however so far the LSP's seem to just fill the role of middle man - getting in the way, taking the profit but not actually delivering any value add, all the time watching for contract violations by the NHS so they can get extra payouts.
I was thinking about this a few days ago.
Why isn't this new NHS gizmo being developed in public? It's being paid for with taxpayers' money, and surely whatever is developed should belong to us rather than a few mega-corporations.
They could publish a view of the overall system architecture so all us uber-nerds could check it out and chip in our suggestions for improvement. They could avoid all the "I could have told you that wouldn't work" by inviting people to say "that won't work" before the event.
More to the point, they could make mock-ups of the system as it would appear to all the users in the NHS so they could go on and try them out, and say thing like "you've missed the field which labels the patient as a nutter" *before* squillions of quids have gone into something which will be imposed on the users. Working in public would mean that all the parties would know what everyone else was doing, so there would be no excuse for there being components which don't work together.
Surely this project is an opportunity for a new and better approach to developing and deploying government IT, one where the users can verify that it's fit for their purposes, and the architecture is open to public scrutiny before loads of cash is wasted on something which is a bad idea? There could be no better ongoing scrutiny than to develop in public.
Meanwhile, many of you are still gamely looking for the Advantage in Windows Genuine Advantage, and you're keeping us up to date with your search:
Another possible angle on this piece of 'technology' for you to investigate is as follows:
When I installed the WGA update, it presented one of Microsoft's oft-used 'license agreements' that required an "I Accept" button press before continuing. I did (with some reluctance, clearly justified as it turns out) but I do remember reading a very interesting sentence somewhere not far from the top, which went something like: "Upon installing Windows Genuine Advantage in your premises..." and I'm pretty sure it used the words "in your premises" rather than "on your PC"
To my suspicous mind this means that, legally, if you install WGA on just ONE machine in an office, then it may give Microsoft the right to disable ANY PC on the premises that appear to be running an illegal copy of XP.
Further, how do we know, for instance, that they haven't somehow incorporated this technology in the low level networking code, so that each machine can effectively check the piracy status of others, for instance through the master browser network comms.
Just a thought... but a good one!
WGA does offer a real advantage... To Ubuntu, Linspire, and a few other distros. If you look on the the respective forums, you are suddenly seeing an influx of "With the latest WGA stuff, I am trying xxxx for a desktop..." Some companies are having problems with this. In many cases it is easier to transition to Linux (and removing licensing as an issue, and also stop user installed [pirated?] applications) than to fix WGA.
An example here. In many cases a false positive means a full reinstall, and in an enterprise this is no small thing.
Something El Reg should look into (along with the EU authorities) is how many people, when faced with the "unlicensed copy" message from WGA simply buy a new copy of Windows (or take their PC to the local "geek centre" for a new install)? I know that my parents have purchased 3 copies of Windows XP home for the same machine, unmodified, as MS does not register a VIA EPIA machine quite right each time. Rather than re-register, my poor 80-year-old parents find it easier to pay US$500 to have a Geek Squad technician drop over to install a fresh copy of Windows. Six months later, the problem reoccurs, and they cough up the half-kilobuck again.
Is this MS response to the 2 million Euro fine: get punters to kick up the fine amount with false illegal messages every day? Conspiacy? Or is this Business2.0?
I have mixed feelings about WGA and similar technologies. They're an invasion of privacy, and as an IT professional, they sometimes make my job harder. (I was pretty incensed, a while back, when Microsoft's servers went down and they were unable to process activations for much of the afternoon.)
On the other hand, they also help me cover my ass. I really resent it when an employer asks me to break the law just because they don't want to pay for enough copies of Microsoft Office for all their users. You can bet that if the BSA came in and fined them, I'd be the first one canned when upper management started asking questions. "I can't install another copy of that because it won't activate" carries a lot more weight than "I can't install another copy of that because it's illegal."
I have two HP PCs, both with XP licences, but I choose to run a "dodgy" copy of XP on them as I got fed up with reactivating them all the time - as I love nothing more than tinkering as swapping hardware every few days it was becoming a real pain.
From bits I've read, and my own take on disabling WGA: -
You can't delete the EXE and DLL files as they are in use. But you can rename them.
Start a DOS prompt CD \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32 REN WGATRAY.EXE WGATRAY.XXX REN LEGITCHECKCONTROL.DLL LEGITCHECKCONTROL.XXX REN SPMSGS.DLL SPMSGS.XXX CD DLLCACHE REN WGATRAY.EXE WGATRAY.XXX REN LEGITCHECKCONTROL.DLL LEGITCHECKCONTROL.XXX REN SPMSGS.DLL SPMSGS.XXX (note that not all the files are necessarily in DLLCACHE too) Reboot the PC, and start a DOS prompt again CD \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32 MD WGATRAY.EXE MD LEGITCHECKCONTROL.DLL MD SPMSGS.DLL
Creating the directories with the same names as the offending files will prevent them ever re-appearing. Neat trick. I have since been asked to download WGA updates, I now choose custom rather than automatic updates and then untick the update. Windows kindly asks me if I ever want to be bothered with that update again, which I politely decline.
Regular readers wil no doubt remember last month's cautionary tale of Chichester councillor "Taff" Davies, who was suspended from his elected post for being rude to tech staff. Well, it seems Taff has now left the building.
