NYC public services require Microsoft software

Providing city services only to users of specific proprietary software is bad public policy.

I just discovered that New York City's 2009 Summer Youth Employment Program requires Internet Explorer in order to apply online.

Even downloading the pdf version of the application to print out from the site is impossible under non-IE browsers because the actual pdf link is wrapped in some IE-only javascript. And even if you could download the PDF directly, any additional "online information to help you select a SYEP provider" is inaccessible for the same reason.

I just called 311 and filed an official complaint against the NYC Dept. of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), who sponsor the program.

I also called the number on the application page (1-800-246-4646), and spoke with "Karen" from the DYCD, who explained that the site was a New York City web site, and that it had been created by DoITT (the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications) at the request of the DYCD, but that the DYCD didn't program it directly. She seemed to misunderstand the tech behind the situation, saying "we can't bring it to a higher level (like Firefox) because then it wouldn't work for everyone". I was happy that she understood that Firefox was a concern here, but the point is not to build the site "higher" to Firefox, but to use standard technology that all browsers can access for a public site.

Karen also seemed to think the situation was acceptable because the city youth "can always use IE on local public library computers" to access the site. Note that the applications involve submitting very detailed information (SSN, health insurance, family income, criminal record, selective service registration #, etc), which are things that i would personally be unwilling to submit over a shared public computer if i had any other choice. Furthermore, this crappy implementation decision encourages the NYPL to continue to spend limited resources on proprietary software to an out-of-state monopolist to run their computer labs, which is money that could be better spent locally (or even spent on books or something similarly quaint and library-like).

I'm frustrated. This is 2009. The application process for public services here should not require any proprietary technology, but it uses it gratuitously. This excludes legitimate citizens, and encourages Microsoft in its ongoing pursuit of monopoly status. Both of these are bad things.

I submitted feedback on the DYCD customer survey web site, and submitted two 150-word-limited(!) complaints to Commissioner Mulgrav of the DYCD and Commissioner Cosgrave of DoITT.

I'm sure they'd be interested in hearing from other people about this. Is this kind of proprietary lock-in what we should expect from a Mayor who cuts budgets city-wide except for IT? Where is all that money going? What is the city getting out of it?

Tags: policy