More little birds on the Independent’s move from Macs to Windows – it’s XP

Some more from the South Quay bunker where The Independent is preparing to move, in April as I hear it, from 1999’s Mac OS9 to 2001’s Windows XP. (Well, perhaps you could argue it’s 2004’s XP SP2. I really hope, for their sake, it’s SP2. SP1 would be a disaster.) That’s seven years’ wait to move forward five years in OS.

Quoth the bird, or mole:

Quark and Copydesk, bound together with Atex’s Prestige content management system, running on XP – is OK, for what it’s worth. As in, it seems to work, slightly clunkily. I’m hating having to use XP, with all the right-clicking, and the guessing which of the three sets of menus on screen at any time might be the one to look for, the relearning every shortcut, and all the other just-not-as-nice-as-osx-ness. But it is, at last, not OS 9, and means we can use the internet and Word without falling over. I’d guess the reason they went with it is that apparently the Prestige back-end stuff is great. So it’s essentially the Lotus Notes argument all over again – we have to suffer a shitty front end so the IT boys get an easy life.

What with all the birds twittering, it’s getting like a Corinne Bailey Rae single around here. But one has to wonder about a few things.

1) have they really considered how much it’s going to cost in the long term? Windows does have a higher support cost, even if the computers used to be cheaper (but aren’t). They’ll either need extra support staff, or people will go unsupported upstairs in news and features. Hmm, I wonder, given the Indie’s reputation for cost-cutting, which it will be?

2) how much have they budgeted for retraining? There were going to be retraining costs whatever they did – moving to OSX and InDesign/InCopy has entailed a lot of training at The Guardian; moving to Windows is just as much of a change as moving to OSX, in its way. OSX bears little relation to OS9 apart from having something called “Finder”. I’d argue though that it’s easier to use because there are fewer things bothering you.

In the time I was there the Indie never trained anyone in anything, even though an hour teaching people how to use the Net efficiently (opening multiple windows in browsers, say) would have saved hours and hours.

3) how are they going to handle input from photographers, who almost all work on Macs and are increasingly moving to new formats?

4) will anyone get fired for choosing Windows when the first spyware/adware outbreak cripples the system close to deadline and costs the same amount in missed production timescales as was saved by buying QXP on XP rather than Adobe on OSX?

Oh, and the payoff from my little bird: “I’m told you all [at the Guardian] have gleaming iMacs. Bastards.”


  1. I’ve been doing the graphic design/newspaper thing for over 24 years now, all on Mac. Yes, you can actually do the work on a PC (in fact, the paper I work at now was a PC shop and went all Mac only 2 months before I came here… thank god).

    I have experience with both systems and can unequivocably say that going from Mac (even OS9) to XT is going to be a disaster. Network downtime, hassles with photographs, massive increase in computer support spending (expect two tech on site at all times, and always busy).

    I would have fired the guys that failed to do a realistic cost/benefit – TOC study before they recommended this. I feel sorry for the Independent

    Michael Dlugos

  2. Strikes me that this has been driven by the tech department – they always know best – probably what’s best for them not what is best for the team.

    Well it will keep them in jobs for years!

  3. The basic problem here is that the whole world believes your IT people HAVE to
    have an MCSE degree. Don’t forget that the M in MCSE stands for *Microsoft*.
    Expecting your MCSE qualified IT people to recommend anything but a Windows
    system is expecting them to commit treason and murder. What we need is
    acceptable competition for IT qualifications and standards within the business
    world, rather than the *Monopoly* that Microsoft currently owns.

  4. Sir Josmould Herringpole

    Friday 16 February 2007 at 10:06 am

    Ah yes, the first tenet of any IT department:

    “Forget who is supposed to be serving who – self serving comes first and foremost.”

    The second could almost be:

    “Staff morale is not a technical specification”.

    I manage a small network of Macs, and try to make it all user-driven. If someone asks for something, my immediate thought is “Well, why not?”, rather than the immediate knee-jerk “You can’t do that because…” – the attitude normally prevalent. It’s not easy, but it’s how IT should be done. I serve the users. That’s it.

