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The Hill’s Other Minority

Even as the Senate prepares to go nuclear, in what opponents would call a blow for minority rights, one minority is still thriving.

The few but proud Macintosh computer users on Capitol Hill represent a small portion of computer users.

About 2 percent of computer users in the Senate use Macs, according to Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms and Chief Information Officer Greg Hanson, whose office surveyed the computers under his domain a year ago.

“Only about 2 percent of my computers are Macs, and about half of those are right here in the Sergeant-at-Arms office,” Hanson said, but he declined to name specific offices.

Hanson said that although Mac offices are few, his

office is working to support them the same as PC users.

“We enthusiastically support Macs as well as Wintel machines,” Hanson said, adding that those Mac staffers he has spoken with “feel very strongly” about keeping Macs.

“If they want to use Macs, we will install them and maintain them,” he said.

The House Chief Administrative Office could not be reached for comment, but House sources told Roll Call only four of its offices are all-Mac.

Sen. Tim Johnson’s (D-S.D.) office has just a few Macs remaining, including one used by the Senator himself, according to spokeswoman Julianne Fisher.

“We tried to find the bipartisan, moderate compromise on the PC versus Mac debate,” Fisher said of her office’s compromise.

The office of Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) is also a Mac office — Stark became a fan because he found the computers more user-friendly.

“I was introduced to it because I had a PC, and I just couldn’t type. I had a PC and with all that ‘slash, slash, C’ and all that, I just couldn’t get it to work,” Stark said.

When someone in the House administration office showed him a Mac, Stark was hooked. Later, he met with and worked with Apple CEO Steve Jobs to put Macs in classrooms.

Stark now has an all-Mac Capitol Hill office, home and campaign office.

“We’re just a happy Mac family,” Stark said.

Yet, Stark offers one complaint of many Mac users — it is difficult to interface with the rest of the PC-using computer universe on the Hill. One example, Stark said, is filing Federal Election Commission reports, which can only be done on a PC.

“The only complaint I have is that you can’t interface with the PC systems,” Stark said. “It’s not as open and sometimes you’re precluded from some software.”

Stark’s chief of staff, Debbie Curtis, said being an all-Mac office in a mostly-PC Capitol Hill world has not been difficult.

“When I first came I thought an all-Mac office would be different,” Curtis said, but she has noticed little operational differences between the two.

Curtis said there were early problems with attachments, but since then the filters have improved.

“The good side is they don’t seem to crash,” Curtis said, adding that after a brief power outage in the Rayburn House Office Building, there were no problems getting their machines up and running again.

Curtis lamented that BlackBerrys, the must-have device for Members and staff to retrieve e-mail from outside the office, are not compatible with Macs. She added that House officials are working with their office to make their e-mail retrieving devices functional.

A Hill source familiar with technology said that in the past the Sergeant-at-Arms had discouraged offices from using Macs, but with the improvement of the Apple operating system and advances in Microsoft Office, among other factors, that is changing.

“We are not yet at a place where new Members are being asked, ‘Do you want to be a PC office or a Mac office?’ but I think it is possible that we are getting there,” the source said.

Yet the source said the Macs overall have been easier to use.

“I will tell you that despite the frustrations over the past several years, this platform has been easier to support, free from spyware and viruses, and has allowed us to get work done for constituents,” the source said. “People should be able to pick the best tool to get their job done.”

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