Fed Govt to maintain locked-down desktops


The Federal Government’s peak technology strategy group has published a significant new policy that lays out common standards for deploying new desktop PC and laptop enviroments for the entire public sector in Canberra. However, workers frustrated with their lack of control over their work computer may not find much to like in the document.

Traditionally, many government IT departments have maintained direct control over the desktop fleets they administer — restricting users from installing their own applications and customisations without permission. Although many employees dislike the restriction inherent in such policies, IT managers and government administrators have argued successfully that they allow sensitive government information to be held securely and for staff to focus on working during business hours.

It appears the trend will continue under the standard operating environment policy issued by the Australian Government Information Management Office yesterday.

The document states that “by default”, staff are not to have accounts which grant them privileged access to their PC. In addition, the workstations themselves should be configured to ensure unused features were removed or disabled, and the configuration and updating of machines should be done centrally by the desktop support provider — and not by the user themselves.

Alternative web browsers such as Firefox and Chrome are currently gaining in popularity around Australia, with many workers finding their open and extensible nature delivers them advantages over the browser that is the default for most large organisations — Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. However, AGIMO’s policy states users must not be able to install their own “unauthorised add-ins” to their browser, and the browser software itself must be centrally managed.

Any email clients used must be able to work offline — so that users can still work if they are disconnected from the corporate network — and AGIMO has set Microsoft’s Office Open XML format, which is not supported by a number of alternative office suites, as the default document standard. Users are not to be able to halt anti-virus activities on their machines, AGIMO wrote — or firewall software, with the aim of making sure security standards were maintained. And logging and remote access by administration staff must be possible.

AGIMO has been asked to comment on to what degree it believed some of the standards outlined in its policy document had the potential to hinder efficiency within the Federal public service and restrict alternative software from being used.

When queried this morning, a number of current and former government workers laughed off the Federal Government’s current desktop software strategy as a bad joke. One former public sector staffer said at his previous workplace, he had been locked out of installing new applications or drivers, or even changing his background picture or saving files to his desktop. Calling the help desk to get fixes done was also problematic, he said — as even for a 10 minute fix, internal billing would show the change as having taken two hours, increasing government expenses.

Another former government worker said it was her normal practice to take her MacBook Pro into work and use it instead of the Government-supplied desktop — emailing herself reports and documents to be worked on and then sending them back to her work machine.

One worker at the Australian Taxation Office bemoaned the fact that the agency still used Internet Explorer version 6 — first released in 2001 — and most of the staff who spoke to Delimiter about the matter communicated their frustration with the fact that they were still forced to use Windows XP — also first released in 2001.

Not everyone was unhappy with the state of affairs, however. One user said they were able to use Windows 7 (the 64-bit version) at work, with 6GB of memory. But, they noted, they had control over their own desktop environment — which most government workers didn’t.

Image credit: Microsoft


  1. It’s hardly woeful that some places are still using XP – you could have been forced to use Vista… Sometimes it’s just best to use the classics.

    One of the current workplaces I contract to about 30% of systems are “user updated” – which is politically correct term for “what? what is a patch?”. Those systems are first to the wall when the first network replicating worm shows up…

    On the flip side you can choose between XP/2003/2008/Win7 (no Vista), Office 2003/2007/2010… want local admin? ok you got it. You stuffed your machine? ok here’s a fresh image. Where are my non-standard apps and C: drive data? ok you lost them…

  2. This is news ? hmm.. this is common practice and for good reason.. users will, in general, get a more reliable, more consistent computing experience if you stop them installing their own apps and drivers.
    Having worked on Standard Operating Environments (SOE’s) for hospitals, utilities, mining companies, corporate and government areas – if you have an environment where users can do what they want, then you have chaos. People downloading and installing all sorts of crap, and then wondering why their machine falls over all the time – or the network is flooded with torrents…
    If you gave admin access to all workers in say, a 1500 user company, a service desk of 3 which would previously have been able to cope, would probably now need to be a service desk of 15 to have any chance…
    No I’m not making this up, I’ve consulted on the support calls, user downtime before and after a proper Managed Operating Environment is deployed, and without fail, they have an ROI of less than 1 year when you measure support costs, and improved user efficiency.

    Having a proper Managed Operating Environment (MOE), you have applications that are deployed (through whatever mechanism you have decided (SCCM, Altiris, app-V, Citrix, RDP.. whatever) based on your role and profile on demand.
    When done properly, the MOE gives you and environment where the PC is like a DVD player, if it breaks down get a new one, plug it in, and you have everything, instantly.. all your apps, your flow chart program, your video editing software, your desktop shortcuts, your documents, your email signature.. are all there without any intervention from IT

    If you had been able to do what you want, and therefore installed stuff from the Internet, friends, etc, then how does IT give you back something they didn’t build/configure… how do you get all those shareware, ‘borrowed’ or illegal applications back on your machine…trust me, the user will be unproductive for days trying to work out where they got it all from
    .. stoping users from changing the look and feel is probably going a touch far though

    A proper managed environment promotes efficiency, and ensures users can actually collaborate (standard formats for documents, project plans, presentations, etc)

    .. and I have not even started on the security aspects.. which should be obvious, and have many aspects (remember a company is liable if the staff install illegal software… that alone is enough to justify this policy)

    Now I’m not saying that government departments have a proper managed environment, their restrictive, badly designed and costly outsourcing arrangements in most cases result in an out of date software, and poorly performing service desks.

    That is not a fault of the locked down SOE/MOE strategy, that is a fault of their senior IT management not having a clue on how to define requirements, and how to manage their IT suppliers

    One key theme that seems to be missing from this article, is the fact that IT systems are there to allow a business to function efficiently, and perform the work it needs to …. most organisations are only part way through Windows 7 deployment projects, because XP was solid and reliable, and Vista was crap
    It would seem to those who actually work in the industry, and have to build and deploy systems for many thousands of users, that the AGIMO are thinking very clearly indeed

  3. I will crack ANY microsoft product. Test me. (as long as done without being watched and my way/rules – just leave me with machine and IT IS DONE).

  4. Where I work (Bank) we have everything locked down tighter than the Feds are proposing. Installation of software is tightly controlled, as is Admin rights (IT staff and some dev’s only). It works well.

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