Tom Ricks reports from a Chapel Hill military conference that Gen. Mattis and Brig. Gen. McMaster are PowerPoint skeptics. Which raises an important question: why is the most powerful military in human history using inferior Microsoft products?
Whatever the merits of PowerPoint, the baseline reason why officers use it — and use it and use it and use it — is because the military as a whole uses some version of Windows as its operating system. After all, it’s not enough that you create a PowerPoint; you have to share it and the next command has to be able to load it; and people standardize their PPT skills and so this is perpetuated. This fundamental dependence is true at the highest levels of command down to the crummiest MWR tent at the most ad-hoc combat outpost in the middle of what (hmm, let’s translate this into PPT-ese) GEN Petraeus calls The CentCom AOR. Go to those computer labs and you see downtrodden faces loading Internet Explorer on their desktop PCs, using Yahoo messenger to chat with friends, loved ones and potential sex partners. When they could — and should — be using Macs, or even running vastly more efficient cloud computing.
Think about the implications of all this wasted time. Officers forced to use Microsoft Outlook for their email clients have to labor to search in their mail! If they can do it at all! I’ve written before about the benefits of GoogleDocs for battlefield awareness: you network in colleagues to see your files and they can edit your assessments & situational reports; get a real-time picture of ground truth as you find it; add questions or additional analysis or taskings; and a higher synthesis is possible, right then and there. Whatever its virtues, a PowerPoint presentation is a dead document. A GoogleDoc is an evolving, networked one. Which makes more sense for capturing a slice of a war?
Notice I am agnostic between Apple and Google products. I don’t have an iPad, but I use Google products on my Mac desktop and laptop, and my girlfriend has a Droid phone that makes me look at my iPhone and pity myself. Right now it appears that Apple and Google are the U.S. and Soviet Union circa 1946-7 — growing disillusioned with each other and taking steps that will lead each power into an epoch-defining competition. I will remain neutral for now. But there’s absolutely no reason at all why our half-trillion-dollar-plus-per-annum military shouldn’t make the basic investment to rid itself of the software equivalent of the British Empire circa 1946.
Update, 3:18 p.m.: Battered and bloody, I concede I was out of my lane when I wrote this. I hope there was some value in raising the subject, however ignorantly. But I concede defeat and limp off to fight another day.