  5. I agree with many of your points here, Charles, but I don’t really ‘get’ number three. What’s the major hurdle when dealing with input from photographers? What digital image format is it that a PC couldn’t handle?

    And, Sir Josmould, how would you respond if I asked why I can’t send a large file (say, 50MB) as an email attachment? Every IT support person I’ve ever asked this question has responded “You can’t do that because… email wasn’t designed for large attachments. Use FTP instead.” I’m sure you wouldn’t say the same, would you? I can happily send such large attachments from my home-office — I have my own SMTP server for such situations — but never once have I come across a corporate IT dept that allowed attachments in excess of 15MB. ‘They’ just tell me I’m doing it the wrong way. Eejits.

  6. I feel I have to pick up on a few things in these comments so far. There seems to be a lot of “tarring with one brush” going on. As Charles will confirm, I spent a large part of my career working with Lotus Notes on the Mac. One of about 5 people in the UK with that mix of skills at the time. I think Notes is a fantasic product but the user interface sucks. Even on a Mac.

    I have an MCSE. Yes, I have been using Apple kit since my //e and I first worked for Apple in 1988 to 1991, but I have an MCSE. And PCLPs.

    The MCSE is a great certification for telling you how Microsoft products should work. Just like my PCLP, CCNE and a few others. “Congratulations. You’re now able to tell anyone how our products should work.”

    “Great! What do if they don’t work?”

    “Oh, we don’t cover that. You’re on your own.”

    Employing a team of people with MCSEs doesn’t mean that a company, any company, will suddenly switch to a new platform because they’ve employed the staff and need to utilise them. As someone who was made redundant from the Indy, I know that isn’t the case. It is more likely that this decision has been made by senior management – I remember the IT Manager when I was there hated Macs. If they’ve failed to research this decision and are just going to steam in to it then that’s their lookout.

    PCs can’t handle most digital formats without extra software. Once you’ve got extra software, you can access them all. More software = more overheads.

  7. Sir Josmould Herringpole

    Friday 16 February 2007 at 4:11 pm


    Fair and reasonable question. The trick is not being negative when someone does ask something like this.

    I would say “Take a look at this – it’s a site where you can upload things up to 300Mb, and it sends an email to the recipient when it’s ready to pick up. A sort of webmail FTP. You have to register, but it’s free. Almost as convenient as email, but point taken.

    I would also explain that this gets round other people’s restrictions on inboxes. At the end of the day it’s about presenting a solution, not a restriction – if at all possible. It sometimes isn’t.

  8. Aye… and that’s a fair and reasonable answer, Sir J: but a rare one, in my experience. I regularly have to send and receive large files and have lots of options, including a home-made FTP. I know how to use them and do so often. The problem is that my recipients aren’t always so able or willing — they’d rather just get them by email. They understand email. But sometimes it seems that IT depts don’t understand the needs and desires of users. Ho hum.

  9. Charles

    Sunday 18 February 2007 at 10:56 pm

    @Scott: What does XP have problems with that photographers produce? There’s RAW, the raw image format, which varies subtly between camera manufacturers. XP doesn’t have native support for it, nor do quite a few image editors (this XP tool is limited).

    As was said above – more software means more overheads, like making sure that you’re only using licensed software in the correct number of seats.

    And that – to pitch into the other argument – is why IT departments tend to go ‘Wuol, you see..’ in the manner of builders when one says “And I want to do this, and that, and..” There are cost implications, security implications, training implications. I’m certainly not saying it’s trivial, though I do think that starting from the user and working backwards is a good methodology.

    For instance: did you know that it is only in the most recent version of the Mac Lotus Notes client that scroll wheel support, which has been native since 2001, has been added?