Here follows edited highlights of your responses, starting with antipodean Dean, who disliked our use of the term "politically correct":
Much as we should hold up to ridicule all neo-Victorians, & other wowser, bowdlerisers & prudes, please refrain from banging the old 'politically correct' drum. El Reg - ever the exemplar of English as she should be spoke - should stop using such unhelpful labels.
The moniker 'politically correct'/'PC'. does nothing to advance the argument & continues the debasement of the currency by the self-appointed arbiters of plain-speaking. It would be plain-speaking to call your spades 'spades' - or 'shovels' if you will: thus the harrowed staff could be "thin-skinned whingers", or the 'rude' councillor "brutally honest, if intemperate". If the over-sensitive wowser is the object of your ridicule, just say so. However if you mean to ridicule idea of treating each individual with respect, please keep that bigotry to yourself.
For all that, my day wouldn't be complete without a dose of The Register's irreverence & iconoclasm. Keep up the good work, but with fewer shibboleths!
Dean Ransevycz (Sydney, the Antipodes)
P.S. Please reinstate 'mobe' & 'lappy'.
Shan't. But we concede your point. Still, resident newshound Ballard adds:
The point of the story was not to ridicule the senstitive wowsers who complained about Davies for being softies, nor to criticise political correctness per se, it was to highlight how ridiculously out of hand things have got when someone is suspeneded for office for a year for being an ass. How proud are the ethics officers of expelling a 70 year old man for being forthright?
He had told the IT department the council's email system was "crap", and was subsequently pulled up under the council charter governing "honesty and integrity".
Presumably the council charter outlaws "honesty and integrity"?
Seems rather mild for a naval captain.
You may mock the events surrounding the demise of Councillor Taff Davies but there is a clear point here: you don't treat IT staff like sh*t.
Especially when you're dealing with local authorities. His bullocking, barracking attitude belongs to the Arthur Scargill school of management, locked away to rot in the mists of time.
As Sir Francis Bacon said, "For he that cannot possibly mend his own case, will do what he can, to impair another's"
I'm sure there are many more upset IT staff who have been wrongly slated, slagged off and generally abused by ID-10-T users (often directors) who would like a right of reply to those people, telling the world how crap they really are...
I certainly could tell you some merry tales of management incompetence and eunuchism. For every opinionated halfwit who says "IT are shite" there's a trail of piss-poor performance behind them.
"... I can't behave like that, which I find amusing at my age..."
Well it is hardly surprising that a cranky, bullish 70-year old, who always had his way until now, will be surprised when people who are neither his children, nor his wife, nor his subordinates decide not to bow before Old Blowhard. Old habits die hard, especially after a lifetime of having people shine your shoes and bow down at your slightest sign of displeasure. There is no surprise here, and no amount of councelling will change it either. He said it himself : at 70 years old, it's too late to change. So throw him out already and let him vent his copious anger on his own family. They're probably quite used to suffering anyway, and normal people will be able to get on with their lives.
And for the defence:
That man must be considered a martyr!
There are many IT users in business and education who are simply fed up with the tyranny of so-called technical support. Esteemed professor at Stanford, Larry Cuban, discusses research where IT departments actually hinder any hope of developing new teaching and learning environments using ICT innovatively.
Just look at the way computer labs are set up - rows and rows of PCs. How can groupwork be facilitated? The computer lab is a representation of Victorian classrooms. Why? Because the tech guys insist on this layout as it is easier to cable and network.
In the 1980’s there was hope as technology became more user-friendly and ordinary people had some say in how computers should be used in, say, classrooms. However, the IT guys have regained their lost power and we are back to a more controlled digital fortress using technology that may be considered suitable for tech support personnel but total annoyance and a hindrance for ordinary end users.
Who is supporting whom? And try bringing your Mac to the tech support office! In 17 years in education I feel that the IT department Heads do more harm for integrating technology into our education, our business practices, our lives than any uninformed peer in the House of Lords .
The councillor simply spoke up - loudly - at the frustrations of using mediocre systems when he/ we know there are better alternatives.
Got a lot of sympathy for the captain. Councils tend to be staffed by idiots who can't get a job anywhere else with an inflated sense of their own importance and a complete lack of understanding as to who funds them. And £11.5m for a town of 100K (Wikipedia)? £115 per person: 9% of band D for a fancy website to make paying parking tickets easier (assuming every man, woman, and baby pays council tax)? Outraged? I'd be foaming at the mouth if I lived there. Besides which, who is this "ethics committee" to slap down the democractically elected representative for "rudeness"? Who is the unelected "Chie Executive" to start wiretapping a councillor? Where does the IT department get off refusing to meet him, now matter how much of an idiot he may be - he's elected, they're not. Get over it, people. While it seems to confirm a lot of my prejudices about people from the armed services who use their old ranks after they've retired, it also seems to confirm a lot of my prejudices about the dismal state of local government. Go on, captain!
We have a feeling this one could run and run, so we'll put a time limit on it. Anyone with tales of woe to share (from either perspective) must put finger to keyboard by the end of this week. Unburden yourselves. It'll feel better.
But for today, that's all the time we have. Back on Friday. ®