10 things we hate about laptops

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

To address these security concerns, the State of Iowa is just a few months away from implementing a statewide standard -- a preboot, full-disk encryption for every laptop -- that it hopes will beef up security. But Fay doesn't think that will solve the issue of his users wanting to log on at Starbucks, a desire he tries to squelch as much as possible. Even with the full-disk encryption, an open Wi-Fi network still isn't guaranteed safe, he feels, and his users "just don't seem to understand that."

Users are in denial, agrees Applied Materials' Archibald, who quotes from a recent user e-mail that asked, "We're not building nuclear bombs here, why do I have to type in so many passwords?"

Many users don't understand that data in transit needs to be protected, unlike data at rest, Fay says, and they really don't want to understand it. They just want to be able to do what they want.

"To make our lives easier, we want a technology solution to security problems, not a user one," Fay says, meaning he's more than ready to stop wrangling with users about what they can and can't do on their laptops while out in public. A technology solution, one that would take the onus off the users (and presumably, off the IT call center) would be the way to go.

7. Wi-Fi is still the Wild, Wild West.

The challenge of configuring laptops for wireless connectivity, and keeping them up to date, is probably the single biggest nightmare IT professionals face daily, they say.

IT must decide which air cards to use, and if they're going to employ encryption or set up a VPN, and if so, for which employees and under what circumstances. Should the company support mom and pop providers for its users on the road, or only big, trusted carriers? What about employees with their own routers and networks in a home-office environment? The questions go on and on, as do the support issues, IT managers say.

And it's made worse by the fact that most users are clueless, says Vince Kellen, vice president of information services at DePaul University in Chicago. "Wireless overwhelms nontechnical people," he says flatly. "There are literally 20 to 30 different topics related to the choices we make about technology and upgrading, and the users just can't grasp the complexity."

So not only is he trying to stay ahead of the Wi-Fi curve, he's often making the case -- to do the right thing to stay secure -- to a user community that is at best confused and at worst completely uninterested.

BNSF's Hanson knows exactly what Kellen is talking about. "Wireless is the biggest nightmare we have right now," he says. "The technology changes all the time and we just can't keep up."

His particular pet peeve is air cards, where, he says, the standards take so long to settle and become "commercial" that by the time they do, they're obsolete, leaving him stuck with a long-term contract to purchase cards that no longer do the job. "The connection managers can't keep up, and then the cards don't work," Hanson explains. But to streamline support, the company has to standardize on something. Can someone say catch-22?

8. Laptops spawn a new breed of uber-entitled user.

Fay really hates the fact that his users watch TV. Those glossy ads of people effortlessly using laptops in a diner, or on a mountaintop or while driving, all give his users ideas. Bad ideas. Ideas that make them expect that they can be online anywhere and everywhere.

"Television [ads] make everything [seem] so easy and apparently so secure. We are constantly fighting that tide," he says. The problem, he explains, is that the very nature of mobile computing has given users the expectation that they ought to be able to work when and where they want to, regardless of what's involved in supporting them.

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Valerie Rice

Computerworld
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