Army storms into its next big battle

What the Army needs to worry about is a bathtub-shaped dip in productivity 'til people get used to what lies ahead.

Give the Army credit for understanding the magnitude of the challenge it’s facing. This uphill battle will call for clear-eyed strategy from flag officers. It will require troops to persevere through frustrating and inevitable setbacks. And it will prod support crews into up their game so soldiers aren’t left stranded in the field.

Unlike those in Iraq and Afghanistan, this will be a silent battle.

The Army won’t be the first organization to switch to Windows 10. But it will be one of the biggest, at 1.4 million users. Most of whom will be initially confused when they light up their Windows 10 machines.

I predict they’ll figure it out. It’s only a PC. What the Army needs to worry about is a bathtub-shaped dip in productivity ’til people get used to it. In truth, Windows 10 is a lot easier than the average cable remote. And yes, you can still get to the DOS, rather, command-line prompt in Windows 10.

People figure out things. I figured out our washing machine. We had it for a couple of years before I confronted it. It’s one of those front-loaders with total electronic controls and a door that locks during operation. No popping the lid and dropping in that stray sock, maybe pausing to watch the agitator. Quiet, covered with lighted buttons and LED indicators, at night it looks like the panel of the Space Shuttle. For all I know, the washer may run on Windows. Occasionally it requires an actual reboot — if you want to get that load of t-shirts back.

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Where I work we’re still on Windows 7. Old “7” may be homely, but it’s familiar and reliable, like a pair of Clark’s Wallabees. Otherwise I’m strictly a Mac user, so I’ve never tried Windows 10. By all accounts it’s a great operating system. Certainly a step-function improvement over the disastrous Windows 8. I have a convertible PC/tablet gathering dust somewhere. It came with Windows 8. I gave up after it failed to produce any semblance of usability.

Organizations face two main challenges when switching operating systems.

First, the IT shop has to make sure all of the critical applications will still work, and that interoperability among systems won’t break. This is what worries Lt. Gen. Robert Ferrell, the Army CIO.

Second, the organization must deal with users. Windows 10 presents a radical departure from Windows 7 and its antecedents. At least the Army employs many young soldiers who may be Xbox aficionados nominally familiar with Win10. Jared Serbu reported this week that the Army is beefing up its help desk to prepare for the migration. The task of maintaining the “gold” disk and provisioning PCs goes to the 5th Signal Command.

Clicking on the Xbox button will produce an error message, because the Army has disabled that functionality. Maybe officials can head off a lot of help desk calls by refining the error message to read, “It doesn’t work on purpose. Don’t call us.”

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