  10. The implication that IT departments choose systems to suit themselves, and sod the users is one that I hear a lot. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I’ve never worked in a IT dept that EVER considered this as a primary factor when choosing a system. Sure IT people value their disposable time as much as anybody else does. But when servers crash, they are far more worried about how it’s going to affect the users, and whether they’ll be able to get their financial reports out, or their newspaper out, or their whatever it is out that day. When it all does goes tits up, the IT guys do whatever it takes to get it working again. If they sacrifice their own evening or weekend into the bargain, then so be it: goes with the turf.

    Users don’t care about the back-end? Good! That’s the way it should be. And if you have users like that, then give yourself a huge pat on the back, because you’re running a well managed system. But if you’re servers are going down three times a week, believe you me, users will take and immediate interest in your back-end systems. Before you know it, they will know a spluttering server’s name, where it sits in your server room and (especially) which poor sap is immediately responsible for it. And when they ring the helpdesk, they no longer say “my application isn’t working”; instead it’s “server X is down again – please have somebody reboot it asap”.

    In the case of Notes, sure users may complain about the clunkiness of client, and often with some considerable justification. But that is NOTHING compared to the uproar (Helpdesk switchboard jammed) that you get when their server’s not available. (An extremely rare event in a well managed Notes/Domino environment, by the way). The “ugly client” soon gets forgotten when there’s no mail going in or out of the building. The truth is that the prettiest, most user-friendly front-end in the world is of precious little use to you when you can’t connect to your back-end, whether it’s email, DTP or whatever.

    Sure, your IT guy will often say “you can’t do that” when you’ve just had a wizzy idea for improving the system: you’re wizzy idea might just f**k the entire system up!!! Ever think of that? In my experience, IT people invariably get into trouble when they are being overly accomodating to users, rather than the other way around. Sounds like cart in front of the horse, I know, but it’s true; I’ve been there myself. More than once I’ve made a change to a system because one person though it would make his life a bit easier, and ended up screwing that system up for 500 other users. Your IT people don’t mean to be unhelpful. They’re just being cautious, and rightly so.

    Having got that rant out of my system!!!

    The Indie’s move from Macs to XP is, of course, completely bonkers. I’ll have no sympathy at all when it goes horribly wrong, which it most assuredly will.


    – Mike

  11. Charles

    Thursday 22 February 2007 at 1:35 am

    Excellent rant, Mike, and good points. My differences with IT departments don’t extend to saying that they’re wrong about stuff. Why, I’ve even heard that Lotus Notes server will play nicely with IMAP mail clients, to the extent that the user wouldn’t know they were even using Notes (and wouldn’t get nastygrams about being near their allocation limit and so on).

    Although it does I think *help* if people – users – are able to narrow down the faults. If you sit and stare at the screen and have no clue what part if not working, where do you start? “Err.. hello, support, um.. it’s not working.” If you get the experience to be able to say it’s the server (because for the sake of argument it is 90% of the time; that was my experience at the Indie, where POP3 would go down regularly, and I could point this out, which cut down a lot of fiddling about on their part) then that’s a lot of support desk time saved.

    Now, the other question: why will the Indie’s move to XP assuredly go wrong? Tell us ahead of time. I like to get my chair at a good vantage site for car crashes.

  12. Greetings to you too, Charles, from deepest Down Under!

    Why will it go wrong? Because it’s Microsoft!!! (I mean, did you really need to ask?)


    – Mike

  13. Nice story Charles. I can’t help but agree with several of the comments above that this move will undoubtedly be driven by the needs of their (presumably outsourced) IT provider, to some degree at least, and perhaps the lesser up-front cost of buying PCs for word processing and email, which outside of the graphics department is what most computers get used for.

    As a mac-operator (I think you call them art-workers in your part of the world) with many years of experience, I have spent numerous hours fixing macs for lesser experienced colleagues in newspapers and design studios, which since the OSX days has consisted of little more than finding out what they have done wrong/don’t know how to do, or why the third party IT provider has blocked their non-PC email account.

    Working in XP is a nightmare compared to OSX, and I assume this change isn’t being made at the worker’s own request—such things usually never are.

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