10 things we hate about laptops

Sure, laptops have revolutionized the way we compute. That doesn't mean they don't drive IT bonkers.

4. They get lost.

Bob Vesely has a simple reason why he hates laptops: They're easy to lose.

Luckily for Vesely, IT manager at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, the number of laptops he oversees is small, around 40 or so. But Vesely nevertheless tries to guard them zealously, because in his organization, a lost laptop affects more than one user.

Once zoo staffers retire a laptop, it's sent to wildlife researchers in Papua New Guinea and other places. The zoo benefits from that research, so it's a win-win situation, assuming the machines don't get lost. Vesely most often sees laptops getting lost during business trips, he says.

"Lost" has a whole different meaning at Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), a 32,000-mile railroad route stretching between 28 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. At the railway, based in Fort Worth, Texas, consulting systems engineer Brad Hanson can have a tough time finding the company's laptops to upgrade them.

Because his tens of thousands of users are moving around constantly, finding their laptops when they need to be upgraded is like an elaborate Easter egg hunt, he says, where the eggs are always changing position.

5. They're difficult to secure, digitally and physically ...

Whether they're being hacked while using an insecure public Wi-Fi connection or being stolen from the airport men's room, laptops are vulnerable to theft in ways their deskbound cousins never are.

Applied Materials' Archibald says the threat of digital intrusion keeps him up at night, though thus far his company hasn't experienced any breaches directly.

Like many other IT managers, he's well aware that someone can physically look over the shoulder of a laptop user at a coffee shop or on the airplane, easily getting a gander at his password or a spreadsheet with next year's corporate financials neatly displayed.

And he knows that public Wi-Fi networks can be compromised in numerous ways, from false network-identification schemes (where users appear to be logging onto one network but are in actuality logged onto a different network), to insufficiently secure authentication pages, where data like network passwords can be captured and reused, to intercepted transmissions, a problem for users who don't use encryption while on the road.

BNSF has been lucky, too. Given the far-flung nature of the railway business, relatively few laptops have been stolen, Hanson says, but it does happen. One of the most recent incidents: A car was stolen with a company laptop inside. Both car and computer were recovered from the bottom of a pond (with the laptop data amazingly intact, if soggy).

Though Hanson is quick to point out that his company doesn't have any more laptops stolen than any other firm doing similar remote business, the railway does takes the theft risk to laptops seriously, recently giving all its users a detailed list of warnings and tips designed to help cut down on this particular type of loss.

6. ... and security precautions make users nuts.

It all comes down this plaintive cry: "Why can't I connect?" Or perhaps the better question is, why isn't it easier to connect? Between passwords, screen locks, complicated procedures to log onto virtual private networks and the risk of getting booted off an "insecure" Wi-Fi connection, well, it's not always easy for users to get online just anywhere.

And that's as it should be, says Greg Fay, chief information security officer for the State of Iowa, who admits he gets lots of practice trying to justify this stance. Although Iowa is not guarding trade secrets, "there is always something we're doing that we wouldn't like the media to know about until it's ready to go."

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Valerie Rice

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